What to Eat in Japan: 17 Essential Japanese Foods

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This post about what to eat in Japan is a guest post written by Lotte from Phenomenal Globe.

I never considered myself a foodie, but as I get older good food is becoming more and more important to me.

Not only do I want to eat healthy, I also thoroughly enjoy trying out new dishes while traveling the world.

When I was young, I was definitely not an adventurous eater. I have three younger sisters and while two of my sisters ate everything my mother put in front of them, my other sister and I didn’t like eating things we didn’t know.

My mother is a great cook and a pretty innovative one, therefore new dishes made their way to the table regularly.

My parents always made me try one bite, and while not wholeheartedly I always did.

More often than not I ended up actually liking the food.

ALSO READ:
23 Dishes to Make You Fall in Love with Indonesian Food

Anyway, back to the present. In the last couple of years I have tried out a lot of new food in the countries I visited.

Some of my favorites are Amok from Cambodia, Bahn Mi and Bahn Xeo from Vietnam and Thai curries.

The hotter the better!

But when I booked my flights to Japan I have to admit Japanese food was something I was looking forward to in particular.

There is a huge variety in dishes and so many things to eat in Japan.

While traveling around Japan I tried to taste as many Japanese food as I could.

While pretty much everything I ate was good, I made a list of the best Japanese cuisine I ate during my trip around Japan.

 

How to Order Food in Japan

Picture menus to order Japanese Food

Before we get to a more in depth description of all the Japanese food you have to try, I first want to explain a bit more about ordering food in Japan.

The incredibly real and tasty-looking fake food

In Japan many restaurants have plastic samples of the dishes they serve on display. I personally think this is an excellent idea, you know exactly what you are going to get.

Though it can be weird when you are looking at a plastic plate of food and you are actually starting to feel hungry because it looks delicious.

Anyway, ordering in these types of restaurants isn’t very complicated, you just point at the plastic example of the dish you want to try.

That is, in case the staff doesn’t speak English, which happens quite often in Japan.

The Picture Menus

Something you’ll also come across very often in Japan is menus with pictures of all the food that’s sold in a restaurant.

So instead of reading a list of dishes, you’ll be browsing through pages and pages of pretty and delicious looking dishes.

Again, ordering in these restaurants is very straightforward.

 

The Food Vending Machine

But here comes the challenge: what if you arrive at a restaurant and the only way to order food is via a machine?

This happened to us for the first meal we tried to order after arriving in Japan. I’ll admit I was puzzled to say the least. We didn’t know how and what to order.

But no worries, I’ve got you covered with a step by step description how to order food from a machine.

  1. Locate the proper dish on the ticket machine. Often there will be pictures of dishes on the wall which also has the Japanese names of the dishes. That way you can match the Kanji characters to the ones written on the machine. A good way to check if you have the right dish is to compare the prices. If the prices are the same and the kanji looks similar you’re probably good to go. And if not, you’ll get something delicious anyway so it doesn’t even matter that much.
  2. Put in your money and push the button for your selected dish.
  3. Take the tiny piece of paper that comes out of the machine. Don’t forget to collect your change.
  4. Hand the piece, or pieces in case you ordered more dishes or additional toppings, of paper to the person behind the bar.
  5. Wait for your dish to be prepared. It usually takes 2 minutes or less. Take your tray when your food is ready.
  6. Get a seat and slurp away.
  7. Bring back your tray when finished and thank the cook for a delicious meal by saying ‘arigatoo gozaimashita‘ (which means ‘thank you’) or ‘ittekimasu‘ (which means ‘I’m leaving’ but with the intention to come back).

Ordering food in Japan for the first time can be a bit intimidating, but don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.

And once you are given your steaming bowls of deliciousness all is forgotten and you will be sold on Japanese soups and Japanese food in general.

 

What to Eat in Japan: My Favourite Japanese Food

Furano Maze Soba

Furano: Maze Soba

The first and best Maze Soba dish of my life! Maze Soba is also known as abura soba, basically it is oily ramen noodles.

It’s a noodle dish without broth, but with oil and several toppings.

The toppings for this particular Maze Soba dish included a raw egg, deep fried vegetable tempura, pork slices, sesame seeds, chili oil, strips of nori, watercress and probably more ingredients I haven’t been able to identify.

Most importantly:

It’s one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted.

The way to eat this dish is to mix all the ingredients together, which makes all the flavors and different textures come together perfectly and make it a very memorable dish.

Besides it being a standout dish, the little restaurant in Furano center was also very nice.

Clean and simple interior with wooden tables and chairs, an open kitchen and incredible staff who recognized us on our second visit.

If I could fly back tomorrow I would, just thinking about this dish makes me hungry.

Where to Eat this Dish:
Yuki to Hana
Furano Marche 2, Hokkaido
+81 167-56-7437
Price: ¥780

 
Abura soba, traditional Japanese food

Abura Soba

A great runner up in the category of Abura Soba is this dish. Never have I felt more like a foodie than when trying to locate the restaurant serving this dish.

Since having my first bowl of Maze Soba in Furano I was desperately trying to find restaurants serving this kind of dish. There aren’t actually that many places in Japan that have Abura Soba on their menu!

But googling for Takayama Abura Soba I came across an amazing looking dish. And thus began my quest to find that restaurant in Japan.

The picture of the dish was a location pin, the issue was that the address was written in Japanese.

And I don’t read Japanese. 

I therefore asked the owner of our hostel, Gekka Guesthouse Takayama, if he knew where to find this place. Yes, in the city center he nodded.

All right… that’s not very specific. But we headed to the center and asked again at another place. And another. And another.

Eventually we found it, a tiny place called Le Midi! Unfortunately, it was closed.

I had almost given up hope when I spotted a restaurant also named Le Midi. I asked the staff about the Le Midi place and showed them the picture of the dish. Ah yes, they nodded, it’s only open for lunch, 11.00 – 14.30 I was told.

Obviously we went back the next day and I finally had my Abura Soba dish. Totally worth the effort, it was sooooo good.

Where to Eat This:

Le Midi

2 Chome-10 Honmachi
Takayama-shi, Gifu-ken 506-0011
+81 577-35-3566
Price: ¥700

 
Japanese curry with chicken a popular Japanese food

Japanese Curry with Chicken

When researching what to eat in Japan you may be surprised to see curry.

This Japanese dish is different curry than you would expect from an Indian chicken curry or Thai curry. But it’s very tasty nonetheless.

The curry was a bit spicy, though nothing compared to Indian or Thai, and held the middle between sate and teriyaki. It was very good, as was the fried chicken served on top over rice.

Where to Eat This:
Konashidaira Camping Ground
Kamikouchi Azumi Matsumoto-shi, Nagano-ken
Price: ¥1000

 
Udon tempura, one of the traditional things to eat in Japan

Udon Tempura

We had just gotten off the bus from Narita Airport after a long flight from the Netherlands.

We were tired and hungry (and a bit cranky to be honest) and wondered what to eat in Japan on our first day. Would it be good?

Imagine our delight when we were dropped off right in front of a tiny place selling the best udon tempura we had during our entire trip, something I realized after trying out many more udon tempura bowls.

Udon are thick wheat flour noodles. Tempura is a light and crispy batter used to fry all sorts of things, mostly vegetables and seafood.

There are many types of delicious broths and every restaurant or stall sells their own version.

Where to Eat This:

10 meters from Keisei bus stop nr. 3 on Sotobori Dori Street, across Tokyo station (Yeasu side).
Price: ¥410

 
Volcanic ramen in a black bowl in Japan.

Volcanic Ramen

I like spicy food. The burning feeling on my lips, sweat on my forehead and the urge to cough when taking my first bite.

This bowl of volcanic ramen was exactly spicy enough. Spicy enough to give me all the symptoms described above, but not so spicy that I couldn’t actually taste the dish anymore.

Where to Eat This:
Horaiken
59-2 Toyako Onsen
+81 142-75-1066
Price: ¥1112

 
Ramen a popular Japanese food in Japan, in black bowls

More Ramen

Having walked around Kyoto all day long we were too tired to head far from our Airbnb apartment for food.

First time AirBnB user?  Use this link for $45 off your AirBnB stay!

And that’s when we came across this tiny place. There was a long queue in front, usually meaning there is good food to be had.

Being schooled in proper queuing while living in London, we neatly added ourselves to the queue and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

After about 45 minutes we were let in and faced a machine with only Japanese characters and no pictures whatsoever. Hmm, okay, now what?

We peeked inside and saw people devouring large bowls of soup. Alright, so that’s what they are serving.

That’s great, we like soup.

The owner of the restaurant hurried over to help us and translated the buttons. We enthusiastically started pushing the buttons and handed over 4 tickets each to the cook.

We were seated at the bar and waited for our dish. This is something you see a lot in Japan, narrow restaurants with 5 – 10 seats at the bar, behind which your dish is prepared while you watch.

The dish was definitely worth the wait, a huge bowl of steaming soup with extra spinach, spring onion and an egg was served to both of us.

I could barely finish my bowl. I only did so because it was so freaking delicious but in hindsight I could have ordered a small bowl instead of a medium one.

And there was no need for the extra spinach, spring onion and the egg since that was already included in the standard dish.

Ah well, it was gooooooood.

Where to Eat This:
Shikura
14 Hirano Miyakitachō, Kita-ku
Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 603-8352
+81 75-462-3737
Price: ¥600 (+ optional toppings, between ¥50 – ¥100)

 
Shrimp tempura in a bowl, common in Japanese cuisine

Prawn Tempura with Rice

I love prawns and mixed with the crispiest tempura batter and dipping sauce I had during our 1 month trip.

This was a great meal to start our day of sightseeing around Tokyo.

Where to Eat This:

Bibimpahausu
3 Chome-41-5 Yushima,
Bunkyō-ku, Tōkyō-to 113-0034
+81 3-3837-3373
Price: ¥430

 
Tempura soba is a popular Japanese food

Tempura Soba

Soba are another type of noodles made from buckwheat flour and very tasty as well! I had so many bowls of tempura soba I can’t even count them.

This was a particularly good one, mostly because of the tempura with both vegetables and prawns.

Where to Eat This:
Konashidaira Camping Ground
Kamikouchi Azumi Matsumoto-shi, Nagano-ken
Price: ¥700

 
Okonomiyaki is a common thing to eat in Japan

Okonomiyaki

If you’re searching for what to eat in Japan there are countless options for okonomiyaki. But I ate my favorite version in Noboribetsu Onsen, a small village on Hokkaido.

The little restaurant was actually still closed when we arrived, though we only found that out when we were already given a seat by a very welcoming cook.

She happily fired up her hot plate and got to work, serving us a tasty looking okonomiyaki dish a little later.

Okonomiyaki is a mix of batter, vegetables and meat or seafood, usually squid. It Looks a bit like a pancake.

I liked it a lot!

When ordering okonomiyaki I usually asked the cook not to put too much sauce on the dish at the end, it’s already very flavorful in itself!

Where to Eat This:
Takoyaki Nagamori
Noboribetsu Onsen Dori, across the 7-11
Price: ¥900

 
Oroshi soba in a white bowl with chopsticks

Oroshi Soba

Cold soba is something I wanted to try at least once. I found this good-looking dish, isn’t it a perfect replica of the plastic one, at Hiroshima station and went for it.

The dish consisted of cold soba (duh), Japanese radish and several other ingredients, which you mix together. I added the soy sauce and wasabi that were served with the dish.

Did I already mention I like spicy?

While I prefer hot soba noodles in soups this dish was a nice change.

Where to Eat This:
In the basement below Hiroshima station.
Price: ¥850

 
Sushi is one of the most popular things to eat in Japan

Sushi

I couldn’t leave Japan without trying sushi. Almost everybody I know raves about sushi but I am not a fan.

I have tried it several times at several occasions over a period of more than 10 years. In fact, the first time I ate sushi over 10 years ago.

It was prepared by a Japanese girl who was in my class at university. I didn’t like it at all. Over the years I got over my distaste for sushi but I am still not a fan.

But when in Japan one has to eat sushi at least once, as its fresh from the fish market. So on my last day in Japan, already at the airport, I ate this tray of sushi.

It was good. Very good. And I immediately regretted not having tried sushi on my first day in Japan because I would have eaten it a lot more often! Well, another reason to go back to Japan!

Where to Eat This:
Tsukiji Sushiiwa
Narita International Airport, Terminal 2, Main Building, 4th Floor
+81-476-34-6170
Price: ¥615

 
Takoyaki in a Japanese food restaurant

Takoyaki

On our first day in Japan we already noticed this yummy looking snack but somehow ended up having this snack on our last day in Japan as well.

It’s basically doughy balls made of flour and octopus, served with a variety of toppings and sauces.

I burned my tongue eating these since it was so tasty I was too impatient to let them cool to an edible temperature.

Where to Eat This:
You can find it everywhere around Japan but I had these at Narita Airport. The place is called Takobon.
Narita Airport, Terminal 2, Main Building, 4th Floor
+81-476-34-6223
Price: ¥500

 
Hida beef bun in Japan food

Hida Beef Bun

Hida beef is famous in Japan and is a first class beef, comparable to the even more famous Kobe beef.

It’s also very pricey, which is why I didn’t have a steak but went for this Hida beef bun snack instead. 

If you like steamed buns, also try mushroom panko – one of the best sandwiches in the world.

Where to Eat This:

Takayama old merchant district, Sanmachi-Suji. There are several small shops selling this snack.
Price: 2 for ¥380

 
Goheimochi sticky rice on a stick with soy or mirin sauce

Goheimochi

This street food is plain rice is cooked then mashed into a sticky rice cake and put on a stick. The rice patty is brushed usually with miso or soy sauce and then grilled

It’s all sticky and doughy and sweet. Very yummy.

Where to Eat This:
Also found in Takayama Sanmachi-Suji.
Price: ¥200

 
Lavender ice cream in Japan

Lavender Ice Cream

Yes, really, I had lavender ice cream. I didn’t know it existed either but it’s a thing.

Whilst eating the ice cream I was wondering the entire time how something that reminded me of toilet freshener could taste so good.

It was weird, but good.

Where to Eat This:
The place to eat this is without a doubt Furano, Farm Tomita to be exact. Famous for its lavender fields, what a surprise!

You can buy everything lavender here, including weirdly delicious ice creams.
+81 167-39-3939
Price: ¥300

 
Green tea matcha latte in Japan

Matcha Latte

I love tea and I love good coffee. This was kind of a blend between the two.

Matcha green tea also contains caffeine. In fact, the amount of caffeine in a cup of matcha equals the level of half a cup of black coffee!

And with a generous amount of steamed milk, matcha latte was a nice change from the normal cafe lattes I drink at home.

Where to Eat This:

I bought my morning matcha latte at Family Mart, one of the supermarket chains you find throughout Japan.
Price: ¥180

 
Japanese food wagashi sweets

Wagashi Sweets

This may be one of the strangest Japanese dishes I ate. At first I didn’t even look like food.
But if you want to know what to eat in Japan this wagashi falls into the category of Japanese desserts and sweets.

Apparently it’s made from mocha, which is pounded sticky rice, and anko, which azuki or red bean paste.

Mostly, it’s very very sticky. I didn’t particularly care for it but I had to try.

Where to Eat This:
Found throughout Japan, from specialty stores to supermarkets.
Prices vary accordingly.

 

Do you love Japanese food and think there are more essentials for what to eat in Japan? I’ve never been there so please let me know in the comments below!

Pin it For Later: Japanese Cuisine

Traditional food in Japan, bowl of soba in black bowl.

Images: food in black room (c) Charles ?? , food on wooden board (c) Mgg Vitchakorn, Japanese restaurant exterior (c) Matthew Buchanan , bowl of soba (c)Youjeen Cho , ramen (c) Unsplash: Miguel Maldonado , Matcha Latte (c) Allie Smith 

 

Join the Conversation

  1. Wow!! This looks pretty amazing 🙂

  2. Wow! really amazing dishes, what attracted me the most is Wagashi Sweets something I’ve never heard of.

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