10 Most Popular Foods to Eat in Japan & How to Find Them - Japanspecialist

10 Most Popular Foods to Eat in Japan & How to Find Them

14 Mar 2023

When visiting Japan, one of the first things on your to-do list should be to try some delicious Japanese food! Although sushi and ramen have made a name for themselves worldwide, there’s so much more to try that just isn’t the same if you find it abroad. How many of these do you think you’ll try on your Japan trip?

10. Gyoza

Delicious Japanese pan-fried gyoza being held by a pair of chopsticks

Pot stickers, dumplings, gyoza… Whatever you call them, these delicious parcels of flavor are a must-try.

Gyoza comes in all shapes and sizes, but the most common variety is pan-fried gyoza, called “yaki gyoza” in Japanese. They are typically made with ground pork, cabbage, green onion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and some sesame oil, all wrapped in a pasta-like gyoza wrapper. The other types are sui gyoza (boiled), and age gyoza (deep fried), and some restaurants serve them in a variety of different flavors.

You can find gyoza in Japan at almost any ramen restaurant or Chinese restaurant as a side dish, but if you do some searching beforehand, you can also find dedicated gyoza restaurants. Utsunomiya, a city just outside of Tokyo, is famous for its gyoza, so that you can find plenty of them there.

9. Gyudon

Japanese beef and rice bowl known as gyudon with shredded ginger on top

“Gyudon” simply means “beef on rice” and is a delicious dish you can find very easily and cheaply in Japan.

The dish is made with thinly sliced beef and onions cooked in a sweet and savoury sauce with a soy sauce base. It’s cheap and fast to make, so it’s considered a type of fast food in Japan. It’s popular among Japanese businessmen because it’s easy to eat but still fills you up.

Matsuya, Yoshinoya, and Sukiya are the three main chain restaurants that specialize in cheap gyudon, and there’s almost always one nearby. If you can’t find one, look for a family-run Japanese restaurant, and you’ll probably find some there!

8. Onigiri

Japanese rice balls with different flavours

An onigiri is a Japanese rice ball and not something you would typically find at a restaurant.

The simplest form of onigiri is just lightly salted Japanese white rice wrapped in nori (dried seaweed). But it is a popular lunch box snack that people make at home, so you can put pretty much anything you want in it. Some popular fillings are tuna mayo, cooked salmon, or unfilled and covered in sesame seeds.

The easiest place to find onigiri is a convenience store like 7-Eleven or Family Mart. If you want something a little fancier or that feels more homemade, you can sometimes find takeout shops specializing in onigiri, particularly at train stations.

7. Soba and Udon Noodles

Japanese kitsune udon with deep-fried tofu

Soba noodles are thin and made with buckwheat, and udon is thick and made with flour, but both are usually served in a light and tasty broth with various toppings.

Depending on the dish, soba or udon noodles can often be used interchangeably. One of the most popular dishes is Kitsune udon or Kitsune soba, which comes with a piece of flavoured deep-fried tofu. Soba can also be served alone to dip in a sauce, and udon can be fried as yaki udon.

Almost any traditional restaurant in Japan will serve soba, udon, or both. To find one online, try searching for “teishoku restaurants”. Teishoku means “set meal”.

6. Tempura

Japanese tempura served with a dipping sauce

Tempura is a delicious Japanese dish that deep fries fish, meat, or vegetables in a light and crispy batter.

Although the dish has Portuguese origins, it is now a very popular and commonplace dish throughout Japan. The batter is made with water, flour, and egg yolks, which are used to coat a variety of ingredients. While the contents usually change according to what’s in season, the most common types are shrimp, sweet potato, fish, and eggplant.

Tempura can be found in different forms around Japan, from homemade style to special tempura master restaurants. Tendon Tenya is a quick and cheap chain around Tokyo, whereas Tsunahachi is a slightly more upmarket chain. Otherwise, look for teishoku restaurants or dedicated tempura restaurants.

5. Japanese Fried Food

Japanese karaage fried chicken being made

At first, “fried food” doesn’t sound very special, but once you try Japanese fried food you’ll find it hard to go back!

There are so many different types of fried food in Japan. Two of the most common are karaage (deep-fried seasoned chicken) and katsu (breaded and deep-fried meat). You might know tonkatsu which is just pork katsu. Kushi katsu means katsu on a stick and is delicious to eat alongside a few pints of beer. There are also korokke, which are Japanese-style croquettes with different fillings.

Different types of fried food can be found all over Japan, such as at street food stalls and family-run restaurants. But one of the easiest places to find them is at Izakaya, Japanese-style pubs.

4. Sushi and Sashimi

Fresh Japanese sashimi in a wooden serving bowl

Sashimi is raw, sliced fish and seafood, while sushi is the same but wrapped in or served on rice.

There are many different types of sushi and sashimi. The most common style abroad is maki sushi, which is the kind that is rolled in nori seaweed. Nigirizushi is the type served on a small ball of rice. You can also try kaisendon, a completely different style of sashimi selection, on a bowl of rice.

There are a lot of cheap and quick conveyor belt sushi chain restaurants around Japan, like Sushiro, Kura Sushi, and Genki Sushi. But the best place to try it is in regions by the sea, like Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market, Ishikawa, Fukuoka, or Hakodate.

3. Yakiniku

Cooking meat on a grill in a yakiniku restaurant

Yakiniku is a bit different to the others because you cook the food yourself!

“Yakiniku” literally means “cooked meat”, so the meat takes the spotlight. You can usually choose from a variety of different cuts of meat and offal, as well as vegetables and sides. There will be a grill at your table, so you simply cook the meat to your liking. The main draw of yakiniku is that you get high-quality meat you wouldn’t usually cook at home.

Yakiniku is its own restaurant style, so you won’t typically find it with anything else. The easiest way is to simply look for yakiniku restaurants online, and this is one of the few types of restaurants on this list that you usually would want to book in advance.

2. Okonomiyaki

Japanese savory pancake called okonomiyaki being grilled on a hotplate.

Okonomiyaki is another dish you usually cook for yourself and is a bit like a thick pancake.

“Okonomiyaki” means “cooked as you like” and is a savoury pancake dish. At the restaurant, you will have a teppan hotplate in front of you, and you can choose your desired flavour. The staff will bring you a bowl with all the ingredients, and you just have to put it on the hotplate and then flip it once the bottom is done. It is made using flour, egg, and cabbage as a base. Some popular flavours are seafood, pork, or cheese. You can then top it with any sauces on the table! If you don’t know how to cook it, you can ask the staff to do it.

Okonomiyaki is usually served at dedicated okonomiyaki restaurants because of the need for a hotplate at the table. Different regions are famous for different styles, such as the Hiroshima style, which fries noodles onto the bottom of the pancake!

1. Ramen

Japanese pork broth ramen with a variety of toppings

Ramen is a Japanese soup noodle dish that comes in all different flavours and styles.

You’ve probably already heard of ramen, but it’s no.1 on our list because of the crazy variety you can find throughout Japan. At one place, you might find classic tonkatsu (pork broth) ramen, at another, creamy chicken ramen, and at yet another, chilled tomato ramen!

Different regions in Japan are known for different styles of ramen. Fukuoka is known for tonkatsu ramen, while Hokkaido is known for its miso ramen with a slab of butter. There are plenty of chain restaurants, too, like Ichiran, Ippudo, and Marugen. But if you want something different, finding a place nearby that has a line outside usually means it’s good!

Would You Like a Drink with That?

Now that you have an idea of what types of food you can try while you’re in Japan, why not learn a bit about Uji Cha, one of Japan’s most famous green teas?

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: A traditional red Japanese gate torii with black writing in Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan