What to Eat in Japan, Food and Drink, Dishes

What to Eat in Japan, Food and Drink, Dishes

Japan, an island nation known for its rich cultural history, stunning landscapes, and technological advancements, is also a gastronomic paradise. From its iconic sushi and ramen to lesser-known regional specialties, the Japanese culinary scene offers a diverse array of flavors and textures to delight the palate. In this article, we will explore some of the most popular and unique dishes, snacks, and beverages that you should try when visiting Japan.


Sushi is arguably the most famous Japanese dish, consisting of vinegared rice combined with various ingredients such as raw fish, seafood, and vegetables. Nigiri sushi, featuring thinly-sliced raw fish atop rice, and maki sushi, rice and other ingredients rolled in a sheet of nori seaweed, are two of the most popular types. While sushi can be found around the world, nothing compares to the fresh and expertly prepared sushi available in Japan.


Sashimi, another iconic Japanese dish, consists of thinly sliced raw fish or seafood, typically served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. Prized for its freshness, sashimi showcases the delicate flavors and textures of high-quality seafood. Some of the most popular types of sashimi include tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and scallops.


Ramen, a hearty and flavorful noodle dish, has become increasingly popular worldwide. However, Japan is the birthplace of this culinary delight, and the variety of regional styles and flavors is unmatched. Ramen typically consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles in a meat or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and topped with ingredients such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, green onions, and a soft-boiled egg.


Tempura is a Japanese dish featuring lightly battered and deep-fried vegetables, seafood, or other ingredients. The crispy, delicate batter distinguishes tempura from other fried foods. Common tempura ingredients include shrimp, fish, eggplant, sweet potato, and mushrooms. Tempura is typically served with tentsuyu, a dipping sauce made from dashi, soy sauce, and mirin.


Often referred to as a Japanese pancake or pizza, okonomiyaki is a savory dish made from a batter of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, and eggs, combined with shredded cabbage and various other ingredients. The batter is cooked on a griddle and typically includes protein such as pork, shrimp, or squid. Regional variations exist, with the two most famous styles originating from Osaka and Hiroshima. Okonomiyaki is usually topped with a sweet and savory sauce, mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and bonito flakes.


Takoyaki, a popular street food originating from Osaka, consists of golf ball-sized, batter-cooked octopus pieces. The batter, which typically contains diced octopus, green onions, pickled ginger, and tempura scraps, is cooked in a special molded pan until it forms a crispy exterior and creamy interior. Takoyaki is often served with a sweet and savory sauce, mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and bonito flakes.


Yakitori, a popular Japanese grilled chicken dish, features skewered chicken pieces cooked over charcoal. The skewers can include various parts of the chicken, such as thigh, breast, liver, heart, and skin. Yakitori is typically seasoned with either a salty-sweet sauce made from soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar, or simply salt. Yakitori is a popular accompaniment to beer or other alcoholic beverages in Japan.


Onigiri, also known as rice balls, are a popular and convenient Japanese snack made from rice formed into triangular or cylindrical shapes and often wrapped in nori seaweed. Onigiri can be filled with a variety of ingredients, such as pickled plum (umeboshi), grilled salmon, tuna and mayonnaise, or salted cod roe. Onigiri can be found in convenience stores and specialty shops across Japan, making them an ideal on-the-go snack.


Udon is a type of thick, chewy wheat noodle commonly served in a hot soy-based broth with various toppings such as tempura, green onions, and fish cake. Udon can also be served cold, dipped in a soy-based sauce, or even stir-fried in dishes like yaki-udon. Regional variations of udon can be found throughout Japan, each with its unique flavor and texture.


Soba, a type of thin, buckwheat noodle, is another popular Japanese noodle dish. Soba can be served hot in a soy-based broth with toppings such as green onions, tempura, and fish cake, or cold with a dipping sauce called tsuyu. Cold soba, known as zaru soba, is often garnished with shredded nori and served with wasabi and green onions to mix into the dipping sauce.


Donburi is a Japanese rice bowl dish featuring various toppings served over steamed rice. There are numerous types of donburi, including oyakodon (chicken and egg), katsudon (breaded pork cutlet and egg), gyudon (beef and onions), and unadon (grilled eel). Donburi is a filling and satisfying meal, typically served with pickles and miso soup.


Tonkatsu is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet dish typically served with shredded cabbage, rice, and a thick, sweet, and savory sauce called tonkatsu sauce. The pork is usually tenderized and coated in flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs before being fried to a crispy, golden brown. Tonkatsu can also be served as a sandwich or incorporated into other dishes, such as katsudon.

Japanese Curry

Japanese curry, also known as kare, is a rich, mildly-spiced dish typically served with rice. The curry roux, made from a blend of spices, flour, and fat, is combined with a variety of ingredients, such as meat, potatoes, carrots, and onions. Japanese curry has a distinct flavor compared to other curry varieties, with a sweeter, thicker sauce. It can be found in various forms, including curry rice, curry udon, and curry-filled pastries called kare-pan.

Miso Soup

Miso soup, a staple of Japanese cuisine, is a savory soup made from dashi (Japanese soup stock) and miso paste, a fermented soybean product. Miso soup often contains additional ingredients, such as tofu, seaweed, green onions, and mushrooms. Typically served alongside rice and other dishes, miso soup is a comforting and nourishing component of a Japanese meal.

Japanese Beverages

Japan offers a variety of traditional beverages to accompany its culinary delights. Sake, a fermented rice wine, is the most famous alcoholic drink in Japan, enjoyed warm or cold depending on the season and type. Other popular alcoholic beverages include Japanese beer, shochu (a distilled spirit similar to vodka), and umeshu (plum wine).

For non-alcoholic options, green tea, or ocha, is ubiquitous in Japan and often served complimentary in restaurants and homes. There are several types of green tea, including sencha, matcha, and hojicha, each with its unique flavor profile and preparation method. Other popular non-alcoholic beverages include genmaicha (green tea with roasted brown rice), mugicha (barley tea), and amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink).

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Japanese Desserts and Sweets

Japan boasts a wide variety of desserts and sweets, ranging from traditional wagashi (Japanese confections) to modern adaptations of Western-style treats. Some popular Japanese desserts and sweets include:

Mochi: A chewy, sticky rice cake made from glutinous rice, often filled with sweetened red bean paste or other sweet fillings. Mochi can be served in various forms, such as daifuku, ichigo daifuku (filled with a whole strawberry), and sakura mochi (wrapped in a cherry leaf).

Dorayaki: A dessert made from two small, sweet pancakes filled with sweetened red bean paste. Dorayaki is a popular treat in Japan and is often enjoyed with tea.

Taiyaki: A fish-shaped cake traditionally filled with sweetened red bean paste, though modern variations may include custard, chocolate, or even savory fillings. Taiyaki is a popular street food and can be found at festivals and food stalls across Japan.

Anmitsu: A dessert consisting of small cubes of agar jelly, sweetened red bean paste, and various fruits, typically served with a sweet syrup called kuromitsu. Anmitsu is a refreshing and light dessert, perfect

for enjoying on a warm day or after a filling meal.

Matcha-flavored treats: Matcha, or powdered green tea, is a popular flavor in Japanese desserts and sweets. You can find matcha ice cream, matcha cakes, matcha lattes, and even matcha Kit Kats in Japan.

Kakigori: A traditional Japanese shaved ice dessert, often flavored with fruit syrups such as strawberry, melon, or lemon, and sometimes topped with sweetened condensed milk or azuki beans. Kakigori is particularly popular during the hot summer months.

Japanese-style cheesecake: Lighter and fluffier than its Western counterpart, Japanese cheesecake is often made with a blend of cream cheese, eggs, and cornstarch, resulting in a delicate, sponge-like texture. It can be enjoyed plain or flavored with fruit or chocolate.

Japanese-style crepes: Inspired by French crepes, Japanese crepes are made with a thinner, slightly sweet batter and rolled into a cone shape. They are typically filled with whipped cream, fresh fruit, and other sweet ingredients, making them a popular street food and dessert option in Japan.

In conclusion, Japan offers a diverse and delicious array of foods and drinks to please any palate. From the iconic sushi and ramen to traditional sweets and refreshing beverages, Japan’s culinary scene is a delightful adventure waiting to be explored. Be sure to try as many of these dishes and treats as possible when visiting this incredible country to fully experience its rich culinary heritage.