Japanese cuisine is one of the most popular in the world. Although Japanese don’t use spices, their food is rich in flavor and has notable texture. The food presentation is inviting, as Japanese are not only very careful with how they prepare their food but also with how they present it.
When you visit Japan, sample any, or all, of the following dishes.
If there is one Japanese food that’s widely consumed in the country, it’s ramen. And although you may have consumed ramen outside of Japan before, you have to taste it in Japan to know what authentic ramen tastes like.
Thin ramen noodles are submerged in soup and topped with chashu (roast pork), memma (seasoned bamboo shoots), or moyashi (fresh bean sprouts). Gyoza (dumplings) are served as side dish in some ramen-ya (ramen restaurants). Your soup base can be miso (bean paste), shoyu (soy), shio (salt), or tonkutsu (pork).
Ramen is not eaten the way other soups are. Ramen has to be slurped – noisily and passionately slurped. This cools down the noodles and intensifies the ramen flavor.
If you’re looking for a quick, hearty, inexpensive meal, head to one of the thousands of ramen-ya, where you will sit or stand with several others, eat a hot bowl of ramen, and add to the seemingly orchestrated slurping sound.
Sashimi is not to be confused with sushi. Sushi is the vinegared rice with raw seafood. Sashimi is just raw seafood. Although eating raw seafood is off to some visitors, the Japanese love sashimi’s freshness.
Raw fish and seafood are thinly sliced and garnished with shisho leaves and shredded daikon radish. They are arranged creatively, so it’s hard to resist them. No worries about the fresh fish taste, because sashimi is supposed to be dipped into soy sauce with wasabi, grated ginger, and other types of ingredients.
Sashimi selection consists of sake (salmon), ebi (shrimp), maguro (tuna), toro (fatty tuna), ika (squid), saba (mackerel), and tako (octopus). Sashimi is available in all Japanese restaurants, but you can find the freshest in diners along fish ports and fish markets.
Fugu is the Japanese word for pufferfish – and one very interesting thing about the pufferfish is that it contains, in its organs and skin, a poison paralyzes its victims so that eventually, they die of asphyxiation because their diaphragm muscles are no longer able to pull air into the lungs. Since the poison does not cross the blood-brain barrier, the victim remains fully conscious as all these things happen.
Despite the danger, though, the meat of this fish is a treasured delicacy in Japan.
You need to be a highly trained chef to be able to remove all the poisonous parts without contaminating the meat. Sometimes, people prepare fugu at home and do it wrongly. Since poison concentrations vary from fish to fish, some victims of fugu poisoning do not die but simply experience numbness on the lips and tongue. It’s a sort of seafood-style Russian roulette.
If you dare to try fugu, your visit to Japan is the best and safest time to do it. Fugu is served in sashimi form – in other words, it is uncooked.
Lots of restaurants offer okonomiyaki. It is a pancake-like food minus all the sweetness. When you order it at a restaurant, don’t get surprised when the attendant serves you a bowl of ingredients – you have to cook okonomiyaki yourself.
Just mix all the ingredients with batter and egg and pour the mixture on the teppan (griddle) installed on your table. Metal spatulas are provided, so you can shape your okonomiyaki and turn it over when one side turns brown and crispy. Once both sides are cooked, put your toppings one by one, slice the fried food like pizza, and enjoy every bite.
You choose your own ingredients – okonomi, after all, means “to one’s liking.” Some commonly used ingredients are cabbage, pork, beef, shrimp, oyster, wasabi, and kimchi.
In some restaurants, okonomiyaki is served cooked.
Natto is a popular breakfast food in Japan. Made from fermented soybeans, it is a rich source not just of proteins but also of good bacteria, or probiotics.
Because of its strong smell and flavor and its slippery texture, one does not naturally take to liking natto. But once you get beyond the gooey appearance, you would notice that the taste and smell are actual quite similar to cheese.
Natto is often eaten with rice. Some Japanese dust it with sugar, making it into a dessert dish. Fried natto is a delicious finger food. You could even try natto ice cream.
As with most things in Japan, etiquette matters in dining. So when at the table, make sure to observe dining etiquette. Say “Itadakimasu” (I gratefully receive) before the meal and “Gochisosama (deshita)” (Thank you for the meal) after eating.