05 Nov What you can eat in Japan! Food tour and signature dishes.
When it comes to Japanese cuisine, you either love it or hate it, there is no in between. If you love it, get ready for a food tour to wonderland! If not, keep reading about our culinary adventures and keep in mind that Japanese cuisine is a lot more than sushi. Although we had done some research before our trip, the two Food Tours we had in Tokyo and Kyoto with Japan Wonder Travel taught us a lot more about local food. So, let’s see what you can eat in Japan!
Let’s talk about Food!
What can you eat in Japan that you have never eaten in your home country (in our case, Greece)? Sushi! We are not joking. Athens, for example, is full of sushi places but the sushi they serve has nothing to do with what you can eat in Japan. Simple as that. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the westernized version we eat in our homeland is not tasty! Back to sushi in Japan now. The kinds of sushi that dominate in Japan are Nigiri, Maki, Gunkan Maki, and Sashimi. Of course, you will find other types as well. The basic ingredients are fish, seafood, rice, and wasabi, among others. What you will not find in a traditional sushi place in Japan are the “extras”, such as avocado, mayonnaise, etc. What you will find are different varieties of tuna with different prices, depending mainly on the fat percentage and the texture of the fish. Other ingredients that are very popular are shrimps, raw and boiled, salmon, smoked or raw, different kinds of fish and fish eggs (we loved sardine sushi, which we had never eaten before), raw octopus, squid, and meat!
During our Food tour in Tokyo, we had the opportunity to eat excellent traditional sushi but, the truth is, you won’t have to try hard to find good sushi in that city. So, don’t worry about the places where you can eat decent sushi. We tried a few conveyor belt sushi places, which were usually cheaper, but we also allowed ourselves to have 2-3 dinners at more fancy restaurants.
Good to know: Sushi is an all-time food, which means you can have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Each meal is accompanied by a cup of green tea (usually for free), and is served with soy sauce and ginger pickles.
Favorite bite: Toro sushi, which is the fattiest part of the tuna & the smoked nigiri salmon.
Worst bite: Raw nigiri octopus.
What can you eat in Japan that is not sushi? Ramen! It was love at first bite, we must admit. Ramen is a fortified noodle soup, that has its roots in China. You will find many types of Ramen, with different broth bases, different kinds of noodles and different toppings (meat, seaweed, green onion etc.). The best Ramen we ate was at the famous Ichiran. It’s a chain so you’ll find plenty of them in the city. You usually have to wait, especially during peak hours. At Ichiran, you purchase your order at a vending machine, you sit at an individual spot on a seating board, you hand in your order through a wooden window-door which then closes, and finally, you enjoy your bowl of Ramen all by yourself. The whole concept is very interesting. We tried the special ramen menu, which was delicious and cost 12 euros.
How to eat it: Hot, when it’s served. Use chopsticks for noodles and larger pieces of meat, seaweed, etc., and the “Chinese” teaspoon to drink the soup and the smaller pieces of the toppings. Do not hesitate to drink straight from the bowl, especially once you’ve finished the noodles; It’s not considered rude.
Japanese Omelets (Tamagoyaki)
Another dish, that may be slightly different from what you have in mind, is Tamagoyaki. What you can eat in Japan that you also haven’t eaten before? Japanese omelet! You will find it as a sushi filling or as a snack, and you will notice that is quite popular! It is much fluffier than the Greek omelet because it is made by rolling together thin layers of fried eggs. Another interesting fact that we learned on the Food Tour is that, in Tokyo, omelets have a sweet aftertaste, whereas in Kyoto they have a savory aftertaste. The difference is in the sugar! The Tokyo version has plenty of it whereas the Kyoto version does not. A piece may look small, but it is quite filling, as it is like a compressed, rolled omelet.
Note: We tried omelets at the Nishiki market in Kyoto and the Outer Tsukiji market in Tokyo, as part of our Food Tour with Japan Wonder Travel.
Fried fish cake (Satsuma-Age) & soy milk donuts.
Two other dishes we learned about during our Food Tours in Tokyo and Kyoto were the fish cakes and the soy milk donuts. A fish cake is made by mixing flour with leftovers of white fish. It might be enriched with other ingredients as well, but the concept is that it is made from leftovers. The mixture is then fried in hot oil, in a pancake-like shape, and the fish cake is ready to eat. The soy milk donuts were another delicious surprise! Smaller, chewier on the inside, and crispier on the outside, compared to the classic donuts. Try not to buy the packaged set at the counter and go for the warm, freshly baked ones.
Note: We tasted these dishes at the Nishiki Market in Kyoto as part of our Food Tour with Japan Wonder Travel.
Okonomiyaki, Tempura, Yokitori
What you can eat in Japan that is very fulfilling? Okonomiyaki. A special dish, reminiscent of something between salty pancake and omelet. The basic ingredients are batter and cabbage. You can add extra ingredients such as meat, vegetables, seafood and different sauces. Okonomiyaki is fried on a special plate, and many restaurants will fry it in front of you. Another must-try is tempura. Tempura is a Japanese dish with Portuguese influence, which is deep-fried vegetables or seafood. Finally, yakitori are another must-eat. Yakitori are small skewers, usually with meat or vegetables, and make an ideal accompaniment to sake or beer.
Udon & soba noodles
Noodles are a favorite dish of Asian cuisine. You will find many varieties, some of which are made of rice, others of flour, and each kind comes in different shapes. Two types of noodles worth eating in Japan are udon and soba noodles. Udon noodles are a type of thick flour noodle used in Japanese cuisine and are usually served in dashi and soy broth. Soba noodles are either made from buckwheat or buckwheat with flour and are thinner than udon. They are very tasty and are also served either in broth or plain, together with the sauce of your choice.
Read also: Kyoto Travel Guide : 4 days itinerary
Wagyu & Kobe beef
Japan is famous not only for its seafood but also for its meat. When referring to the Wagyu calf, we mean a class of calf that is bred specifically in an area in Japan. Kobe is a premium brand of Wagyu beef. It is the most expensive beef in the world and is considered the «best of the best”. The way it is reared, the area, and the certification that confirms the abovementioned standards make it so expensive. Now, you understand why it is included on our list of “What you can eat in Japan “.
Note: The two Food Tours we did in Tokyo and Kyoto were with Japan Wonder Travel. Some of the dishes mentioned above were included on our tours. A big thank you to our (TAK & NOE) guides for making this experience unique.