If you visit Japan and just stick to eating sushi or ramen, you are doing it wrong.
Japan is a foodie’s delight, with a plethora of food options that will please all tastes. Fresh seafood, flavoursome soups and delicious street food are just a small selection of the food options for travellers to Japan. I was fortunate enough to spend a week exploring Osaka, Sakai and Kobe and found myself looking forward to each meal along the way. Here is a small selection of dishes you should try when visiting Japan:
This might be my favourite dish when I visited Japan in 2016. To describe it best, it’s a mix between a pancake or fritter, with its main ingredient being cabbage. Okonomiyaki is a popular dish in Osaka, however other regions also have their own take on the simple-but-satisfying dish.
My first introduction to Okonomiyaki was during my first day in Japan. After a long 10 hour flight, and bus trip to the hotel, we were ushered straight to lunch at Fugetsu in Universal City. They prepare the Okonomiyaki in the Osaka style, however they top it with noodles (which is technically not the traditional way of doing it in Osaka, but nevertheless, I loved it!). What really makes this dish is the mix of the okonomiyaki sauce (similar to oyster sauce) and Japanese mayonnaise.
I’m still on the fence with this one, as I’m not a fan of octopus, but am quite prone to gooey balls of batter and cheese. Takoyaki is a popular street food in Osaka, however Takomasa restaurant in Sakai have turned this common snack into a locally loved dish, served as a course with rice, salad and crumbed oysters. If you don’t mind the texture of octopus (rubbery, for the uninitiated), then takoyaki is a great on-the-go snack.
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Udon noodles are one of my favourite types of noodles. Who am I kidding, I love all noodles! But, udon noodles have got a unique texture and are delicious in Udonsuki – a soupy mix of broth, vegetables, meat, seafood and, of course, udon noodles. Japanese eating culture is quite sociable and the art of sharing a large, communal Udonsuki is a great example of that.
Another hot pot dish, this is a fun, social way to eat. You essentially order the type of meat you want (in our case, we had delicately thin slices of beef, pork and chicken) and the type of ‘soup’ you want. There are choices from a soy-based soup (which tastes nicer than it sounds), or your standard clear soups. Then, you pretty much cook your own meal, adding whatever vegetables and noodles you want to the bubbling liquid. Condiments are also provided, so you can add extra spice and flavour to your own individual bowl.
I am a carnivore, through and through and love my red meat. After spending a week politely avoiding fish (which is harder than you think in Japan!), I was so happy to find out we were going to Kobe Plaisir, a restaurant that specialises in Kobe Beef on our final night. Perfectly marbled and seasoned just right, Kobe Beef is cooked in front of us by an experienced chef. Served with salad and rice, the beef is definitely the highlight, which just melts in the mouth. For our carnivorous readers, this is a must!
Katsu Curry & Rice
This is one of my favourite comfort foods. It turns out it’s also a favourite for the Japanese Navy where (I’m told) every Friday is ‘Curry and Rice’ day. Typically Katsu is a thin, crumbed, pork or chicken cutlet, but with the deliciously rich curry sauce and rice, it brings the flavour to a whole new level. Although curry isn’t technically a traditional dish of Japan, they have certainly made it their own (and, in my opinion, made it better!).
Bento Boxes are extremely popular in Japan, with an assortment of meat, rice and vegetables, all beautifully presented in cute individual dishes in a box. Kinda like a happy meal, but for grown ups (and a lot healthier!).
When you think of egg custard, you think of a sweet, creamy dessert, right? Think again. Chawan Mushi is an egg custard dish, but savoury. It has a similar consistency of custard, but mixed with soy sauce, dashi and mirin, it is served as a dish with mushrooms and a meat. We had it at Kani Douraku (see below) as one of the crab dishes, and whilst a bit strange at first (as you expect it to be sweet), it is really delicious and smooth.
Whilst ‘fermented’ isn’t a word that brings deliciousness to mind, Amazake Pudding really is that (delicious). It’s essentially a fermented rice pudding, where the carbohydrates in the rice turn to simple sugars. It’s actually similar to the first stages of making sake. The result is a sweet, smooth and creamy pudding, often served with sweetened beans and jelly. This was one of my favourite dishes during my tour of Japan.
Delicious Crab at Kani Douraku
If you happen to be visiting Osaka and love crab, treat yourself to a 5-course meal at Kani Douraku, the most famous crab restaurant in Japan. Kani Douraku is a very popular restaurant chain (with multiple restaurants found around Japan, with Osaka being the original and their main one). You can order individual crab dishes, or set menus. We had a 5-course set menu, and, let me tell you, each course was delicious.
You can find store locations on their website. Reservations are recommended.
And, of course, Sushi
The sushi in Japan is fresh and delicious. If you are like me, and are a bit of a wuss when it comes to spice, they put wasabi INSIDE the sushi, so don’t overload on the sauce before you have a taste. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! If you are a fan of sushi, a sushi-making-course is a fun and delicious way to pass a couple of hours!