Japanese food is one of the most celebrated cuisines in the world for its impressive use of flavor, color, and cooking techniques. Traditional Japanese food, or washoku, is meticulously prepared according to the rules of five: five cooking methods (raw food, grilling, steaming, boiling, and frying,), five colors (black, white, red, yellow, and green), and five distinct flavors (sweet, spicy, salty, sour, and bitter.) A few of these elements can be found in every single Japanese dish, no matter how simple or complex it is.
Japanese cuisine boasts some of the world’s most exciting and exquisitely presented dishes. Delve deeper and discover which Japanese foods you should be trying next!
15 Popular Japanese Foods You Should Know
One iconic Japanese dish that just about everyone has tried is sushi. Sushi is a dish that is prepared with vinegared rice and a variety of fresh fish. Talented sushi chefs, or itamae, consider each piece of sushi they create a unique, colorful display of skill.
There are several different types of sushi to choose from. Some of these types include nigiri, maki, uramaki, and temaki. The two most commonly found types in the United States are nigiri (seafood served on top of sushi rice) and maki (rice and filling rolled in seaweed). Sushi is typically eaten with chopsticks and enjoyed with soy sauce and wasabi.
If you’re thinking of the five-for-a-dollar noodle packets in the grocery store, think again. Real ramen is so much more — and so incredibly delicious.
Ramen is very popular in Japan. It consists of wheat noodles served in a soy sauce (shoyu) or miso soup base. Sometimes it is served with pork, beef, or fish. Hard-boiled eggs and assorted vegetables such as corn, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and seaweed are also popular additions to ramen.
In Japanese, unagi means “freshwater eel,” and that’s exactly what this unique menu option is. It’s a popular summer option in Japanese cuisine, and the Japanese believe that it can help with fatigue from sun exposure. Unagi is commonly prepared with a blend of sweet and savory sauces and then grilled.
Tempura consists of seafood or vegetables dipped in a light batter and fried in canola or sesame oil. It has a light flavor that is very different from that of American-style fried foods. Tempura is often served with rice on the side and a dipping sauce called tetsuyu. Tetsuyu is a mixture of consommé, sake, soy sauce, radish, ginger, and an assortment of unique spices.
This versatile dish can be created with just about any vegetable. Unlike other deep-fried foods, it must be consumed in one bite. Another feature that sets tempura apart from other deep-fried dishes is its lack of an oily texture.
Sashimi is a common menu item in restaurants where sushi is served; however, there are some differences between the two raw seafood dishes. Sashimi isn’t served with rice, while sushi is. While most commonly associated with fish, sashimi refers to any thinly sliced raw food. Other popular sashimi proteins include raw beef, chicken, and even horse.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and resemble thin spaghetti. They can be found in a variety of hot and cold dishes, with or without soup. You’ll often find soba noodles alongside tempura, raw egg, vegetables, or meat.
Soba noodles are a traditional New Year’s Eve meal in Japan. Cutting the noodles symbolizes letting go of the previous year’s hardships.
Shabu-shabu is a hotpot dish consisting of meat, seafood, tender vegetables, tofu, and noodles boiled in hot water or consommé and served with rice and dipping sauces. The pot is communal, meaning diners can cook various elements of the dish at the same time. It’s a fun and exciting way to share a meal with family and friends.
This pan-fried batter and cabbage dish is truly special and one to try if you ever get the chance. The dish is similar to a pancake in that it is cooked on a griddle. Some popular okonomiyaki toppings include green onions, beef, cheese, and vegetables. The dish gets its name from the word okonomi, which translates to “to one’s liking.”
If you’re looking for Americanized Japanese cuisine, you’ll want to order this appetizing dish. Tonkatsu is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet served with a side of shredded cabbage.
Yakitori is the Japanese version of skewers. These mixtures of vegetables and meat are grilled and brushed with teriyaki sauce. Initially, only chicken was served in yakitori (the Japanese word tori means “bird”). Today, pork, beef, and fish are also used.
This humble dish consists of seasoned beef over a bed of rice. It is inexpensive, uncomplicated, and easy to prepare, but it is still delightful and jam-packed with incredible flavor. Common sides include miso soup and salad.
Looking for an exciting and unique snack option? You’ll want to give takoyaki a try. This ball-shaped snack consists of fried wheat batter stuffed with octopus and other savory ingredients such as green onion and tempura. The word tako-yaki translates to “grilled/fried octopus.” Takoyaki is a hugely popular street food in Japan.
You might know this tasty treat by another name: pot stickers. Gyoza comes in three delicious forms: yakigyoza (fried), suigyoza (boiled), and agegyoza (deep-fried). Each piece is encased in a thin wrapper and stuffed with pork, mushrooms, cabbage, and chives. These savory treats can be dipped in soy sauce, sesame oil, or vinegar for exciting flavor options.
Like soba noodles, udon noodles are wheat-based noodles that are very popular in Japan. They are also served either hot or cold with a variety of other ingredients. However, unlike soba noodles, udon noodles are thick, dense, and chewy. Udon noodles are most commonly served in consommé with soy sauce.
15. Miso Soup
Miso soup is served as a side dish with almost every meal in Japan. It’s light, and its subtle flavor makes it a perfect accompaniment to rice and other entrées. Miso soup is made from miso paste (fermented soybeans) and consommé. Miso soup also contains tofu, onions, and seaweed.
There are a lot of unusual, one-of-a-kind Japanese dishes to try. Though the names may be harder to pronounce, many of the flavors are approachable and delicious. Even if you consider yourself set in your ways when it comes to food, you’ll love the tonkatsu and yakitori. Try all 15, and you might find yourself a new favorite.