When you think of Japanese food, you probably think of sushi and ramen. But, there is so much more than that when it comes to the Japanese cuisine! If you’re spending your time right and visiting the right places in Japan, every meal should excite you. 

So, to help you seek out the right dishes, here is a list of Japanese food that we think every visitor to Japan has to try! The list is long so bear with us, but that’s only because Japan has such a wide range of delicious foods. If you don’t have enough time to get through the whole list, we’ve put a star next to the ones we think you should prioritise. 

Find out more about all the different Japanese food, different types of ramen, ramen chains in Japan. For drinks, check out the different Japanese drinks, Japanese beers, the special strong zero you can get in Japan and how to prepare for a night out in Tokyo.

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1. Izakaya Grub

every Japanese food you must try izakaya
Impress Watch

Not technically a Japanese food but Izakayas are places where you can try all kinds of Japanese dishes. Translated directly as ‘tavern’, an izakaya is the place to go if you want to have one (or many) drink/s while chatting and picking on a whole bunch of small plates of delicious Japanese food.

You can get most of the Japanese cuisine mentioned in this blog in izakayas. Their menus are often overwhelming, so if you would like to check out what they normally have, check out our blog on food and drinks you should try at an izakaya.

2. Sushi

every Japanese food you must try sushi
The Irish Times

Sushi is arguably the representative Japanes cuisine. Your sushi options are plentiful and varied. There’s traditional Japanese sushi (e.g., raw fish sushi, cod roe sushi, egg sushi), modern fusion sushi (e.g., hamburger sushi, cheese sushi, fried chicken sushi), and many more.

Sushi can be as affordable as ¥98 ($1) for two pieces, or as luxurious as ¥15,000-¥20,000 ($140-185) for certain restaurant courses. Make sure to take your time and enjoy the complimentary green tea available at most, if not all, sushi restaurants, as well as the many different types of miso soup! 

3. Sashimi

every Japanese food you must try sashimi
Culture Trip

From salmon and tuna to more unique options such as jellyfish, squid and all kinds of seafood, there’s loads of sashimi to be had in Japan! Recently, it has become increasingly popular for people to eat other kinds of raw meat as well, including beef, horse and chicken. Not everyone’s comfortable eating raw meat but don’t worry, most restaurants serving sashimi will usually have plenty of cooked options for you. 

4. Ramen

every Japanese food you must try ramen

There are so many different types of ramen, and every shop has their own take on it. So, it would probably take several years and even several lifetimes for anyone to try every shape and form available. Check out all the different types of ramen and the biggest ramen chains you can find both in Japan and in other countries.

5. Tempura

every Japanese food you must try tempura

Tempura is a Japanese culinary delight consisting of deep-fried seafood or vegetables. The dish is simple yet incredibly delicious. While some eateries specialize solely in tempura, others offer it as a topping for rice or noodles. If you’re opting for the latter, explore donburi (rice bowls) and soba/udon (noodles).

6. Curry Rice

every Japanese food you must try curry rice
Photo: S&B Foods

Japanese curry boasts a sweeter taste compared to its counterparts around the globe. It uses fewer spices, resulting in a lighter flavor than South East Asian curries. Despite its mild spice, its flavor is undeniably unique, making it a must-try during your time here.

7. Teppanyaki

every Japanese food you must try teppanyaki
Costa Croisieres

Teppanyaki, often found at the higher end of the price range, offers more than just a meal—it’s a performance. Skilled chefs prepare delectable dishes on iron plates, often showcasing impressive tricks with both food and equipment. Known as ‘hibachi’ in the United States and some other countries, experiencing teppanyaki in Japan ensures you savor the authentic Japanese taste.

8. Okonomiyaki

every Japanese food you must try okonomiyaki
Photo: Japan Guide

Okonomiyaki is Japan’s take on the savory pancake, believed to originate from Osaka. This region is renowned for serving the best okonomiyaki to this day.

A diverse array of ingredients, such as shredded cabbage, pork, and egg, are mixed in a wheat-flour-based batter. Some okonomiyaki eateries even let you customize your ingredients and cook it yourself on an iron plate installed at your table.

9. Monjayaki

every Japanese food you must try monjayaki
Jinmaru Corporation

Monjayaki serves as Tokyo’s answer to okonomiyaki. It has a runnier consistency and may not win any beauty contests, but it’s often considered the healthier alternative as it uses less flour.

10. Takoyaki

every Japanese food you must try takoyaki
This is Japan

Takoyaki is octopus in perfectly round dough balls. They’re served with sauces that are also commonly used in okonomiyaki and monjayaki. If you’re not a fan of octopus, have no fear; there are various fusion takoyakis popping up all over town lately. For example, some places serve takoyaki with ham and cheese inside instead of octopus.

11. Shabu-Shabu

every Japanese food you must try shabu-shabu
Eater Houston

Shabu shabu, a Japanese hot pot, is perfect for winter. Numerous shabu shabu eateries offer reasonably priced all-you-can-eat courses, while some also boast famous A5 wagyu beef options. Though traditionally shared, individual shabu shabu pots are available, allowing groups to sample various broths instead of being confined to one.

12. Sukiyaki

every Japanese food you must try sakuyaki

Sukiyaki, akin to shabu shabu, involves cooking thin beef slices in a pan at the table. Unlike shabu shabu, there’s no soup; instead, beef slices are simmered in a blend of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Once cooked, the beef is dipped in a bowl of raw beaten egg before consumption—an unusual yet delicious pairing!

13. Kushiyaki

every Japanese food you must try kushiyaki

Kushiyaki features skewered vegetables and meat, often grilled or deep-fried. These bite-sized delights, dipped in sweet or salty-sweet sauces, are served with a sauce tube on the table for double-dipping convenience.

14. Yakitori

every Japanese food you must try yakitori

Yakitori, a variation of kushiyaki, consists of chicken skewers, typically seasoned with salt or sauce. While salt and sauce are standard, some eateries offer unique options like mentaiko (pollock roe) or yuzu.

Ordering yakitori can be confusing because there’s a ridiculously wide range for you to choose from, but have no fear, we have a list of all the different types of yakitori you would find handy before visiting your nearest yakitori shop!

15. Yakiniku

every Japanese food you must try yakiniku
Japan Muslim Guide

Yakiniku, meaning ‘grilled meat’ in Japanese, is a meat lover’s paradise. Accompanied by an array of sauces, including classic soy sauce and lemon yakiniku sauce, you can grill different cuts of meat to your liking at the table. It’s a fun and interactive dining experience, perfect for sharing with friends and family.

16. Udon

every Japanese food you must try udon
Photo by Hetty McKinnon from Food & Wine

Udon, thicker than ramen or soba, is a type of noodle made from wheat flour. Topped with options like seaweed, tempura, or meat, it’s available in various broths ranging from simple soy sauce-based to rich soup stocks. Some eateries even offer innovative twists on this traditional dish, such as carbonara udon!

17. Soba

every Japanese food you must try soba
Go Nagano

Soba, made from buckwheat, offers a healthier noodle option, served cold or hot with simple toppings like tempura or seaweed. In Japan, cold soba, known as zaru-soba, is often served separately from its cold broth. Hot soba, on the other hand, is served with similar toppings to udon.

18. Donburi

every Japanese food you must try donburi

Donburi, meaning ‘bowl’, is a rice dish topped with various ingredients. Options include kaisen-don (seafood bowl) and katsu-don (cutlet bowl), with oyako-don—a combination of pan-fried chicken and egg—standing out as a particularly intriguing choice.

19. Gyūdon

every Japanese food you must try gyudon
Ryu Tokyo

Gyūdon, a beef bowl, is a staple of Japanese fast food, comprising shredded beef and onion cooked in soy sauce atop rice. It’s a common and affordable option found in eateries like Yoshinoya and Matsuya.

20. Gyōza

every Japanese food you must try gyoza
Seikatsu Club

Japanese gyoza, pan-fried dumplings filled with minced pork and vegetables, are simple yet addictive. Often enjoyed with a soy sauce-vinegar dip, they’re a must-try dish.

21. Tonkatsu

every Japanese food you must try tonkatsu

Tonkatsu is deep-fried breaded meat cutlet, usually served in a set with shredded cabbage, miso soup and rice. Tonkatsu initially referred to pork only but now you can get all kinds of deep-fried breaded food, like seafood and chicken.

22. Oden

every Japanese food you must try oden

This Japanese cuisine is one of the healthier items on our list. Oden is a broth with sides such as radishes, fish cakes, sausages, tofu, konjac and more. Oden is widely eaten in Japanese homes, especially during winter, which is also when Japanese convenience stores will start to sell them; the oden pots are located at the cashiers and you can simply point at the sides you want and the cashier will put them in a to-go broth cup for you. 

23. Natto

every Japanese food you must try natto
Moberly Arts & Cultural Centre

Natto is not only available in Japan, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. It goes only two ways: you either love it or hate it.

It’s fermented soybeans, and that sounds innocent enough. What makes it such a controversial food is its less-than-fragrant scent and its slimy texture and look. Though it looks questionable, natto is actually rated as one of the healthiest foods on earth. Japanese people who do enjoy them will usually have it on the side for breakfast. 

Exploring the Flavors of Japan

As you embark on your culinary journey through Japan, be sure to indulge in these must-try dishes that showcase the rich tapestry of Japanese cuisine. From the sizzling delights of shabu shabu to the comforting warmth of oden, each dish offers a unique blend of flavors and textures that will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.

Whether you’re a meat lover, noodle enthusiast, or adventurous eater, there’s something for everyone to savour in Japan’s vibrant food scene. So, dive in, explore, and discover the culinary treasures that await you in the Land of the Rising Sun!

Japan is food heaven. In the 6+ years, I have lived here, I have never had even one bad food experience! Enjoy your time feasting on the amazing Japanese cuisine!

Find out more about all the different Japanese food, different types of ramen, and ramen chains in Japan. For drinks, check out different Japanese drinks, Japanese beers, the special strong zero you can get in Japan, and how to prepare for a night out in Tokyo.

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