Japan is known for its delicious culinary dishes, many of which have become staples in restaurants and homes around the world. With a focus on fresh ingredients and rich flavors, your taste buds will be as delighted as your belly is full. It’s nearly impossible to come up with a complete compilation of the best and most delicious Japanese foods you need to try, but this list is a good place to start:
1 – Curry — This dish, known as kare or kare raisu (curry rice), originates from the Meiji era and was likely brought to Japan by the British. Japanese curry is thicker and sweeter than Indian varieties and typically contains vegetables such as onions, carrots, and potatoes along with meats such as chicken, beef, or pork.
2 – Sushi — One of the best known Japanese foods, sushi consists of rice seasoned with rice vinegar combined with a variety of ingredients including raw fish, vegetables, and nori (seaweed). Sushi is commonly served with soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger, and other sides.
3 – Sukiyaki — In the fall and winter, one of the most popular Japanese foods is sukiyaki. Reminiscent in cooking style to French fondue, the hot pot dish is made by simmering ingredients such as thinly-sliced beef, tofu, vegetables, and even noodles, in a flavorful broth containing soy sauce, sugar, sake, and mirin.
4 – Ramen — You’ve probably tried the dried variety of this dish, but nothing compares to fresh ramen. Thick and hearty, it’s not considered rude to slurp these wheat noodles which are typically served with sliced pork, green onions, and nori in broth. It’s also very affordable, whether you’re making it at home or eating out.
5 – Okonomiyaki — At first glance, this might look like a fancy pancake, but okonomiyaki is actually a savory dish made from a batter that contains cabbage. You can add almost anything to it, but common ingredients include yams, green onions, and different types of meat.
6 – Tempura — Despite being so simple, tempura is incredibly tasty! Seafood, meats, and vegetables are dipped in a special batter and then fried until crispy — yet, it doesn’t feel greasy! It’s not uncommon to eat tempura on its own, but many also enjoy it with soup or rice.
7 – Yakitori — Want to try one of the more casual Japanese foods? Pick up yakitori, which is a grilled meat skewer brushed with a soy sauce mixture. While it was originally made with chicken, you’ll find these made with beef, pork, and even vegetables these days.
8 – Gyoza — Sometimes called Japanese dumplings or potstickers, gyoza consists of a savory filling (often made up of cabbage, mushroom, green onions, and pork or chicken) inside a thin wrapper. Gyoza can be pan fried (yaki gyoza), boiled (sui gyoza), or even deep fried (age gyoza).
9 – Tonkatsu — Whether it’s for dinner or as part of a bento box lunch, tonkatsu is one of the best Japanese foods. Panko breadcrumbs are used to coat pork chops, which are then fried until crispy and served on a bed of shredded cabbage. Tonkatsu is commonly served with rice and Japanese curry.
10 – Takoyaki — Takoyaki is made by filling a spherical mold with savory batter and bite-sized pieces of octopus. It might be tricky to make at home without the right tools, but you’ll easily find vendors along the streets of Japan selling them topped with a special sauce, mayonnaise, and/or bonito flakes.
11 – Onigiri — Go into any convenience store in Japan and you’ll find onigiri. That’s how popular this snack is! Basically, onigiri are rice balls that are often molded into a triangular shape and filled with meat, vegetables, or eggs and wrapped with a piece of seaweed. They’re easy to make and small enough to carry wherever you go!
12 – Donburi — These rice bowls can be found pretty much anywhere in Japan, with many workers enjoying donburi on their lunch break. Steamed rice is topped with meat, fish, and/or vegetables for a satisfying meal on the go!
Author Bio: Jeanne is a mother of six (including toddler twins!), writer, and social sciences professor. Growing up, her family lived off and on in Japan, where she plans to relocate someday. Follow her adventures of traveling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) on The Anxious Travelers!