Famous Japanese Food You Must Try
When most of us think about Japanese food, we automatically think about sushi or ramen. However, the truth is that Japan has an amazing, unique and varied cuisine that goes beyond just fish and rice. With this blog we will help you to have a more elaborated view about the Japanese food culture, so you can know what to order at the moment you sit at the restaurant and also where to go to have the best gastronomic experience.
The first one is the most iconic Japanese dish, which most people associate with Japan with Sushi and Sashimi. Sushi is very famous all around the world and consists of a piece of rice seasoned with a rice vinegar mix (made with sugar and salt) mixed with different ingredients – a variety of fishes, vegetables and nori (seaweed) for example. Depending on the shape and ingredients that are used, sushi can be Nigiri sushi, Maki sushi, Oshi sushi, Temaki sushi and etc. You use the chopsticks to grab the pieces of sushi and dip them into soy sauce or wasabi, or both, according to your preference. It is an explosion of flavors in your mouth!
Sashimi, another iconic food of Japan, is basically raw fish or seafood served with wasabi (a spicy Japanese condiment) and soy sauce. It usually comes with slices of radish portions on the side. Sashimi is written like this in kanji: 刺身, the first kanji meaning spine and the second kanji one body. Its name originates from the fact that the tail of the fish used to come together with the meal to identify what you are eating.
Another very popular option to enjoy the oriental flavor is Ramen, a wheat noodles bowl served in a soy sauce or miso soup mixed with many kinds of ingredients. The most typical toppings are green onion, slices of pork, egg, and seaweed; but the most important part of this dish is the soup, which varies a lot depending on the restaurant. The flavor is very unique, different from anything you ever tasted before and can be very strong according to where you order it. The way the pork is cooked makes it so soft that sometimes it breaks into pieces as soon as you catch it with your chopsticks. With one bowl of ramen and a side dish, you can be sure that by the time you finish your meal, you will be satisfied… If you can finish it!
Tempura is more of a snack than a dish and is made basically from seafood and vegetables that have been battered and deep-fried, seasoned with a sauce made with soy sauce, ginger, and sugar. Tempura made from fowl and fish can also be found. The size of the piece has to be able to be eaten in one bite and even when it is fried, it is carefully looked after not to be oily. Tempura is served with Tetsuyu sauce that it is a mix of consomme, sweet sake, soy sauce, ginger, radish, and spices. What many people don’t know is that tempura is actually a classical Portuguese dish brought to and made famous by Japan.
Literally meaning ‘grilled as you like it’, this savory Japanese version of the pancake is a mixture made with flour, yam and egg. As the name suggests, you can also add anything you like. The most commons ingredients are green onion, shrimp, beef, vegetables, squid, mochi and cheese. It is cooked in a griddle and usually made by the customers themselves, which can be part of the fun. Because the preparation has to be cooked from both sides, by the time it has to be turned, it is a stressful and also funny moment, especially when it is your first time doing it! However if you find it hard, the staff will gladly help you or even make it for you, so don’t worry.
Shabu-shabu is a dish consisting of a stew (beef, pork, chicken, shrimp), vegetables (watercress, shinkiku, chard, garlic, chives, moyashi etc.), mushrooms (shiitake and shimeji) and others ( udon, konnyaku, kamaboku, etc.).
The ingredients are quickly cooked in a beef broth and served with ponzu (usually prepared with sesame). This broth is prepared hours before the actual preparation of the main course since they are boiled in the water: pork and/or chicken, along with konbu (seaweed) and shiitake (mushroom) – without any seasoning. This broth is only for cooking the ingredients. To serve the dish, only the meat and vegetables (without the broth) are removed and then seasoned with the ponzu (sauce). It is very delicious!
Yakitori (焼 き 鳥, や き と リ) or ‘‘grilled chicken’, is a Japanese type of broiled chicken. The term “yakitori” may also refer to spit foods in general. The Kushiyaki (grilled spit) is a formal term that covers both poultry and non-poultry, on the skewer and grilled. The terms yakitori and kushiyaki are used as synonyms in Japanese society.
The yakitori-ya are small restaurants or tents that grilling the yakitori in the coal to be consumed along with alcoholic drinks (usually beer or shochu) at night. These establishments are known for their informal atmosphere and are popular meeting places, particularly for young people and workers on their way home. In some parts of Japan, a large number of yakitori-yas can be found together in a street or alley.
It has an occidental flavor so if you are not sure about what to taste first or you find out that traditional Japanese flavors are a bit too exotic for you, this is one of the options that foreigners could be more identified with.
Omuraisu or Omurice (オムライス) is a western dish which was adapted to fit the Japanese taste (Yoshoku). It is very popular in Japan, Korea and Taiwan and basically consists of omelet with fried rice with a ketchup topping. It is said that Omurice was first served in 1902, at a western-style restaurant called Renga-tei, in Ginza district, Tokyo.
The owner said that the idea comes from an old Chakin-Zushi (sushi rice wrapped by a thin omelet layer) recipe. The omurice filling is usually is a Raisu Chikin (rice with chicken and spices), but may vary depending on the recipe, containing beef, vegetables and other ingredients.
Miso Soup (Japanese: 味噌 汁 | misoshiru) is a side dish often consumed by the Japanese. The word missoshiru means fermented soy broth, consisting of two words where misso means “fermented soy” and shiru, “broth”. It is usually prepared with soy, hondashi, tofu, chives; sometimes other vegetables are added. The misoshiru is served before the main course in mostly every meal and with almost every dish, making it a must-try if you really want to emerge yourself in the Japanese gastronomic culture. Being a popular side dish, you can basically find it at any restaurant you go to.
The oniguiri (Japanese: お 握 り) also known as nigiri or omusubi (お む す び) is a Japanese rice ball usually triangle-shaped, or oval-shaped wrapped in a nori leaf. This is the most popular snack in Japan. It can have several types of filling, but traditionally it is stuffed with fried salmon, umeboshi, katsuobushi, or any other type of salty or sour ingredient. In Japan, the oniguiri is found in a multitude of places ranging from convenience stores, supermarkets, free fairs, sushi houses or even specialized establishments in oniguiri called onigiri-ya. No matter what time is it, or where you are, if you are hungry and you don´t have time, you can buy an onigiri.
Kare Raisu (rice with curry)
This is a simple but delicious dish that can be found all around Japan. Very popular among Japanese kids, Kare raisu is just rice with curry, but the taste is different from the original Indian one. To make the Japanese curry, it is used a variety of meats and vegetables. The meats used are usually chicken, pork, beef and sometimes duck. As for the basic vegetables: onions, carrots and potatoes. To fit every taste, here are different levels of spicy: soft, regular and hot are the most common.
Katsudon (カツ丼) is a traditional Japanese dish, consisting on a bowl of rice covered with breaded pork chop, egg and other ingredients. The word “Katsu” is an abbreviation of “tonkatsu” (pork chop) and “don” is from “donburi” (dishes served in a bowl with rice).
The Katsudon is a very popular meal among the Japanese and is considered an auspicious dish because of its name. “Katsu” has the same pronunciation as the verb “to win” or “to be victorious”. For this reason, to taste this dish on the eve of school exams has become a tradition among students.
Udon (Japanese: う ど ん or 饂 飩) is a type of thick noodle made from flour, popular in Japanese cuisine. Udon is usually served as a soup, in hot broth based on dashi, shoyu and mirin. About basic udon, one or more ingredients are added, and these ingredients give rise to various types of udon. Most of them carry negi (chives) chopped.
The flavor of the broth and the additional ingredients vary from region to region. Dark brown broth made with stronger-tasting shoyu (koikuchi shoyu) is consumed in Tokyo and in the northern regions of Japan, and light brown broth made with softer shoyu (usukuchi shoyu) is preferred in Osaka and in more regions south.
The difference in broth is also a fact when it comes to instant noodles, which are sold in two different versions, one adapted to the north and another to the south.
Gyudon (ぎ ゅ う ど 丼), is a Japanese dish consisting of a bowl of rice topped with beef and onion cooked in a lightly sweet sauce made from dashi (bonito and algae), shoyu ( soy sauce) and mirin (a type of sweet sake). It can also include shirataki and tofu. Gyu means cattle (both ox and cow), while don is an abbreviation for donburi, a type of Japanese bowl. A very popular food in Japan, it is usually served with beni-shoga (tanned ginger), can add a raw egg and/or shichimi (a mixture of peppers) and accompanied by a missoshiru. Besides simplicity, it is a very tasty dish and also cheap. Another good thing about it is that the service is very fast. You can have it on your table in less than 5 minutes. This makes gyudon a very good option for quick lunchtime.
Soba (そ ば or 蕎麦), meaning buckwheat in Japanese, is a type of Japanese pasta made from buckwheat flour, which gives it the colour, and may or may not mix other ingredients in the dough. Soba noodles are thin (Udon noodles are thick) and they can be eaten also cold or hot. There are shops and restaurants in Japan that only cook soba, maybe with some simple side dish as tempura. You can also find fresh noodles at the supermarkets to cook at home. To make the preparation easier, these noodles can be also eaten just with a mentsuyu sauce.