Every year, the world falls more and more in love with Japan’s delectable and light-tasting dishes. Japan has the most Michelin-stars in the world by city, and washoku (traditional Japanese food) is among the few international cuisines recognized as a UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Dishes like ramen, sushi, and Kobe beef might be at the top of most people's lists. However, there a few entrees out there that some don't enjoy at all. We surveyed long-term foreign residents in Japan to find out what dishes they don’t recommend. Keep in mind, personal preferences shouldn’t stop you from trying these yourself, and everyone that participated in our discussion had different opinions.
Without fail, as soon as one person listed a food they didn’t like, another would jump in and say it was their favorite! If you’re an adventurous eater, here are ten one-of-a-kind Japanese foods you have to try, especially if it’s your first time in Japan!
Yamaimo is a tubular root vegetable that is light in color and flavor but has a distinct consistency. Served raw and grated, it easily slides down your throat and is considered a summer treat. However, Darla S. does everything she can to avoid it.
“I don’t like slimy foods,” she says. “It’s not just the texture, but the look. Grated yamaimo reminds me of… something I’d rather not say.”
Although yamaimo might not be for everyone, their health benefits make it hard to discount them. Studies show they are high in soluble fiber and Vitamin B.
Konnyaku is another light-tasting potato dish, but it’s very different from yamaimo. The potatoes get boiled, mashed, and mixed with ashes resulting in a jelly-like substance. It’s a versatile fare that you can eat alone or include as an ingredient in different recipes.
“The texture is strange,” says Daisy B. She’s not the only one to think so. Some people describe konnyaku as rubbery, but many enjoy it.
“I’m OK with konnyaku,” says Darla S. “Especially in simmered dishes.”
Konnyaku is a superfood that’s low in calories and helps regulate cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. If you’re a health-conscious person, it’s worth trying!
Fermented foods and drinks are often challenging tastes to acquire if you haven’t grown up with them. Shiokara is a seafood dish with a lot of punch. The most common type of shiokara is squid mixed with viscera, which gets left to ferment for about ten days before serving.
“The taste is so intense,” says Anya L.
Shiokara is a mix of sour, salty, and fishy flavors. Historically, it was a winter dish for when fresh food was scarce. Now, you can find it in izakayas (traditional pubs) for pairing with sake. A small bite of salt and sour brings out the sweetness of the liquor.
Even if your favorite food is crab, you probably don’t love it as much as the average Japanese person. In winter, hordes of people descend upon seaside towns (especially in Hokkaido) to dine on crustaceans, and sometimes are willing to pay anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 yen (about US $200-300) for one plate. Here, chefs don’t waste any part of the crab—including the guts.
Kani Miso is a greyish-green paste made from the internal organs. An average crab will yield about two or three spoonfuls, and the dish might come to your table grilled in the shell or served over tofu. It has a delightfully sweet smell and pungent taste. You might be able to try a bit of it as a side dish if you dine on a kaiseki course meal.
Made from fish sperm and testes, shirako has a reputation for being Japan’s “weirdest” food. However, it’s a surprisingly common ingredient in Western dishes too. In the US, you might hear the word “fish milt,” which Sicilian and Romanian cuisines often use.
Japanese people eat it raw or fried and revere it for its velvety texture. However, the idea of it can turn some people off.
“Not of fan in terms of putting [that] in my mouth,” says Wally H. “And I think it has an ammonia taste to it.”
If you want to ease yourself into it, try ordering your shirako tempura-style. Everything tastes better when it’s battered and fried!
At Yakiniku restaurants, guests order plates of raw meat and barbecue at their tables. Part of the fun is ordering cuts you wouldn’t necessarily see at your local grocery store. There’s one dish, though, that notoriously divides everyone.
“Eating animal intestines is not my idea of fun,” says Andrew N. He’s referring to horumon.
Americans might immediately think of chitlins when they hear about horumon, but the two dishes are markedly different. Horumon comes to your table marinated or spiced before you roast it on a flame. It’s slightly chewy but mostly soft and savory.
"It's one of my favorites," says Marie H. "I mean, I understand why some people don't want to try it. But as long as you don't think about it too hard it's so tasty!"
According to legend, the Minamoto samurai clan accidentally invented natto when they suddenly came under attack while boiling soybeans. They quickly wrapped the beans, but by the time they had a chance to eat them, the food had fermented. However, the clan enjoyed it so much they introduced it to the rest of Japan. Now, natto is a ubiquitous Japanese food you’re likely to see served for breakfast, as a snack, or mixed in with your entrees.
"I didn't like natto the first time I tried it," says Marie H. "Now I eat it almost every day."
Because it is a fermented dish, it has a distinct odor some people can’t stand. Japanese people often eat natto over rice, but if you’re trying it for the first time, you might not want to eat it this way. In Osaka, you can order the beloved street food okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) with natto flavoring. The other ingredients help mute the strong taste.
As you peruse the buffet line at your hotel’s breakfast, you might come across a pile of eggs. They're likely hard-boiled, but don't take that for granted. You could be picking up a raw one for making tamago kake gohan—raw egg on rice.
“I don’t like slimy food,” Darla S. reiterates.
“I love it!” says Anya L.
Many Japanese people enjoy eating tamago kake gohan as a filling and easy-to-prepare breakfast. All you need to do is crack an egg over a bowl of hot rice, stir it, and you’re ready to eat. Note that Japan has some of the strictest food safety regulations in the world. It’s safe to eat raw ingredients you wouldn’t imagine consuming in other countries.
“The first time I went to a grilled chicken place, I couldn’t read Japanese,” says Amelia S. “I just pointed to something on the menu and ordered that. Out of all the things I could have picked, I chose the only raw dish!”
You might be familiar with raw Japanese cuisines like sushi and sashimi, but what about raw chicken? Torisashi is thinly sliced breast or thigh that gets boiled or seared for ten seconds and seasoned with ingredients like garlic, green onions, and sesame seeds. A serving usually comes with wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce to use as garnishes.
Ikura (cured salmon roe) has gained traction across the globe, but there are still a few people who haven’t gotten the chance to, or perhaps refuse to, try it. The delicacy practically melts on your tongue, but the texture doesn’t agree with everyone. With every bite, the individual eggs pop between your teeth and fill your mouth with a salty and fishy flavor.
“It’s kind of like a gusher,” says Jepson T. referring to the American candy. “So I think I’m going to eat something sweet, but it’s salty. It confuses my taste buds!”