Must-Try Japanese dishes
Sushi is the most famous Japanese dish. For many people, this is the first dish that comes to mind when thinking about Japanese cuisine.
Sushi refers to a family of artfully presented dishes made with vinegar rice and a variety of ingredients, mostly raw fish and other types of seafood. It is usually eaten with pickle ginger and dipped in soy sauce mixed with wasabi.
Sushi was invented as a way of preserving fish by storing the fish in fermented rice. This early type of sushi is known as Narezushi and can still be enjoyed in Japan today.
In the picture below is Kabura Zushi, a more modern type of Narezushi associated with Kanazawa. It is a Kanazawa food specialty that is sandwiched between pieces of pickled turnip with salty bari (Japanese amberjack or yellowtail).
The more common types of sushi include makizushi, nigirizushi, chirashizushi, and inerizushi. Non-Japanese people are probably most familiar with nigirizushi and makizushi.
Nigiri sushi refers to a rectangular shaped ball of rice, with a piece of seafood on top of it, while maki sushi is the type of sushi commonly referred to as a "sushi roll". In the picture above you can see examples of both.
Sashimi refers to slices of raw seafood or meat. It is basically sushi minus vinegar rice. Like sushi, it is usually eaten with soy sauce mixed with wasabi.
The picture below is one of my favorite types of sashimi - uni or marine urinine sashimi. Usually served in its own shell, I had this golden shiny bowl at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka but you can find Uni Sashimi pretty much at any seafood market in Japan.
Are you daring to eat? If you are, you may want to try Chicken Sashimi. Yes, you read it right - Raw Chicken Sashimi.
Chicken is made from a specific breed of sashimi chicken called "Blue Foot Chicken". This breed of chicken presents a low risk of salmonella, although raw chicken meat must still be super fresh to eat safely. Due to obvious health concerns, a special license is required to serve raw chicken in Japan.
Chicken Sashimi is absolutely delicious and one of the most amazing Japanese dishes ever. If you can get ahead of the fact that this is raw chicken, I suggest that you try it if you see it on a restaurant menu.
We haven't seen it often, but we got to try it out in Korombia Izakaya, Sapporo.
Like sushi, ramen is a Japanese food favorite and one of the best dishes for you in Japan. It refers to noodle soup made from four basic components - broth, stars (spices), noodles and toppings.
The star (or Kashi) is a salty concentrated essence placed at the bottom of each Ramon bowl. With broth, this is what determines Ramon's style, of which there are four main types - Shoyu, Miso, Shio and Tonkotsu. The noodles and toppings enhance the experience but the real star of this dish is the seasoned broth.
It is important to understand that even with the four recognized styles of Ramon, unlimited variations exist within each genre. Each bowl of ramen comes in one of four basic types but the variations within each style are much greater. And we are not yet talking about the type of noodles or the combination of toppings!
The possibilities with Ramon are so vast that a large number of regional varieties have been established throughout Japan. In fact, you can write a complete Japanese food guide on Ramon alone.
Below is a bowl of Miso Ramon from Ramon Alley in Sapporo. It is made by mixing miso (soybean paste) with oily chicken or fish broth to make a heavy and hearty soup suitable for the harsh winter of Hokkaido. This is one of the best dishes to see when you visit Sapporo.
The toppings vary between restaurants, but miso ramen is usually topped with a variety of ingredients such as chashu (braised pork belly), nori (seaweed), ground pork, leeks, scallions, bean sprouts and a ramen egg is.
Miso ramen bowl
Hakata ramen is often made with thin noodles and is usually topped with scallion, wood year mushrooms, chashu pork and a ramen egg. It is creamy and delicious when you visit Fukuoka and is one of the best dishes for you.
Hakata bowl or tonkotsu ramen
To eat, you dip the noodles in the broth. To ensure that the noodles are coated with as much flavor as possible, the Tsukomen broth is more intensely flavored than the typical Ramon broth.
Tempura is a Japanese cooking method in which deep-frying seafood or vegetables are coated in a mild solution made of cold water and soft cake flour. The batter is lightly mixed and kept cold with lumps to create a crisp and puffed texture on frying.
Most of the tempura is cooked for a few seconds before being served with grated daikon radish and a dipping sauce, most often tantsuyu which is dashi (soup stock), mirin (rice wine), and shoyu (soy sauce). Is made with Alternatively, it can be sprinkled with a mixture of sea salt or powdered green tea, salt and yuzu before eating.
A variety of seafood and vegetables are used in Tempura, although EB (shrimp) is the most popular.
Unagi is a freshwater fish. It should not be confused with anago which is saltwater or conger eel.
To prepare the ungi, the eel is cut open and its head and bones removed. When tasting with kabayaki sauce (sweet soy sauce) the meat is skewed and boiled before being slowly grilled over charcoal.
Grilled Ungi is usually served as sushi, or in a dish called Ungi Donburi or Unadan above a rice bed.
One of the best Ungi dishes you can try in Japan is Hitsubabushi. It refers to the Nagoya specialty of grilled Ungi over rice which is eaten in three stages.
Ungi is served in a bowl over rice with yakumi (spices) and dashi. The first stage involves eating eels over rice as it is.
After a few bites, you add the yakumi to your bowl in the second step. The type of yakumi varies among restaurants but they usually include ingredients such as wasabi, pickled vegetables, nori and green onions.
When you are down for your last few bites, you add dashi (sometimes tea) to your bowl and finish the rest. This is a fun way to eat Ungi that is not as common as Unadan or Ungi Sushi.
No matter how it is served, Ungi is one of my favorite Japanese foods. Smokey and savory-sweet with a luxurious texture, this is something you will need when visiting Japan.
The term wagyu refers to any of the four Japanese breeds of cattle - namely Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn.
Any beef produced from these four breeds of cattle is known as wagyu, however, not all types of wagyu are the same. The most desired wagyu comes from cattle that are genetically predisposed to intense marbling, such as the Tajima strain of cattle raised in Hyogo. You might have heard it as Kobe Beef.
In Japan the wagyu is branded according to the location where it was picked up, so Kobe Beef means it came from Kobe, Aso Beef means it came from Aso, and so on and so forth.
Kobe is the most well-known but other top Wagyu brands include Matsusaka, Saga, Ohmi and Hida. Try any of these Vagyu brands and you will never think of beef in the same way again. They are so incredibly gentle that they practically dissolve in your mouth.
Below are the most tender slices of Kobe Beef Yakiniku at Tsurugyu Restaurant in Osaka.
Grilling Vague on Charcoal
Kushiyaki / Yakitori
Many non-Japanese people have probably heard of the word "Yakitori", but not "Kushiyaki". Both refer to skewers of grilled meat popular in izakayas or informal Japanese gastropub.
Strictly speaking, yakitori refers specifically to grilled chicken on charcoal, although it is often used to describe meat commonly sliced in both poultry and non-poultry.
The appropriate blanket term to describe all types of sliced grilled meat is kushiyaki. Various types of meat and vegetables are skewed on bamboo or metal sticks before grilling them on charcoal and seasoned with a star. This is one of the best Japanese dishes for you with beer.
Mixed kushiyaki plate
Takoyaki is an Osaka food favorite. It refers to a ball-shaped snack made from a wheat flour solution filled with minced or sliced octopus, tempura scraps, pickle ginger, and green onions. It is usually topped with a sweet and salty tokoyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, green laver and bonito flakes.
Like Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki is one of the best dishes when you visit Osaka.
Okonomiyaki refers to a sweet-tasty pancake dish made with a mixture of flour, eggs, dashi, and sliced cabbage that includes ingredients such as pork belly, vegetables, shrimp, squid, and other seafood.
Batter and filling are pan-fried from both sides and then finished with various toppings such as sweet and salty Okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, dried seaweed and bonito flakes.
Okonomiyaki is one of the most popular Japanese foods. It is widely available throughout Japan but it is widely used in Osaka and Hirosh.