10 Japanese Food You Have to Try While in Japan

Last Updated on April 3, 2023


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Guest post by Lena Scheidler from Nagoya Foodie

When I first visited Japan about 10 years ago I fell in love.

I fell in love not only with the country, its friendly people, stunning nature and fascinating culture, but most of all I fell in love with the Japanese food.

Even after living in Japan for more than three years, not a week would go by when I didn’t crave some Sushi.

It wasn’t unusual for me and my Japanese boyfriend to visit our favorite Udon place multiple times a week, just because it was so delicious.

Try the top 10 Japanese food dishes, several hands holding wooden chopsticks surrounding a plate of delicious sushi on a dinner table

After I started traveling the world for a year people I met on the road would ask me ‘What do you miss most while traveling?’ and my answer would always be ‘Japanese food!’.

Not only is it incredibly filling and oftentimes very nutritious, but there are so many different types of Japanese food to keep your taste buds happy!

Now that you know just how much I love Japanese food, let’s talk about what every first-time visitor to Japan should try.

To get a good overview of what the countries cuisine has to offer, I’ve put together a list of food in Japan that you should not miss out on tasting on your next Japanese vacation.

Here are my picks for the top 10 foods to try in Japan!

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The Best Japanese Food you Must Try

1. Sushi/Sashimi

Let’s first talk about the one thing everyone associates with Japanese food: Sushi. It’s one of the Japanese food favorites across the world, and for a good reason.

It’s really a cliche, but my favorite food is Sushi. When you visit Japan for the first time you should try some, no matter if you have tried it somewhere before or not.

It will be much better in Japan, trust me.

There are different categories of Sushi, from the cheapest kind you can buy in convenience stores or supermarkets, and 100 yen running Japanese food chains to high-end Sushi restaurants.

Sushi can be some of the cheapest food to buy in Japan, and at the top end, one sushi dinner will cost you hundreds of dollars.

But while the quality and the experience is very different, I still have to say the Sushi in Japan is very good no matter where you buy it.

By the way, the difference between Sushi and Sashimi is whether there is rice under the fish or not. Remember: Sushi is raw fish on rice, Sashimi is just raw fish.

There are other finer points, like a different soy sauce that is used for example but for the first time visitor knowing a simple difference is enough.

10 types of Japanese food you have to try while in Japan, close up shot of a bowl of thick udon noodles with some sauce and seasoning nearby

2. Udon/Soba

Udon and Soba are two different kinds of some of the top food in Japan: noodles.

Whereas Udon noodles are thick, white noodles made from wheat flour, Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are usually thin and grey, but can be green as well if green tea powder is added.

Both kinds of noodles are served in many different variations, both hot as well as cold.

In the colder months I highly recommend you try Curry Udon: noodles served in a thick and creamy curry sauce.

If you visit in the summer some cold Zaru Soba or Udon is perfect as a light meal. The noodles are served chilled and dipped into a cold broth, and it’s some of the Japanese food you need to try.

Don't miss these unique japanese foods, close up shot of a bowl of delicious fried unagi next to a wooden container with small trays of seasoning options

3. Unagi

Of all the different Japanese food options, another favorite of mine – and one of the really unique Japanese foods – is Unagi: river eel.

It is a pricey speciality and mainly eaten in the summer months around July, but you can find it all year round in speciality restaurants.

The eel is usually grilled or steamed and served in a rich and sweet sauce on top of rice.

My favorite variation of Unagi is called Hitsumabushi, though this style is only served in Nagoya.

If you want to find out more about what makes Hitsumabushi in Nagoya so special check out my full post about it.

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Sample some of the best food to try in japan, close up shot of a fried pancake covered in green vegetable seasoning on a flat hot plate with a bottle of beer nearby

4. Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki roughly translates to ‘fried whatever you like’.

If I had to compare it to some western food I might say a combination of pizza and a pancake, but this unusual Japanese food really isn’t anything like pizza or pancakes.

This is one of the most versatile Japanese cuisine types, because all the choice is yours!

In a bowl, batter made from water, egg and flour is mixed with the ingredients you like.

Typically that means bacon and cabbage, but there are other toppings like seafood, cheese, egg, potato and much more.

The Okonomiyaki is then grilled like a pancake on a hot plate, garnished with condiments like Okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and bonito flakes and served hot. Yum!

Okonomiyaki is a local speciality of Hiroshima as well as Osaka, and the styles are quite different; in Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki noodles are typically used as a topping.

Therefore I recommend if you have the opportunity to try both variations.

5. Yakiniku

In many parts of the world, there is a barbecue culture. People all over the world love grilled meat, and why wouldn’t they; it’s delicious.

The Japanese answer to barbecue is Yakiniku – and it’s some of the best food to try in Japan.

But you don’t have to fire up a grill in the garden! Yakiniku restaurants have a little barbecue grill in the middle of every table and you grill all kinds of thinly sliced meat on it.

There are the standard varieties like chicken breast and beef fillet, but there’s also all manner of intestines from chicken, beef and pork that the Japanese love to barbecue.

To some, that might seem like unappealing weird Japanese food. And sure, it’s not for everyone, but I still encourage people to try everything once – you might like it!

I especially enjoy beef tongue, much to my own surprise.

Tuck into these japanese food favorites, close up shot of a large bowl of ramen noodles and soup with slices of meat and sliced spring onions in top plus a large spoon and some wooden chopsticks sitting on top

6. Ramen

Another of the staple types of food in Japan, a bowl of good Ramen will get you through even the longest day.

Fortunately, Ramen is everywhere in Japan. You can find so many different varieties of this Japanese noodle soup all across the country.

You can cover a lot of miles seeking out Ramen dishes to try in Japan, and each is more delicious than the next.

There are those with thin noodles and others with thick noodles, broth made from pork bones, soy sauce, salt or miso and the biggest variety of toppings.

Basically, every little Ramen shop has their own speciality and there are hundreds of Ramen shops in Tokyo alone, some even with Michelin stars.

My favorite kind of Ramen is from Fukuoka in the southern island of Kyushu; the Ramen there is called Hakata Ramen and is made from pork bone broth.

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Sample all the best japanese cuisine types this year, table covered in plates and bowls of food including some fried tonkatsu

7. Tonkatsu

There are some dishes that need to be tried locally, and Tonkatsu is some of the best Japanese food to try in Japan itself.

Tonkatsu is a deep-fried pork cutlet either served with cabbage and rice on the side or topped on a bowl of rice (called a Katsudon). It is simple, it is delicious and you should try it when you visit Japan.

One of my favorite restaurants serving Tonkatsu is located right in Tokyo Station and called Suzuki. If you have the chance, check it out.

8. Curry Rice

The Japanese curry has very little to do with Indian curry, Thai curry or any other curry that is served around the world. It is a uniquely Japanese curry with a uniquely Japanese flavor.

Curry is always served with rice, and the typical Japanese curry contains beef, carrots, and potatoes. That’s the way a Japanese mother would serve it at home to her family.

In Nagoya, you can also try a local dish: Nagoya Curry, which is curry udon.

Enjoy some of the best dishes to try in japan, view of a neatly arranged wooden tray with a main dish plate and a bowl of white rice next to an array of optional extras and a small bowl of soup and some wooden chopsticks

9. Teishoku

Teishoku is not a dish like the other 8 foods mentioned above. So what is Teishoku?

A Teishoku is a Japanese meal set, served with one main dish (could be some kind of fish or meat) and a side of miso soup, a bowl of rice and a salad or pickles or some other side dish.

It is basically also what a Japanese meal consists of at home, although there might be more than one side dish.

If you order a Teishoku meal at a restaurant you can usually request a refill of rice and miso soup for free. So, if you are very hungry don’t forget about that.

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10. Japanese Sweets

Number 10 on my list of the top 10 Japanese foods to try in Japan has to be Japanese sweets, just because I love all of them so much!

Just as there are many types of Japanese foods to try, there is also a huge variety of Japanese sweets to discover.

So I highly recommend you eat every kind of sweet you come across while exploring the country.

Whether it is the packaged kind at a supermarket, some sort of street food like soft serve ice cream, Taiyaki (a fish-shaped snack filled with red bean paste) or parfaits or cakes ordered at a cafe or restaurant.

If you have a sweet tooth Japan will seem like heaven to you. It is heaven to me.

Frequently Asked Questions

✅ What are popular Japanese foods?

Across the world, Sushi and Ramen are some of the most recognised and requested Japanese food items, with some restaurants dedicated entirely to just one style of cooking.

✅ What is the biggest meal of the day in Japan?

Unlike parts of the western world, where breakfast is emphasised, dinner is the main meal for most households in Japan.

✅ What is Japan’s national fruit?

The national fruit of Japan is the Persimmon! They are usually in season in the fall, and taste rich and sweet, with many describing them as honey-like.

In addition to these universal top 10 Japanese foods, I encourage you to try the local foods of every location you visit in Japan.

As I mentioned above, Hiroshima has delicious Okonomiyaki and Nagoya has Hitsumabushi. Nagoya actually has a wide variety of unique dishes that can only be found in the region.

You can find out more about them reading my Nagoya Food Guide.

I hope you find this list helpful and you will enjoy every bit(e) of Japan!


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