Japan is famous for its food culture worldwide and with good reason. From teppanyaki to takoyaki there are an enormous range of dishes to try, from the delicious to the downright strange. Most people have encountered sushi, ramen or Teriyaki, whilst many have heard of the notorious Fugu (pufferfish) – which, if prepared incorrectly, can poison you. There are still many dishes though that are not so well known, some of which turned out to be amongst the best meals we had on our travels.
Our two weeks in Japan was packed with amazing food and drink, from enjoying too much sake with salarymen in local bars to a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji fish market we had loads of amazing foodie experiences. Even my mum, who was travelling with us and very nervous about the food in Japan, enjoyed all of the food we tried. It’s been hard to pick just 5 dishes, but these are the ones we think any travellers in Japan must try at least once.
We’ve also included a couple of recommendations of restaurants we thought we particularly good or more about the areas where different dishes should be eaten for the most authentic experience.
This is a kind of savoury pancake that comes with various different fillings to choose from. It’s often cooked on a hot plate at the table, and many restaurants will give you instructions and ingredients to combine and cook up, allowing you to take part in the cooking experience. Popular fillings include thin strips of beef, pork belly, shrimp or octopus mixed with spring onions, vegetables and cheese. Once cooked it’s typically garnished with wasabi mayonnaise, seaweed flakes and okonomiyaki sauce. Originating in Osaka it can be found across Japan and our favourites were in Tokyo. It’s often a popular option at mid range restaurants and is a filling comfort food type dish.
Try: Sometaro in Asakusa for an authentic experience with the friendliest chefs and a cosy interior.
This is another dish that’s most famous in Osaka and we ate an awful lot of it while we were here! It’s basically small balls of batter that are filled with octopus, or sometimes other seafood, and are served with mayonnaise and dried bonito flakes (fish flakes). They are found as everything from street food to restaurant meals and whilst considered more of a snack we enjoyed them for lunch and dinner a couple of times.
Try: Takotako King in Osaka – which is also a jazz & blues cafe and one of our best dining experiences in Japan with its high energy, fun yet laid back atmosphere.
One of the most famous of all exports from Japan, no trip here is complete without trying some of the amazing sushi on offer. From super cheap sushi platters you can pick up from the supermarket to Michelin starred restaurants, Japan takes its sushi seriously and we tried to eat as much as possible. We’d also really recommend trying to take in a sushi making class as we had the best time learning to make sushi ourselves in Osaka. A couple of our best sushi experiences are below for you to try.
Genko Sushi – sushi served to you on a mini train after you order via tablet, great value for money and a fun experience.
Tsukiji Fish Market – one of our ten must Dos in Japan, we were a little reticent about eating sushi for breakfast but had an amazing platter of the freshest sushi here at Tsukiji Sushiko
Hiroshima is well known for the oysters and several people we met said we had to try them when they found out we were headed there. They’ve been farming oysters here for over 500 years and are the biggest producer of oysters in the whole of Japan. We enjoyed steamed, grilled and baked oysters but there are loads of different ways you can choose to have them.
Try: Hiroshima Oyster Road – in Season this road along the coast is full of cafes and street food stalls serving up delicious fresh oysters.
I had to include ramen as it’s my favourite Japanese food and just the perfect quick comfort food. These warming noodles in a thin broth with slices of beef and boiled eggs, amongst other choices, can be found everywhere in Japan. On our first day we were absolutely starving after a long journey and headed to a little restaurant round the corner from our hostel where we had the most amazing ramen we’ve ever tasted. Every stop off from there was a test to see if we’d find somewhere as good, and whilst we ate some great ramen nothing was quite as tasty as that first one!
Try: Ramentei, Taito – consistently one of the best ramen spots in Asakusa with a brilliant set lunch including steamed pork with a sticky barbecue sauce.
Special mentions for other Japanese food favourites include Gyoza pork dumplings which I ate far too many of, as well as Udon noodles that we enjoyed at some lovely local cafes in various spots in Japan. When it comes to sweet treats then Mochi is a must try and, even though it was freezing when we visited, matcha ice cream was being sold everywhere! There are also lots of great street food options from grilled fish and squid to sweet grilled rice balls and cream puffs. The most instagrammable meal in Japan though, is probably a bento box and these are a must try food in Japan if you’re headed on any train journeys, which you probably are!
Japan has a reputation as an expensive destination and whilst it’s definitely not cheap, the availability of amazing food at great value was one of the highlights of our visit. Even the most unassuming places that we popped into served some brilliant food. We found this so different from many other places where you feel like you have to do research and read reviews to make sure you’re spending your money somewhere where you know you’ll get a good meal.