You may have already tried some popular Japanese dishes like sushi and ramen, but what other famous Japanese foods are out there to sample? Japanese cuisine has become increasingly popular around the world largely due to how healthy yet delectable Japanese meals can be. Japanese people strongly believe in the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ and take great care to balance nutrients and colors in every meal.
Japanese history and culture often center on food, and each region and prefecture in Japan has its own original dishes as well as unique variants on traditional Japanese food. Typically, a home-cooked, traditional Japanese meal consists of rice, miso soup, and three dishes—often meat or fish, a vegetable, and a pickled dish—but at restaurants in Japan, there’s so many more dishes out there for you to enjoy!
The Japanese food offered in our local restaurants might differ from dishes served in Japan. For your next vacation to the Land of the Rising Sun, we’ve compiled a list of the top Japanese foods to try in Japan! We’ve included popular Japanese meals that Japanese people might eat at home, as well as meals found almost exclusively at restaurants. This guide also features a brief overview of seasonal Japanese sweets and Japanese fair food found throughout the country. So, let’s dive into our list of what food Japanese people eat!
What could be better than pork cutlets deep-fried in batter and typically served with cabbage, Miso soup, rice, and pickles? Tonkatsu is a savory Japanese dish that many Japanese workers enjoy during their lunch break, and it’s filling enough to tide you over for the day!
“Omelet Rice” consists of rice flavored with ketchup and Worcestershire sauce wrapped in a fluffy omelet. This popular Japanese dish is enjoyed by all ages, particularly children. It’s an easy meal to make at home, or a perfect light lunch at a restaurant!
Both lightly crispy and perfectly delicious, tempura is a well-known and popular Japanese dish you may have already eaten. Tempura can be served as a side-dish or as the centerpiece of the meal. Seasonal vegetables and seafood (usually shrimp) are deep fried with panko bread crumbs to make a fluffy, crunchy outer layer. As an entrée, Tempura is usually served on a bed of rice and accompanied by miso soup and pickled vegetables.
Grilled meat! In many Yaki-Niku restaurants in Japan, guests cook their own meat! In Japanese dining culture, food is more fun when you cook with a friend. Order the dish of your choice, fire up the grill, and let the good times roll!
Don’t get this dish confused with the similarly pronounced Hambaga (Hamburger). Hambagu isn’t a hamburger at all, it’s actually more like meatloaf. This is one of the best Japanese foods to eat if you’re getting tired of having fish every day but don’t want to miss out on experiencing Japanese food culture. This dish can be cooked at home, is a favorite among people of all ages, and is served in a variety of ways. The hambagu in the photo above is filled with cheese!
In Japanese, Nabe actually refers to a pot that is similar to a sauce pan. However, the word Nabe is often used to describe a popular Japanese meal. Nabe is a great Japanese food to try to make at home because it’s simple, and it feeds a lot of people. In Japan, people make Nabe by setting up a portable gas burner on the dinner table, bringing water to a boil to make a soup, and throwing in a variety of vegetables, meats, tofu, and noodles. The best part about Nabe is that family and guests all take turns tossing in their favorite ingredients!
I bet you know this one, right? If you’ve only ever eaten instant ramen and didn’t enjoy the taste, don’t let that deter you from trying authentic Japanese ramen. Ramen originally came from China, but Japan has made so many delicious variations of the dish that many people associate Ramen with Japanese food. Ramen typically comes in a broth flavored with miso, salt, or soy sauce with a healthy portion of slurp-able noodles, a bit of pork, and a sliced egg.
Udon is similar to ramen but with thicker noodles, (usually) a clear broth, and a lighter taste overall. Unlike ramen, which is served hot, Udon has cold and hot variations. Tsumetai Udon (Cool Udon) is the perfect seasonal food in Japan to eat after a long day in the heat!
We can’t get through this list without including sushi. This traditional and popular Japanese food has taken the world by storm! During the Edo Period, sushi was a simple Japanese fast food or snack that was served one piece at a time and eaten by hand. Now, sushi is an internationally-famous delicacy in Japanese dining culture. Sushi chefs are highly trained, often practicing ten years or more because they’re considered masterful at this culinary art form.
If you’re not a fan of raw fish, go for vegetarian sushi, fruit sushi, or sushi served with cooked meat. After all, the main attraction of sushi is the vinegared rice!
Made from soy, tofu is often served as a side-dish to accompany Japanese meals at home or in restaurants. There are many ways Japanese people prepare tofu, but the most common way is to flavor the tofu with a bit of soy sauce and top it with slices of green onion.
Soba technically means “buckwheat,” but the word usually refers to the noodles, typically made from a combination of wheat and buckwheat flour. Soba can be served in a hot soup or drained and chilled like in the image above. Like most Japanese food, soba is a light but filling meal!
Grilled chicken on a stick might seem like a simple meal, but the real fun of this traditional Japanese food is how it’s cooked! Most Yakitori shops have open kitchens so diners can watch as their orders are prepared. Several parts of the chicken not typically used in Western cuisine are used in Japanese cuisine, so feel free to get adventurous… or just stick to thighs and wings!
You might be wondering what curry is doing on a list of Japanese food. Curry rice is Japan’s version of curry; it uses Japanese sticky rice, and its spice level is extremely mild. This is a typical meal Japanese people eat at home, so you can immerse yourself in the culture by trying this dish!
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese food that’s native to Osaka but can be enjoyed almost anywhere in Japan. Okonomiyaki is a type of savory pancake, mainly consisting of light, salty dough and cabbage. It can be garnished with many things, but it’s usually topped with Japanese Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito (fish) flakes.
Pickles are an important component of many Japanese dishes, but Japanese people don’t make pickles just from cucumbers! Almost any vegetable including okra, radish, or cabbage might come pickled with your Japanese meal. Since pickles are so prevalent in Japanese food culture, you can find them in most restaurants and typical Japanese households.
Shabu-Shabu is quite a feast! To make shabu-shabu, prepare two broths, a plethora of raw vegetables, and slices of pork or beef. Next, boil the vegetables, then boil the meat of your choosing. When everything is finished cooking, dip these delicious morsels into your favorite sauce and eat!
Similar to Shabu-Shabu, the Japanese dish Sukiyaki consists of a boiling broth filled with your favorite vegetables, meats, and even tofu! However, you use a savory sauce with Shabu-Shabu, and with Sukiyaki, you dip your food into raw egg! Don’t worry—raw eggs are another typical ingredient in Japanese food, and laws surrounding the cleaning and storage of raw eggs are extremely strict in Japan.
Enjoy the subtle sweetness of Anmitsu, a traditional Japanese dessert made of gelatin. Anmitsu can be served with a variety of ingredients such as sweet red beans, mochi, chestnuts, fruits, and sweet black syrup. However, there’s no single standard for making Anmitsu. The core ingredients are gelatin, and sweet red bean paste, which make this popular Japanese dish a light-tasting but sweet treat.
This treat originated in China but has a long history as a Japanese confection. Manju come in hundreds of varieties that can vary from region to region. The soft, chewy, and sometimes sticky outside bun is typically filled with a custard or bean paste. Manju is usually served as a dessert but some are stuffed with savory foods like pork and curry!
Japanese green tea, anyone? Too bitter? No problem! You can get green tea-flavored sweets in a million different ways! One of the most popular ways to eat matcha—green tea powder—is in Japanese soft cream. Don’t let your eyes fool you—this isn’t frozen yogurt. Japanese soft cream is made from just that—cream! The cone pictured above is flavored with matcha powder, and it is a great, bittersweet treat to enjoy on a summer day!
Taiyaki is a Japanese festival food, but it’s so popular that you don’t need to go to a festival to try it. Taiyaki is made from a batter similar to a pancake’s, grilled into the shape of a fish, and filled with things like sweet bean paste, custard, or chocolate!
This refreshing and seasonal Japanese food is typically served during the hot months. Kakigori is often called ‘Japanese shaved ice,’ but this isn’t that carnival food you may have tried before! With Kakigori, you won’t find huge chunks of brain freeze-inducing ice clumps. Instead, the ice is shaved down into fluffy snowflakes. Besides, the syrup isn’t neon-colored sugar water that resembles a bio-hazard—this succulent syrup is a reduction made from seasonal summer fruits.
Feeling hungry yet? Book with us, and we’ll take you on a culinary journey to some of the most delicious food Japan has to offer!