Winter is coming and so is Japanese food. This time we want to introduce you to some of the most popular winter dishes in Japan. Even though Japan is situated on the edge of the temperate zone, it does get cold in winter. The good news is that there are many dishes served to keep up body temperature in the colder months.
Japanese people eat seafood, vegetables, and other dishes that contain soy sauce or miso paste during winter to stay warm and healthy.
So, what to eat in winter in Japan? Let us take a look at 10 common ingredients that you will find in a Japanese kitchen.
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What to eat in winter in Japan
Oysters are a popular dish that can be enjoyed all year round in Japan. Known as one of the most delicious foods on earth, oysters are usually classified as bivalves. Oysters can be served raw on the half shell, cooked (steamed, baked, fried), or served in a variety of sauces. How to eat oysters also depends on the region. For example, in Hiroshima prefecture, oyster hotpot (kaki no dotenabe) is a very popular dish.
During the winter, oysters are often eaten raw (called namagaki), but during the spring they are more commonly cooked with soy sauce and some spring onions over some rice. Only the freshest oysters can be eaten raw.
One of the most popular dishes you can get on the winter menu is crab. It is a Japanese tradition to eat Japanese crabs in winter. It is believed that this tradition began in the Meiji era when fishermen would go out to sea to catch crabs for New Year’s celebrations.
The most common way to eat soft-shelled crabs is boiled in soy sauce and sake with green onion and ginger. Some other ways of eating crab include crab pot and crab miso.
Crab pot is where crab is cooked in a nabe, boiled in a thin dashi stock and ponzu sauce is added. Since it is eaten in a hot pot style, it is warm with thick flavours, making it a perfect meal for the winter.
Crab miso might sound strange but it is where crab miso and crab meat are collected on the shell and seasoned with miso or sake. It is a gem which you can enjoy the rich taste and flavor of crab miso. Iit is a great dish that goes well with rice and sake.
Mikan is a type of mandarin orange in Japan during the winter time. This type of orange is seedless and has a thin skin. Although mikan originally comes from China, Japan has a long history consuming it. In fact, the history of mikan in Japan can be dated back to as early as the 15th century. And mikan has been a popular fruit in Japan ever since. Mikan tastes very sweet, making it a popular comfort food in the winter season in Japan.
Mikans are often eaten raw with the skin peeled off, but they can also be used in cooking. In Japan, mikan is often paired with a chili pepper to create a dish called “chili mikan.”
You can actually find mikan almost everywhere in Japan, for example, canned mikan fruits are available in convenient stores and supermarkets. They are a great dessert after a meal because its sweetness balances the salty taste from other dishes.
In many parts of Japan, mikan trees are considered sacred and will not be cut down. The custom is said to have come from a legend that says if you cut down a mikan tree then your family will suffer from poverty for seven generations. The mikan you find is usually from two prefectures in Japan: Wakayama and Ehime.
Daikon looks like a large, white carrot with a slightly sweet flavor that pairs well with salty or creamy dishes. It is basically a long, white radish. Japanese people call it the “winter Daikon,” because it grows during the winter months, when there are no other vegetables to grow. There are two types of Daikon in Japan, one for cooking and one for pickling.
In Japanese cuisine, people will often use Daikon in stir-fries with fish or meat, soups and dishes with rice, and even sushi rolls or rice balls. It is believed to be the most commonly cooked vegetable. There has been a tradition in Japanese culture for many years that when you celebrate someone’s birthday, you give them a gift of radishes.
Buri is an important representation of winter seafood in Japan. Buri is a Japanese yellowtail, a little different from Hamachi, which is used to describe yellowtail that is farmed. Natural buri swim thousands of kilometers in their lifetimes, making their quality of fish oil extra nutritious. These fish are a seasonal favourite in the colder months when the meat has a higher fat content.
Buri is delicious to eat as sashimi, seared, and grilled, and you can sometimes find buri cooked in miso soup. This oily yellowtail is an irresistible gem that melts the moment you put it in your mouth.
Fugu, also known as blowfish, is famous for its appearance and being a poisonous fish. Fugu has jagged teeth and is known for its round and bulging shape. The level of poison in Fugu differs depending on the type of blowfish, but in the worst case, it is so poisonous that it can lead to death. This is a substance called tetrodotoxin, a powerful neurotoxin. Restaurants that serve Fugu need to have proper qualifications to cook blowfish.
Fugu has a unique taste and flavor, and you can enjoy the crunchy texture when it’s prepared as sashimi. When fried, the meat becomes plump and sweet. It is popular to eat fugu cooked in nabe, where the taste melts into the soup and the taste of the whole pot is enriched.
Shirako is probably the most unique Japanese winter food on this list. Simply put, shirako is fish semen. Shirako is extracted from mature milts of blowfish, cod, anglerfish, salmon, tai,and other fish. The texture is smooth, creamy, and rich in flavour. It is a rare and high-class food and it is in season from December to February, when it is the coldest. Shirako contains high-quality proteins and is also rich in vitamins and minerals.
There are many ways to eat shirako. You can eat it raw with ponzu, batter it to make tempura, cook it inside nabe, or add it to miso soup. The unique texture, flavour, and possibly thought of what it is might not be for everyone, but if you’re up to it, give it a try during the winter season.
Another popular winter food in Japan is Oden. Oden is a light broth seasoned with soy sauce and mirin, topped with all kinds of ingredients. Some of the most commonly found ingredients include eggs, tofu, konnyaku, which is a gluey cake made of potato starch, and daikon radish. There are many new ingredients added in recent years and you can find all kinds of unique fish cakes, chicken skewers and even intestines in oden.
Oden can be eaten year round but it is particularly popular during the winter months in Japan. Japanese tend to start eating oden in autumn, and it becomes increasingly popular in the winter season. Oden can be found almost everywhere: it is sold at convenience stores, and you can find it in izakayas and also specialised oden restaurants.
Nabemono is a general term for hot pot dishes in Japanese cuisine. The word ‘nabe’ derives from the verb ‘nabu,’ meaning “to boil.” Nabe can be made by simmering ingredients in a pot. The ingredients are cooked over a heat source, typically gas or electric stove but occasionally charcoal, and includes both raw and cooked food items which are dipped into the broth while eating.
Two common types of nabe include Mizutaki and Yosenabe. Mizutaki consists mainly of chicken and vegetables. Yosenabe, on the other hand, contains seafood such as fish and shellfish.
So, a hotpot? Hard to prepare and you will have to dine in a restaurant? Actually, the preparation process is not complicated at all. All it requires is some chopping and boiling water to cook the meat or seafood. For Mizutaki, the vegetables need to be diced up before cooking them with the broth and chicken pieces in a pot for about 10 minutes or so before serving it on the table with rice. For Yosenabe, ingredients like fish, shrimp, scallops, octopus, lobster or crab meat are boiled in hot soup stock before serving.
It is an easy dish to cook at home and also a great option when dining out in Japan. It is one of my personal favourites when eating with a big group of friends.
10. Chinese buns
When the weather gets cold, it’s a great time to enjoy some traditional Chinese steamed buns. The traditional type of Chinese steamed bun you can get is the pork bun. When you break the delicious dough, which is slightly sweet and fluffy, you will find plenty of pork and vegetables that are stuffed with gravy sauce inside.
You can get Chinese buns in convenience stores as well as food stalls. Especially when you’re walking around in a street market or around a neighbourhood, grabbing a chinese bun is a quick way to get you warm and cozy.
Besides the traditional Chinese pork bun, you can also get pizza bun, gyoza bun, and all kinds of unique fusion buns.
Hope this list is able to help you figure out what to eat this winter in Japan. Japan’s cuisine changes as the season changes. Have a look at the different types of food that you can have in winter in Japan and let us know which one is your favourite in the comment section!