Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (2023)

Japan is undeniably food heaven for those who love eating.

Varied geography means access to fresh seafood, poultry and red meats, vegetation grown deep in the mountains. Rice and noodles are staples while konbu serves as a common base for broths.

Distinct seasons also welcome diverse foods to complement the weather; hot pot, udon, and ramen to warm the body, sushi and sashimi for summer delights.

It is true that Japanese cuisine caters to almost every taste – except perhaps, spice lovers. Regardless, there are iconic foods that everyone should sample.

Whilst it is hardly possible to list every must-try because Japanese food is just so good, the following nine Japanese dishes are the perfect starting point for your foodie adventure when you’ll travel to Japan.

1. Ramen

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (1)

Ramen is synonymous with Japanese food!

Found all over the country in both tiny corner-shops and served at pricey restaurants, this dish is a staple go-to.

Generally a budget meal, ramen are great for travelers who need a quick but hearty bite.

Typical soup broths are the salt-based shio, miso soybean paste, and the soy sauce base. You’ll find that each region specializes in its own flavors, and family-run ramen stalls usually come with a twist.

(Video) 9 Must-Eat Restaurants in Tokyo, Japan (Watch This Before You Go)

Most shops offer customization; you can choose how thick and firm you want your noodles.

While the usual toppings include seaweed, pork belly, or seafood, and a half-cooked egg, every restaurant has its own special combination.

My personal favorite is the seafood ramen! mmmm

2. Omurice

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (2)

Short for omelet rice, omurice is cheap gourmet for hungry university students.

What’s so special about rice and eggs? Well, take a generous heaping of jasmine rice wrapped in a thin, eggy cocoon and garnish with ketchup or curry for this Japanese specialty. Variations can include cheese or spinach or any textured filling.

Newer interpretations of omurice now serve a fluffy layer of scrambled eggs over fried rice.

I recommend the cheese and gravy combo for a warm meal that hits you right in the heart. It is amazing how something so simple can taste like heaven.

3. Yakitori

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (3)

If you’re set for a night of stomach worshipping, yakitori will have you shelling out for plate after plate of grilled chicken skewers.

The juicy aroma of char-grilled meat will entice you even before you set the into the Japanese restaurant.

These tender chicken-and-spring onion skewers cost around 100-200 yen per stick; it’s customary to order a few at a time.

Other skewer delicacies include animal innards like chicken intestines, crunchy heart and lungs, the soft gullet and fried chicken skin.

(Video) My TOP 9 Japanese COMFORT Food

Indulge in the deep fry and grease and wash it down with a cold glass of mango yogurt. Yummy!!

4. Nabe

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (4)

A bubbling hot pot of konbu and soy sauce broth denotes a typical Japanese hot pot, although certain regions serve a creamier soy base.

Vegetables (mostly cabbage), tofu, and meat slices are dipped and cooked, with noodles rounding off the meal. Popular nabe variations include sukiyaki and shabu-shabu, set apart by their broth.

Nabe is best for entertaining groups due to its single pot serve. Try an all-you-can-eat nabe restaurant if you’re up for a challenge; the variety of meats, pastes, noodles, and vegetables are worth splashing out for.

5. Okonomiyaki

Often described as the Japanese pancake, okonomiyaki is better explained in its full form:

The traditional Osaka okonomiyaki is built from a batter of flour, eggs, grated yam, dashi and shredded cabbage formed in shape of a pancake; Thin meat slices may be diced in as well; Upon reaching a browned, solid-state, thick sweet sauce is brushed on top with it. A heaping of bonito flakes and mayonnaise completes the dish.

Surprisingly, it is the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki that people come across most often.

Layering on top of each other is a noodle base, followed by cabbage and bacon, then the original okonomiyaki batter and sauces.

Okonomiyaki restaurants offer a range of filler ingredients, so you’ll definitely find something you like.

6. Sushi & Sashimi

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (5)

Raw seafood defines Japanese cuisine with its refreshingly cold nature.

Rice, fresh seafood slice, and seaweed wrapping characterize this food choice. Referred to as nigiri sushi, the raw fish over rice presentation is the most common kind.

(Video) Insane Japanese Food You Have to Try in Osaka Japan

Maki rolls are exactly what it sounds like, a roll of seaweed-wrapped rice with a variety of fillings.

Singular fish slices are called sashimi, served fresh with accompanying pieces of pickled ginger.

Experience conveyor belt sushi for its fun presentation and budget prices. Prices are based on the color of the plates, depending on the type of sushi, choice of sea food, etc.

There are also specialty sushi restaurants where the chef presents their freshest auction of the day.

“Itadakimasu!”

7. Hitsumabushi

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (6)

Grilled eel over fluffy rice sounds mouth-watering on its own, but the traditional hitsumabushi set meal will have you praising every bite.

Aside from the usual grilled eel over rice bowl, the set comes with miso soup, clear broth, spring onion, and wasabi garnishing and sometimes sesame seeds.

What’s the correct way to eat hitsumabushi? Draw four quadrants through your eel rice bowl; the first is to be eaten as it is. Separate your second quarter into an empty bowl provided, and pour in the light broth – eat it warm. For the third quarter, mix in the spring onion and wasabi (or seaweed) per your preference. The last bites can be eaten however you like!

Set meal aside, a regular serving of grilled eel on rice is just as tasty. Add a dash of sweet soy sauce and let the simple dish melt in your mouth!

8. Tempura

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (7)

Golden and crispy, tempura are the battered goods of our dreams.

Often served on the side with udon and soba noodles, tempura can also be the main meal. The deep-fried pieces are mostly seafood and vegetables, such as shrimp, eggplant, mushroom, pumpkin, sweet potato, and leaves.

(Video) One MICHELIN STAR Japanese Ramen & BEST EATS at Maxwell Food Centre in Singapore

To eat, simply dip it into the light sauce provided. Some restaurants give a small dish of salt instead, which helps bring out the batter flavor.

While tempura is mostly found in bento boxes and as an accompaniment, there are Japanese restaurants that specialize in tempura and tempura only.

9. Onigiri

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (8)

More snack food and quick meal than gourmet, onigiri nonetheless makes the list as a must-try Japanese food.

While onigiri can be found in restaurants, you are more likely to come across them in convenience stores. They’re a crowd favorite among office workers and students craving fast sustenance.

Budgeters similarly appreciate the few hundred yen price tag.

Don’t be fooled by its simple triangular shape and seaweed wrapping – it is notoriously hard to get the right rice consistency!

Classically flavored with pickled Japanese plum, umeboshi, other popular fillings include tuna and mayonnaise combo, or even salmon.

Heavier flavored variations have seasoning sprinkled over the rice, including pickled plum, dried fish and egg smatterings. There are also lightly grilled versions called Yaki Onigiri, tinted with savory soy sauce.

Top 9 Best Traditional Japanese Food You Absolutely Must Try (9)

There is plenty more Japanese food to try, veering into snack and dessert territory. Mostly seafood and vegetable-based with rice as the main staple, you’ll love the variety. Innovation has always played a big part in Japanese cuisine.

To ensure a smooth-sailing dining experience, here are some tips to eating right:

  • Start off your meals with a cheery “Itadakimasu!”
  • Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in the rice; it is considered a rude imitation of funeral rites.
  • No tipping is required. In fact, it might offend some people as the service industry believes quality service is part of their duty.
  • Slurping noodles is a must to express your enjoyment.
  • Don’t blow your nose at the table; excuse yourself to the bathroom.
  • Raise your bowl to mouth level and eat cleanly.
  • Refill your table-mates’ tea or water if they’re older than you, or in a more senior position.
  • Keep petty cash on you as smaller establishments may not accept cards.
  • Definitely aim for family-run restaurants as recipes passed down through generations prove to be delicious.

And don’t forget to learn some Japanese phrases so you can communicate easier with restaurant staff.

(Video) Japanese Street Food Tour Top 9 in Osaka Japan | Kobe Beef Sushi & Dotonbori Guide

FAQs

What is Japan's most traditional food? ›

The traditional cuisine of Japan (Japanese: washoku) is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes; there is an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Seafood is common, often grilled, but also served raw as sashimi or in sushi.

What are the top 10 Japanese foods? ›

The Top 10 Japanese Foods
  • Ramen. Closely tied with instant noodles for the most popular dish among college students in Japan, ramen has been around since 1910 according to some records. ...
  • Sukiyaki. ...
  • Curry rice. ...
  • Basashi. ...
  • Gyūdon. ...
  • Sushi. ...
  • Yakitori. ...
  • Sashimi.

What is the number 1 dish in Japan? ›

Japan's most internationally famous dish, sushi is also internationally misunderstood. Most people are mistaken in believing that sushi is simply raw fish. Rather, good sushi is a vigilant combination of vinegared rice, raw fish and vegetables and comes in many different forms.

What is Japan's national fruit? ›

Persimmons are the national fruit of Japan. They are usually in season between September and December, and are a good source of potassium, phosphorous, and vitamin C. This article will look at the types and benefits of persimmon fruit, their nutritional content, and how to include them in the diet.

What is a traditional Japanese meal? ›

A typical Japanese dinner includes rice, soup, pickles, salad, and protein and vegetable dishes. Beverages, such as tea, beer, and sake, are served alongside, and the meal may be followed by dessert. The dishes include classic Japanese foods, and other Asian and Western cuisines influence many modern recipes.

What is a traditional Japanese dish? ›

Sushi: Sushi is one of the most popular Japanese dishes around the world. Try your hand at making your own sushi, which traditionally features rice, nori (dried seaweed), vegetables, and raw fish.

Why is the number 4 considered unlucky in Japan? ›

Unlucky numbers

Traditionally, 4 is unlucky because it is sometimes pronounced shi, which is the word for death. Sometimes levels or rooms with 4 don't exist in hospitals or hotels. Particularly in the maternity section of a hospital, the room number 43 is avoided because it can literally mean "stillbirth".

What is the most popular lunch in Japan? ›

For men, soba and udon rank first when it comes to what they order during their lunch break. Set meals take second place and ramen ranks third. The reason why soba and udon are the male worker's favorite food is because these noodle dishes are cheap while also tasty, filling, and quickly made.

What is Japan's national animal? ›

Macaque monkeys are the national animals of Japan. Also known as snow monkeys because they often live in snowy mountain ranges, they have long, thick hair and red faces.

What is Japan famous for? ›

Japan is famous for natural sights like cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji, cutting-edge technology like Japanese cars and bullet trains, wacky inventions like karaoke and vending machines, cultural values like politeness and punctuality, popular anime and manga, and mouth-watering food like ramen and sushi.

What do Japanese eat for breakfast? ›

Traditional Japanese breakfast usually follows the style of a Japanese set meal, with the staple being rice and miso soup and ohitashi (boiled vegetables) served as side dishes. Natto (fermented soybeans), pickles, and grilled fish are often also served on the side to help complement the rice.

Is Japanese food healthy? ›

A traditional Japanese diet is well balanced, featuring more fish than red meat, plenty of vegetables, pickled and fermented foods, and small portions of rice. It involves little highly processed food and lower overall sugar intake. Basically, the Japanese diet is low in calories and extremely nutritious.

What you say before eating in Japan? ›

Before eating, Japanese people say "itadakimasu," a polite phrase meaning "I receive this food." This expresses thanks to whoever worked to prepare the food in the meal.

What is Japan's national vegetable? ›

Daikon (giant white radish)

It can be eaten raw or cooked or grated into daikon-oroshi, a refreshing topping used to counteract the oiliness of dishes like grilled fish and tempura. Especially the bottom half a daikon is often quite spicy like other radish varieties.

What is the official flower of Japan? ›

Cherry blossoms (SAKURA) are Japan's unofficial national flower, formerly called tree flower (KONOHA).

What is Japan's national bird? ›

The Green Pheasant is a beautiful bird to watch. Did you know that the Green Pheasant is Japan's National Bird? The Green Pheasant, an omnivorous bird, is endemic to Japan.

What is lunch called in Japan? ›

3) Hirugohan (lunch)

Lunch in Japan just as asa means morning, hiru means noon. So hirugohan literally means “noontime meal.”

What do Japanese kids have for lunch? ›

The lunches are full of variety, featuring a whole range of meats, fishes, vegetables, and sea plants. A typical meal consists of stew or curry, boiled vegetables, a sandwich, and salad. Milk is served with each meal. Usually, there is also dessert, such as gelatin, ice cream, and fruit.

What time is breakfast in Japan? ›

The Japanese people have their breakfast at around six to seven in the morning. Lunch will be held at twelve to one in the afternoon. Dinner is often eaten at around six till eight o'clock in the evening.

How many meals do Japanese eat? ›

Of the 95% of Japanese that eat three meals a day, most people consider dinner to be the most important.

How do Japanese lose weight? ›

Rather than overworking the body to compensate for the overconsumption of high-calorie food, Japanese people eat balanced meals and walk miles for commute every day. Not many people go to the gym or buy expensive products to sustain their healthy lifestyle because their daily routine is already healthy.

What do Japanese people eat everyday? ›

These are the seven pillars of the typical Japanese meal:
  • Rice.
  • Noodles (ramen, soba, somen, and udon)
  • Vegetable including sea vegetables and daikon radish.
  • Soy (soy sauce, tofu, miso,edamame)
  • Fish such as salmon, mackerel.
  • Green tea.
  • Fruits, like tangerine, persimmons and Fuji grapes.
4 Sept 2017

What is a traditional Japanese diet? ›

The traditional Japanese diet is rich in minimally processed, fresh, seasonal foods. It contains very small amounts of added sugars, fats, or animal protein and promotes fish, seafood, rice, noodles, seaweed, soy, fruit, and vegetables.

What is a typical Japanese meal? ›

A typical Japanese dinner includes rice, soup, pickles, salad, and protein and vegetable dishes. Beverages, such as tea, beer, and sake, are served alongside, and the meal may be followed by dessert. The dishes include classic Japanese foods, and other Asian and Western cuisines influence many modern recipes.

What kind of food do Japan eat? ›

These are the seven pillars of the typical Japanese meal:
  • Rice.
  • Noodles (ramen, soba, somen, and udon)
  • Vegetable including sea vegetables and daikon radish.
  • Soy (soy sauce, tofu, miso,edamame)
  • Fish such as salmon, mackerel.
  • Green tea.
  • Fruits, like tangerine, persimmons and Fuji grapes.
4 Sept 2017

Is Ramen a traditional Japanese food? ›

Ramen is widely known imported from China to Japan, ramen-noodle shops first sprang to popularity in both countries in the early 1900s, and the noodles were actually called “Chinese soba” noodes in Japan up until the 1950s.

How do Japanese stay thin? ›

Having a balanced diet

In fact, the Japanese diet is very much balanced and versatile. They eat nutritious foods in each meal that includes carbohydrate, animal protein, vegetable protein, healthy fat, vitamins, and minerals. Thus, they enjoy eating rice, fish, soy, vegetables, fruit, and green tea without sugar.

How do Japanese lose weight? ›

Rather than overworking the body to compensate for the overconsumption of high-calorie food, Japanese people eat balanced meals and walk miles for commute every day. Not many people go to the gym or buy expensive products to sustain their healthy lifestyle because their daily routine is already healthy.

How many times Japanese eat in a day? ›

Of the 95% of Japanese that eat three meals a day, most people consider dinner to be the most important.

What is a common breakfast in Japan? ›

Traditional Japanese breakfast usually follows the style of a Japanese set meal, with the staple being rice and miso soup and ohitashi (boiled vegetables) served as side dishes. Natto (fermented soybeans), pickles, and grilled fish are often also served on the side to help complement the rice.

What time is dinner in Japan? ›

The Japanese people have their breakfast at around six to seven in the morning. Lunch will be held at twelve to one in the afternoon. Dinner is often eaten at around six till eight o'clock in the evening.

What do Japanese drink with dinner? ›

All Japanese restaurants serve complimentary green tea with meals. If that's too weak, you might want to try sake (also known as nihonshu), an alcoholic beverage made from rice and served either hot or cold. It goes well with most forms of Japanese cuisine.

Why is Japanese diet so healthy? ›

The traditional Japanese diet is largely fresh and unprocessed, with very few refined ingredients and sugar. In fact, it isn't that dissimilar to a traditional Chinese diet, with staples including rice, cooked and pickled vegetables, fish and meat.

What do Japanese eat for snack? ›

These are the snacks that have held on for decades or longer to become much adored symbols of Japanese snack culture.
  • Senbei. Senbei are Japanese rice crackers. ...
  • Crepes. ...
  • Pocky. ...
  • Dorayaki. ...
  • Melon Pan. ...
  • Manju. ...
  • Dango. ...
  • Daifuku.
16 Jul 2015

Is ramen Korean or Japanese? ›

Ramen (/ˈrɑːmən/) (拉麺, ラーメン or らーめん, rāmen, IPA: [ɾaꜜːmeɴ]) is a Japanese noodle dish. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles (or 中華麺, chūkamen) served in a broth; common flavors are soy sauce and miso, with typical toppings including sliced pork (chāshū), nori (dried seaweed), menma (bamboo shoots), and scallions.

What country eats ramen? ›

China consumes the most instant ramen noodles in the world, approximately 40 billion servings per year.

Should you drink the ramen broth? ›

It's totally OK to drink the broth from the bowl. It's considered a compliment to how good the broth is. But finish it at your own risk; those broths are flavor bombs, packed with sodium (see above). Another thing that is OK to do is to ask for extra noodles if you've finished the ones in your bowl.

Videos

1. 跨国夫妻一天三餐都吃什么?和外国人结婚会不会有饮食矛盾?What Should I Cook? Delicious Asian Meal Ideas! AMWF
(田纳西Jay和Ari)
2. BANGKOK TOP 5 MUST TRY STREET FOOD TOUR in 4 HOURS?! | Singaporeans Favorite Street Food in Bangkok!
(Zermatt Neo)
3. “Hey Boy” Karaoke Sing Along Song | Over the Moon | Netflix After School
(Netflix After School)
4. Why Japanese Are So Thin According to Science
(BRIGHT SIDE)
5. JAPANESE STREET FOOD - Tokyo Street Food Tour | AUTHENTIC Street Food in Japan + BEST Oden in TOKYO
(Luke Martin)
6. Top 9 Best Cheap Eats in Waikiki Hawaii
(Yellow Productions)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Pres. Carey Rath

Last Updated: 01/07/2023

Views: 6387

Rating: 4 / 5 (61 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Pres. Carey Rath

Birthday: 1997-03-06

Address: 14955 Ledner Trail, East Rodrickfort, NE 85127-8369

Phone: +18682428114917

Job: National Technology Representative

Hobby: Sand art, Drama, Web surfing, Cycling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Leather crafting, Creative writing

Introduction: My name is Pres. Carey Rath, I am a faithful, funny, vast, joyous, lively, brave, glamorous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.