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Well known for its health benefits, focus on seasonal ingredients, and freshness, Japanese cuisine is considered by many to have attained the highest level of food quality.
Fish and seafood are staples commonly eaten with rice and noodles, and most dishes are prepared by healthy methods and served raw, grilled or simmered. And with the highest number of Michelin Star restaurants in the world, having over taken France in 2011, it’s no surprise that many travellers visit Japan specifically for the world class cuisine.
So what’s on your list? This is ours.
The Buffalo Tours Japan Food Guide
Incontestably Japan’s most famous dish, the fact remains that sushi is served best in its home country. Prepared as fresh cuts of fish with vinegar-ed white or brown rice and served with accompanying sides of wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger. From ama-ebi (sweet shrimp) to uni (sea urchin roe), and the more classic cuts of salmon and tuna, sushi will delight all seafood lovers.
Like many other foods, sushi can also be found as prepackaged containers in convenience stores. But to enjoy the full experience, pop in a Hamazushi, or a ‘conveyor belt’ restaurant, where different plates of sushi rotate on a conveyor belt and you pick off whatever dishes you want. Don’t forget to stack your plates at the end to see who ate the most!
While sukiyaki is commonly confused with shabushabu, there are actually a great number of differences that set the two popular dishes apart. A shallow iron pot with broth sits in the middle of the table and is accompanied by small dishes of raw egg yolk, meat and vegetables. To eat, you dip the raw ingredients into the soup, wait for it to cook, and then scoop it up (with a helping of soup) into your own personal bowl. This is a classic Japanese sharing meal and a lot of fun with friends.
A thick and chewy noodle that will fill you faster than ramen, Udon is made from a thick wheat and commonly served on the streets of Osaka where it originates. Its simplest form is called Kake Udon, which is typically served with Kakejiru, a light broth made of soy sauce, dashi, mirin and topped off with scallions.
Blend in with the locals by eating it the ‘proper’ way! Rather than digging straight in, dip the noodles (served in a separate bowl) into the soup with your chopsticks and enjoy it one bite at a time.
While Japanese food is universally known for its light and healthy nutritional benefits, tempura proves that Japanese cuisine also has a number of naughtier treats. Originally brought over by Spanish and Portuguese missionaries in the late sixteenth century, the locals quickly made it their own by adding dipping sauce and other alterations. Made of seafood and vegetables that are battered and deep fried in hot oil, be sure to order plenty of variety!
Best served to ward off the cold winter and ofteneaten as a late night snack, ramen is a dish that will have you stumbling out of many a restaurant feeling happy and full. With four main types of soup, tonkatsu (pork bone), miso, soy sauce and salt, you are able to pick and choose your favorite combination. Typically served in a large bowl (beware of large servings!), your noodles and broth are topped off with an array of vegetables, thin cuts of meat, seaweed, spices and boiled egg.
Ramen varies from region to region with distinct changes in soup broth and noodles. For example, Fukuoka is famous for their pork based ramen.
Think sushi, without the rice. Typically served with soy sauce and garnished with a side of wasabi and grated fresh ginger, you’ll be able to find this dish at a range of outlets. Did you know that sashimi is considered the finest dish in Japanese formal dining? To the extent that Japanese chefs recommend that it be eaten before other strong flavors affect the palate.
Made of buckwheat, soba is considered the healthier sibling of udon and ramen, which are both made from wheat and served as thicker noodles. Perhaps one of the biggest differences between soba and pasta is that soba is served cold and rinsed in cold running water prior to being served. While the cold water helps to cool them, this also helps to get rid of the excess starch and refines the flavor.
As one of the most popular dishes in Japan, it is of no surprise that curry rice has been adapted into two other forms – curry udon (curry over noodles), and curry bread (a curry-filled pastry). Made with a wide variety of vegetables – onions, carrots, and potatoes, and meats – beef, pork and chicken, it is served with a large heaping of rice and occasionally a breaded deep-fried cutlet (katsu kare).
Wondering how curry ever ended up in Japan? You’ll have to look all the way back to the Meiji era (1868-1912) when India was under the British Raj, and British powers spent a fair amount of time in Japan. Since then, it has become widely popular and now available for purchase in supermarkets and restaurants.
Japan’s take on BBQ comes in the form of Yakitori. Raw meat is placed on a kushi, a skewer made of bamboo or steel, and grilled over a charcoal fire. Top it off with a dash of tare sauce (sweet) or salt seasoning and voila – you’ve got the perfect street snack!
Eat the grilled chicken meat directly off the skewer or use your chopsticks to remove the meat. If you’re looking for a vegetarian version complete with cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and shishito peppers, visit a yakitori restaurant where there will be a wider range of options than those sold on the street.
Want to discover the delights of Japanese cuisine for yourself? You can eat your way through our Japan food guide on our customisable Japan tours.