When traveling, the only thing better than seeing the sights is tasting the authentic flavors of traditional and popular foods a city, region, and/or country has to offer.
Japan is home to dishes that have become popular around the world, like sushi and ramen. Though these dishes are delicious, the country has so much more to offer. If you find yourself in Japan, here’s a list of classic and iconic, “can’t-miss” foods you should try.
Chawanmushi is a unique egg custard dish that can be served hot or cold. Chawanmushi means "steamed in a tea bowl,” but unlike other custards, this dish features savory ingredients like shrimp and mushrooms.
Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, gyoza are delicious, pan-fried dumplings. Gyoza are typically stuffed with pork and cabbage and are served with a dipping sauce. They make a good appetizer and snack.
3. Japanese-style Breakfast
A Japanese-style breakfast will give you plenty of energy to start your day. A typical breakfast in Japan includes several parts: a rice dish, a soup, some kind of protein (like egg, fish, or fermented soybeans) and a side dish (typically with vegetables). This meal is normally enjoyed with a cup of green tea.
Should you find yourself visiting Japan, be sure to stop in a Japanese bakery. Though you’ll find a plethora of treats, we like kashipan. The name means “sweet bread” and they are delicious! Kashipan can be filled with cream, jam, or a sweet red bean paste called “anko."
Mochi are rice cakes made from a glutinous, short-grain rice called “mochigome.” Mochi represent good fortune and are very significant to Japanese culture. They are enjoyed during holidays like New Year’s and Children’s Day as well as year-round.
This traditional Japanese food is known for its potent flavor and smell as well as its unique texture that’s both sticky and slick. Nattō is made from fermented soybeans. It’s typically served over rice with extras like soy sauce and green onion. Nattō isn’t for everyone—but how would you know unless you try it?
Okonomiyaki is a kind of savory pancake made from a wheat flour-based batter. The batter and toppings differ depending on the region. In Hiroshima, the pancake ingredients are layered instead of mixed, and in parts of Osaka, chicken and tallow is used instead of pork.
Omelettes meet fried rice in this Japanese dish, which literally means “omelette rice.” Omurice is chicken fried rice wrapped in fluffy egg. It’s normally topped with ketchup, but other sauces can be used too.
Though ramen has become popular around the world, there’s nothing quite like enjoying this delicious noodle soup in Japan. There are many different kinds of ramen, with flavor profiles, broths, and garnishes varying among Japan’s many regions.
Though sushi can be enjoyed in several places around the globe, it originated in Japan and has been an important part of Japanese cuisine for centuries. Originally, only eel, halibut, tuna, and shellfish were used for sushi, compared to the vast array of fish used today.
Takoyaki, also known as “octopus balls,” are made of diced octopus that’s seasoned with ingredients like pickled ginger and green onions before being coated in a batter and fried. Takoyaki can be found in restaurants as an appetizer as well as at food stalls (yatai) during Japanese festivals.
Udon is a type of thick Japanese noodle made from wheat flour. They are used in hot and cold dishes, depending on the season.“Kake udon,” noodles served in a mild broth called “kakejiru,” is arguably udon in its simplest form.
Umeboshi are pickled Japanese plums. Thanks to their powerful sour and salty taste, Umeboshi are typically paired with other foods, as a side dish to rice and on top of rice balls. Umeboshi pack a punch in the flavor department, but they are also said to have health benefits too.
Wagyū, also know as Japanese beef, is a high-grade meat that comes from specific, specially fed and raised cows. Wagyū is known for its highly desirable blend of meat and fat called “marbling.” It can be expensive, but for many meat-lovers, it’s worth it.
Japanese cuisine features a wide variety of flavors and textures. Though Japan is home to many foods that have gained global popularity, there’s nothing quite like enjoying “must-try” foods when they’re 100% authentic.
Dallas Ernst is a content producer, writer, and creative with a B.A. in English/Professional Writing. She enjoys editing, writing, baking, and film. She currently lives in Long Island, NY.