There are hundreds of different types of Japanese food and different parts of Japan specialise in different types of dishes. Here is our list of food you must try when visiting Japan:
Tonkatsu is one of my favourite Japanese foods. Deep fried pork cutlets is very much a comfort food for me and I will generally eat atleast once a week during a stay in Japan. It is usually served with shredded cabbage, a bowl of rice and a bowl of miso soup. On the table at a tonkatsu restaurant is a special Japanese BBQ sauce which you pour over the top of pork cutlets. There is also often a hot mustard sauce available too.
Another variation is katsu don, which is the pork cutlet which is served on top of a bowl of rice with an egg put on top. This is a very simple and awesomely delicious dish to try. You will find katsu don all over Japan.
If you are visiting Nagoya in Japan then one of their specialty dishes is Miso Katsu. The pork katsu cutlet is made with a miso paste (this is most common) or they serve the breaded cutlet and the miso paste sauce is in a separate dish for you to dunk the pork cutlet in before eating. In Nagoya there are loads of restaurants that serve Miso Katsu. (also check out Food you should try in Nagoya Japan).
Japanese Curry is a little bit similar to Indian curry but not as spicy. It is usually served with katsu (pork, chicken or beef breaded cutlet). There is a chain of Japanese curry restaurants all over Japan called Coco Curry House. Here you can choose what sort of cutlet comes with the curry and how spicy you want to curry to be, rated from 1 – 10. I like my food spicy. I ordered level 6 spiciness and it was about as spicy as I could take it. Proceed with caution over level 6 unless you like a real ring burner!
Takoyaki is originally from Osaka area though you will find takoyaki all over Japan now. These lovely balls with a piece of squid in the middle are very popular all over Japan. The batter around the squid is flower based and goes crispy on the outside and is soft and goey in the middle. The round takoyaki balls are then coating with a special sauce and bento flakes. Most of the shops that sell Takoyaki have the grill on display where you can see the chef making the takoyaki. At Narita airport terminal 2, where I generally leave to fly back to Australia, has a small takoyaki restaurant. I always stop here for a plate of takoyaki and a beer, my last meal in Japan!
Sushi and Sashimi
Ofcourse most people have heard of the Japanese delicacy sushi and sashimi. Sashimi is just slices of raw fish. Sushi is the raw fish served on rice. Believe it or not, sushi is not eaten often by Japanese people. Most Japanese only eat sushi as a special treat or for a celebration. This may be hard to believe when visiting Japan as there are sushi restaurants all over the place. Some sushi restaurants are even open 24 hours a day.
The best recommendation to find the freshest sushi in Japan is to try it at the Tsukiji Fish Markets in Tokyo. At the front of the fish markets are lots of little sushi restaurants, some you stand at the counter that only fits 4 people. Get there early in the morning and try the sushi for breakfast. This will be the freshest sushi you can try anywhere!
Tempura is lightly battered food (prawns, fish and vegetables) deep fried in oil. The light batter is made with flower and water that is chilled. When the cold batter hits the hot oil it puffs up make it light and fluffy. If you really want to try the best tempura in Tokyo then try Tempura Konda in Ginza. Tempura Konda is a 2 Michelin Star restaurant. Check out our review for Tempura Kondo.
Okonomoyaki – Japanese pancake
If anything, Okonomoyaki (Japanese savoury pancake) is a mix between a pancake and an omelette. Probably less flower and more egg than a normal pancake, it is often cooked with a mix of seafood inside the pancake though you can get Okonomoyaki with anything inside. Okonomo actually means ‘what you like’ and yaki means grilled. So you can grill what you like in an okonomoyaki! The style of these Japanese pancake vary from region to region all over Japan.
Yakiniku – BBQ meat
Yakiniku translates to ‘grilled meat’ or often called Japanese BBQ. A yakiniku restaurant generally have a charcoal grill built into the restaurant tables and you do the cooking. Large plates of raw meat are brought to your table and you place the meat on the grill and turn over. Usually accompanied with large quanities of beer and sake! So you drink some, turn the meat on the bbq, then move the meat to your bowl and eat, then drink some more, put more meat on the bbq and repeat again.
I am leaving yakitori to last as it is also one of my favourite Japanese foods. Grilled chicken skewers are simple and go oh so well with beer! There are loads of good yakitori restaurants in Tokyo. One of the traditional yakitori restaurants I can recommend is directly under the Hilton Hotel in Nishi-Shinjuku Tokyo called Otowatei Yakitori Bar. You sit at the counter and watch the chef cook the skewers over a charcoal grill and he then serves it directly to your plate.
There are also 2 other areas in Tokyo which has some great yakitori restaurants. Omode Yokocho in Shinjuku and Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya and 2 areas which have a few small laneways which are lined with yakitori bars. Check out our article about Yakitori and Beer in Tokyo
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