Japanese food isn’t only sushi – in fact Japanese people will eat sushi once every 10 days and definitely not every day! And teppanyaki doesn’t really count either: it’s a special-occasion, high-end, restaurant dish. So, what do the Japanese eat? Well, first of all, food is quite expensive in Tokyo and in the larger cities. Also, the food options are so different from what we’re used to that any visitor to Japan might have a hard time finding food that will suit their Western palate. The only solution, in such a situation, is to dive in and taste what Japanese food has to offer. It’s very different from anything we eat here, and the best Japanese dishes absolutely delicious!
1. Yakitori – Best Japanese Dishes
You will notice the word “yaki” in many of the dishes presented in Japan. It means “grilled”. Also, in Japan, most restaurants will offer only one dish. Even if there are long menus in each restaurant you visit, you will notice that all the dishes are a simple variation on the one dish they make. Yakitori restaurants are a great example. Yakitori means “grilled chicken”. On the menu, you will find many different parts of the chicken: wings, thighs, skin, “anus”, heart. All of them are marinated in the same sauce, grilled the same way, and presented on skewers that all look the same. It all goes great with beer, shochu or saké. Oh, and the “anus”? It’s actually the “pope’s nose“.
2. Ramen – Best Japanese Dishes
It’s all the rage lately downtown New York and Toronto, and for good reason: this is Japan’s version of the noodle soup, and it’s wonderful. Please note that it has absolutely nothing to do with the dehydrated packages of noodles we used to eat raw when we were kids. There are different ramen types depending on the region. When you enter a ramen shop in Tokyo, you need to go put your money in a machine, choose your dish from the pictures, take the coupon, give it to the cook at the counter, sit down and eat. An experience in itself!
READ MORE: The Best Ramen in Tokyo is Right Here!
This word literally means “rice bowl”, and it’s exactly what it is: a rice bowl with one or many item(s) on top. It can range from one piece of grilled fish on top of boiled rice to stewed beef, deep-fried shrimp, an omelet, dashi (stock), tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlets), sashimi (raw fish), and anything and everything in-between. In Japan, there’s a couple of restaurant chains that serve this dish on the cheap.
Note: Japan isn’t the cheapest country out there. Check out these tips on how to backpack the country on the cheap by travelonthebrain!
4. Food from Lawson
Onigri (rice balls), Natto (sticky fermented beans), Tempura (deep-fried anything), Bento (lunch boxes), full take-out sushi sets, Donburi (rice bowls), Okonomiyaki (omelets)… name it, Lawson has it. What’s Lawson? Japan’s answer to 7-Eleven. And it’s good – not “great”, but… Since food is expensive and time is money, many Japanese “salarymen” survive on Lawson. For lunch – or for a post-drinking snack – head to the convenience store!
NOTE: Planning to visit Japan? Nicole LaBarge shares a 7-day Japan itinerary in her blog!
Bentos are lunchboxes that are sold pretty much anywhere. Some of them contain surprisingly delicious morsels of Japanese cuisine. As an example, you could find barbecued eel, rice, tempura shrimp, a small tapioca dessert and a few pickles in one. Who wouldn’t like such a cool lunchbox?
These doughnuts filled with chunks of braised squid are an Osaka speciality but are slowly getting popular around the world, which means that a lot of other Japanese regions are beginning to offer it as well. They’re usually covered with mayonnaise and dried bonito flakes and eaten with toothpicks. They’re the ideal street food snack and are surprisingly good with beer!