Food in Japan can be different to anything you’ve experience before. And, it can be tricky to know what you’re ordering and what to expect.
In March 2016, we completed an epic journey through Japan with thirteen of our friends. We experienced the amazing culture and ate some of the most incredible food. Find out how we budgeted, fumbled and ate our way through Tokyo, Myoko, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Hakone.
So, here are my ‘food in Japan’ tips so you know where, what and how to eat in Japan.
Food in Japan: five of my favourite Japanese foods you must try
There’s a culinary war going on in Japan over who can make the best Okonomiyaki, and when you experience it you’ll find out why. Okonomiyaki literally means “grilled as you like” and the entire selecting, cooking and eating process makes it a Japanese experience you can’t miss. It’s messy and unrefined manner is not what you expect in Japanese food, which is why it may not surprise you to learn that okonomiyaki started out as a popular “common people” pre-war period dish called issen yoshoku (“Western food for a dime”).
Okonomiyaki (don’t you just love saying it?!) is a pancake of messy comfort food; a crepe topped with cabbage, green onion, sliced pork, fish flakes, dried seaweed, or anything you like, with a generous helping of special sauce, grilled on a hotplate built into the table.
If you’re in Hiroshima, allegedly the birthplace of Okonomiyaki, the Okonomimura Building is home to three floors of diners/restaurants all serving delicious Okonomiyaki in a variety of ways. It’s about half-way between the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the JR Hiroshima Station.
Ramen is a popular street food often consumed late at night by slurping Japanese locals. Originally from China, this Japanese favourite usually consists of wheat or egg noodles and meat (usually pork) in a broth that is either tonkotsu (pork bone), miso, soy sauce or salt flavoured.
The art to eating your enormous bowl of ramen is to devour the entire contents as fast as you can (usually around five minutes) to prevent the seaweed and noodles going too soggy. There is no correct way to eat ramen, but many people believe that you should use chopsticks to swiftly eat the toppings and noodles first, slurping as you go, and then use the ladle or drink the broth like you would a coffee.
In a nutshell: slurp loudly and quickly, and don’t be afraid to pick up the bowl with your hands.
Delicious gyoza are thin-dough dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables. In Japan, they are fried and steamed before being eaten with a special dipping sauce, usually made with rice vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil. You can eat gyoza as a small snack or as a main meal, and even learn more about the history and varieties at the Gyoza Stadium in Osaka.
Yakitori is a familiar food usually found at Australian BBQs and households around the world. It is skewered meat (chicken) cooked over charcoals and intended to be eaten straight from the stick. In Japan, yakitori started as a way to sell the sinewy meat that no one wanted to eat. Now, yakitori restaurants and street food stalls can be found all over Japan, serving a delicious variety of skewered meats, including some unusual varieties such as chicken tail, pig uterus and whole squid.
We found some delicious yakitori in Nishiki Market in Kyoto!
5. Sushi and sashimi
You have to try some of the delicious sushi and sashimi while you’re in Japan.
Sashimi is a Japanese delicacy consisting of very fresh raw meat or fish sliced into thin pieces and generally draped over a garnish, which is mostly the white radish called daikon radish. It is served with a small pot of soy sauce for dipping. It can be slightly more expensive than sushi, but it’s a unique delicacy!