Japan, without a doubt, is my favourite country. I have now been there on four different occasions, and have lived there for a semester during university. If anyone invited me to return to my second home I wouldn’t be able to resist! Aside from it’s incredible beauty, culture, history, and amazing people, Japanese food is what really keeps me going back. Japan has anything from $1 sushi plates, to cabbage pizza ‘okonomiyaki’, to the weird and sometimes deadly variety!
You can’t really experience a new country and culture without trying the local cuisine. If you are anything like me, you go to a country with a food bucket list in tow ensuring that you not only tick off all the sites, but all the local foods along the way. Japan is famous for its fresh seafood, green tea ‘matcha’ flavours, wasabi, and hearty noodle dishes!
Udon are thick wheat noodles which absorbs all the flavours that it is served with. Super filling, cheap, and delicious, udon dishes are perfect at warming you up on a cold winter stroll through Japanese temples. The Japanese people love to keep their food simple and really enjoy enhancing the simple flavours. The udon pictured above was purchased at the markets nearby to Ise-Jingu, the holiest shrine in Japan, located in the Mie Prefecture. Wherever you go, udon will differ as different prefectures have different preferences of flavour.
You may have sushi train in your home country, but you have never tried the original! In Japan there are multiple sushi trains where all plates are $1 and offer a huge variety of raw and cooked fish. If you are feeling adventurous you can try raw scallops, prawns, and crab, which I personally think taste better than cooked.
The most simple, yet tastiest dish you will ever have. Okonomiyaki is the Japanese ‘pancake’ or ‘pizza’ and is made with cabbage, flour, egg, and your choice of meats, topped with sauce, mayo, seaweed and bonita flakes (fish). Most izakaya (Japanese bars) will serve you the ingredients on a hot plate where you can mix it together and make it yourself, however there are plenty of places that have it made up ready for you to eat. As with udon, okonomiyaki is different wherever you go. In Hiroshima it is called Hiroshimayaki where they add noodles, and in Tokyo it is Monjayaki where everything is sliced up really fine into a paste and then cooked. Although it may not look appealing, I guarantee you it is delicious!
Soba noodles are another hearty dish to keep you warm in the winter, or cool in the summer (as it can be served in cold water). Green tea soba is also delicious, as the green tea flavours are absorbed in the noodles and mix in with all the other ingredients in the dish. It is so simple yet you have to try it!
Japan has some interesting dishes that you might not be able to try in your home country that I recommend. Pictured above is jellyfish, which isn’t flavoursome but absorbs the flavours it is marinated in. It is super chewy in texture but I thought it was delicious. I would also recommend trying sea urchin. It is strong in flavour and is definitely an acquired taste, and expensive to buy, but it is definitely an experience. Another one I have tried is Fugu – puffer fish. Puffer fish has a pretty bad rap as it does have the capacity to pretty much kill you if it isn’t prepared correctly, however it is a hugely popular dish in the winter time in Japan, and the chefs whom serve it have over 10 years of qualifications in order to serve it correctly. It is served raw, although I have seen it deep fried on an odd occasion, and is a light fish with little flavour – however the Japanese people love it!
Now on to the best stuff – sweets! Matcha (green tea) flavour is predominant in Japan. It is not sweet, but has a distinct and pleasant flavour, and can be found in everything from ice-cream to noodles to chocolates. I have only found Matcha fondue in the Gion area of Kyoto at a quaint and hidden restaurant called Jouvencelle’s Gion Fondue. It is famous to the locals, but very rare for tourists to find it. On the weekends it is very busy so if possible I would recommend to head down during the week, or prepare to wait in a line – but it’s worth it!
Parfait is huge in Japan, and I mean huge. People go out of their way to search for the best parfaits, and whenever I hung out with my school friends on weekends it would always be centred around a parfait. The best parfait’s I found were in the Gion area of Kyoto – I know I reference there a lot but I am biased as it is my hometown – as they are all competing with each other to produce the best and the tastiest!
Weird Soft Serve Ice-cream Flavours
There are some super weird ice-cream flavours in Japan and I don’t even think I’ve tried the half of it. Different areas across the country are famous for certain types of food, and it is often always reflected in their ice-cream flavours. I have tried onion, sweet potato, wasabi, black sesame, corn, cherry blossom, matcha (of course)… the list goes on and on. And for (usually) only $3 a cone, you can’t resist!
A summer staple, shaved ice comes in multiple flavours, but matcha was definitely my favourite. It is often served with warm Azuki beans and rice balls on the side, and is a flavoursome way to cool down in the serious humidity Japan has!
Miso Yaki Onigiri & Matcha Tea
Of course you need to try the traditional whisked matcha tea, but the simple miso yaki onigiri are a treat. Available in restaurants and at the markets or street stalls, miso yaki onigiri is simply fried rice balls covered in miso sauce. It is a savoury dish filled with flavour and is a great healthy snack!
Daifuku & Wagashi
Wagashi (pictured on the right) is a simple sweet snack usually made of red beans, matcha flavours, and sometimes rice, and often served alongside a hot cup of matcha tea. You can also pick them up at the markets and they come in all kinds of beautiful designs. Daifuku is my favourite favourite sweet and its so simple. Traditionally it is a large rice ball filled with either red azuki beans, matcha, chocolate, strawberry, the list goes on and on. The Daifuku pictured (middle) is strawberry and bean flavoured with a fresh strawberry on top – the strawberry really brings out the inside flavours! I picked the three of these snacks up from the Nishiki markets in Kyoto located in the shopping district of Teramachi – a great place to wander down if you want to see and try some interesting foods you may have never had before!
Have you ever traveled to Japan? What are some of your favourite dishes from where you are from?