9 More Foods to Try (Or Try to Avoid) in Japan

A few weeks ago, the fellows at Nihongoup, the online Japanese-language community, invited me to do a guest post. I went to my default Japanese conversation tactic: I started spewing out the names of foods I like.

So I’ve got 9 below the jump; you can find the other half of that list over on their website (here).


1. Ramen
Thin noodles in a pork-based broth with fatty pork and spices. American Ramen, at 38 cents per serving, is an insult to Japan.

The specialty in Fukuoka, Hakata Ramen, is always described in the most disgusting way possible. It’s easy to make “combusted pork bones” sound gross. Hakata Ramen also smells like sweat-sopped socks from a sealed gym bag, which might stifle most passing curiosity.

Ramen is a greasy soup. The noodles should swim in the broth, soaking in flavor. Suck up the noodles, leaving the broth behind, and resist the temptation to drink in the greasy, sweaty remains.

In Fukuoka, you can refill the broth with fresh noodles for 100 yen. Just ask for kaidama. I’m quite sure kaidama (and cell phone service on the subway) are why Monocle magazine listed the city in its top 20 places in the world to live.

2. Onigiri
Onigiri are the little green triangles lining konbini walls. An onigiri made me cry once. Onigiri tastes like perfect love. They are rice balls, filled with salmon, tuna or plum and wrapped in cool, crispy seaweed. The seaweed offers up just enough resistance before it collapses with a crunch and sticks in your teeth. My default breakfast item.

3. Donburi
A rice bowl, topped with steak or chicken or vegetables or sushi. The depressingly named  “Mother-Daughter” donburi is a piece of fried chicken topped with raw egg, clearly dreamed up by a sadistic farm hand with a resounding hatred for poultry.

You’ll eat a lot of raw eggs in Japan. While Americans like to put soy sauce on rice because “they’re both Asian so whatever,” Japanese see soy sauce on rice as kind of weird.

Instead, they throw raw eggs on everything. Got chicken? Throw raw egg on it. Pizza? Throw raw egg on it. Got some time to kill? Eat a raw egg. They don’t use cheese, either, so everything is coated in mayonnaise.

4. Kaitenzushi 
This is just sushi, on a conveyor belt. I wrote 1,500 words about it here.

5. Okonomoyaki
“Osaka soul food,” this is a pancake filled with cabbage, onions and a variety of meats and vegetables that you can order off a list, such as cheese, mochi or tuna. Some restaurants let you fry the assemblage at your table. There is also a “Hiroshima Style” version of the dish which adds noodles and stacks the ingredients instead of mixing them. Both are delicious.

6. Udon
A wheat and flour noodle served in a soup. An extremely popular Japanese dish. You can (and should) slurp these noodles to cool them down and enhance the flavor. In udon shops you’ll see people holding bowls up to their faces and slurping noodles over their chopsticks with an offensive sucking sound.

You get a little too used to it, so if you’re a long-term resident be sure to explain to your guests that you’re supposed to eat this soup in a really disgusting way.

7. Soba
Thin, grey buckwheat noodles served cold in the summer, chilled on a bamboo basket (“zaru”) with pieces of ice on top. Dip the noodles into a cool broth made of dashi, soy sauce and mirin. Hot versions of the dish are served in the winter.

There’s nothing funny or interesting about soba. It’s delicious and refreshing, but it’s the blandest dish in Japan.

8. Ikizukuri
Vegetarians, beware: This is squid or other seafood served so raw that it literally watches you eat parts of its body. For Japanese people, it’s evidence of freshness. For me, it’s an invitation to be haunted by a squid ghost with sad cartoon eyes. That’s too intense for me, so I can’t even go into the places that serve it.

9. Basashi, or Sakuraniku.
This is horse meat, called “sakura” because it matches the color of cherry blossoms. Also called baniku or bagushi. It’s available in many steak houses and izukayas and even served raw. One of the least appetizing Japanese food descriptions I’ve ever seen was “sliced aorta of horse.”

On that note, happy eating! If you’re looking for more dinner suggestions (or warnings) you can read the 8 Foods You Must Try (or Try to Avoid) in Japan over at Nihongoup, with photos (and added educational value). And let us know any food you love (or hate) in the comments.

And you can follow This Japanese Life on Facebook. 

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8 Responses to 9 More Foods to Try (Or Try to Avoid) in Japan

  1. Dom says:

    You forgot the 牛焼肉 onigiri. By far the tastiest thing 7/11 has ever sold.

  2. Pingback: 8 foods you must try (or try to avoid) in Japan | Blog | NihongoUp

  3. Jeffrey says:

    “The depressingly named “Mother-Daughter” donburi is a piece of fried chicken topped with raw egg, clearly dreamed up by a sadistic farm hand with a resounding hatred for poultry.”

    See Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion.” He saw this on a menu in Jamaica. Same general idea.

  4. Jeffrey says:

    Regarding bashashi, is it really that widely available these days? I never encountered it until I took a trip to Kyushu. Can’t remember ever seeing it on the menu at any izakaya in the general Kansai, Tokai or Kanto areas.

    • shintemaster says:

      I had a friend try it when we were living in Fukuoka, from memory from a place down around Kurume vicinity.

  5. Pingback: On Getting Ramen (and a Hangover) in Japan | This Japanese Life. | 生命を外面九天です

  6. Pingback: 8 foods you must try (or try to avoid) in Japan | Japanese LinguaLift blog

  7. Lucius says:

    Aw, man, soba’s great! And has a very colorful history. Just investigate the story behind why so many soba shops go by the name 砂場. Soba might be the food that has brought me closest to crying–just the smell of a steaming bowl of かき揚げ蕎麦 is enough to elicit vivid memories of the many happy fall afternoons I spent in Tokyo.

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