Japanese food is absolutely delicious and I was fortunate enough to sample dozens of different foods during my 2 weeks in Japan. According to Japan-Talk, Japan has 30 different types of restaurants with a wide variety of choices. Thankfully Andrew and David both speak Japanese so while driving around Shikoku and the main island of Honshu we got a truly authentic experience eating traditional Japanese food.
There are many different types of food in Japanese cuisine. Noodles and rice are extremely common and they seem to like putting everything on a stick. You’ll find lots of deep fried dishes and a wide selection of meats. Seafood is everywhere but mostly served raw as sushi with pork, chicken and beef being readily available too.
Did you know there are 30 Different Types of Restaurants in Japan?
Walking into a Japanese restaurant its quickly apparent what style food they serve. Similarly to Korea, many restaurants in Japan specialize in a specific type of dish. Want ramen? Head to a ramen shop. Feeling like sushi? Go to the local sushi joint. If you want breaded pork cutlet or buckwheat noodles there’s a restaurant for that too! If you want to have a wider selection of dishes than you can head to an Izakaya and still have quality food, otherwise you are likely sacrificing quantity for quality.
An Izakaya is a traditional type of Japanese pub that often serves a medley of foods.
Japanese food is pretty amazing and I ate as much as I could giving me the chance to bring you this Ultimate Japanese Food Guide!
Noodles in Japan
Ramen – Its a toss up between ramen and sushi for Japan’s most famous food but once you’re in Japan ramen restaurants are everywhere. Almost anywhere you go its guaranteed to be delicious but if you’re a major foodie than be sure to google the best ramen in your city. Ramen usually comes with bamboo and thinly sliced meat in a delicious broth. Broths range from pork or chicken to fish and even duck flavored
I’m sure you can also find beef broth too and they are all yummy. Ramen is typically eaten with chopsticks and slurping your noodles is a sign that you like the food! You’ll get a big spoon to enjoy the broth with but locals warn against drinking it all since the bottom of the broth has all the oils and salts. For me that makes it even tastier but then again Japanese are more focused on healthy eating than most Americans. Ramen will usually cost between 600-1000 yen making it great even for travelers on a budget! make it a large for 100-200 yen extra.
Traditional Japanese Food
Udon – Udon are thick wheat noodles served in a delicious broth. Also eat with chopsticks, just like ramen, don’t be afraid to slurp your meal and show the chef how much you’re enjoying it! Meat and veggies are all available to add to your udon and I highly recommend adding some ‘crispies’ from the jar on your table!
Did you know Japan has lots of kit kat flavors too?
Soba – These buckwheat noodles are ramen’s healthy alternative. Most restaurants will give you a choice of hot or cold along with a similar variety of broths and additives to what you find in ramen.
Yakisoba – When you take those healthy buckwheat noodles and fry them in oil adding vegetables it becomes yakisoba! Think of yakisoba as a noodle stir fry; it can be found in street stalls just about everywhere and makes a great snack!
Two types of Sushi Restaurants in Japan
There are 2 types of sushi restaurants: Belt Sushi and Traditional
Sushi (traditional restaurant) – some of the best sushi is found at more traditional restaurants where you place your orders. Everything is made fresh just for you and you can often watch the chefs put it together. Expect to pay a minimum of 1500 yen for this meal with high end sushi establishments setting you back 5000yen or more per person.
Sushi (belt sushi) – ask around Japan you’ll find restaurants serving sushi by the plate on conveyor belts. prices range by restaurant but you can usually find them for about 150 yen per plate with delicacies getting above 500yen per plate. These are generally cheaper and faster than a more traditional restaurant.
Fugu – Fugu is famous around the world as one of the deadliest foods. The pufferfish can be lethal if not prepared correctly so naturally when I saw it on the menu I had to try it! Truth is I had it on my first trip to Japan and it really just tastes like any old white fish. Both times it was only available fried and although enjoyable unless you’re in it for the thrill I’d recommend trying a different dish.
Japanese Pork Cutlet
Katsu – Breaded pork cutlet can be found all over and served dozens of different ways. Usually served with rice you can often find it with curry or other vegetables too. Chicken katsu is quite commonly served at katsu restaurants to appease anyone who doesn’t eat pork.
Katsudon – My favorite way to eat katsu is katsudon, a rice bowl with veggies, breaded pork cutlet slices and an egg on top. the flavors blend beautifully together with the egg keeping it all together. Often served with a side salad or miso soup this is a great cheap lunch option.
Japanese Food on a Stick
Kushi Katsu – Put anything on a stick and deep fry it for added deliciousness right? That’s what they do at Kushi Katsu joints and it is a great way to sample a wide variety of foods while enjoying some beer or rice wine! Veggies, meats and cheeses are all skewered for your enjoyment at these hole in the wall restaurants. You can find 100 yen kushi katsu places and they are often just as delicious as the pricier ones. But beware that you’ll have a hard time sticking to a budget meal because they are just so damn tasty!
Yakitori – Yakitori is the healthier cousin of kushi katsu. Although traditionally grilled stick chicken they’ll haoily toss veggies and just about anything else onto a skewer for your enjoyment. They often come with sauces and are also quite cheap per serving. But each plate is usually just 1 or 2 skewers and you’re going to want a drink to wash it all down with.
Tako tamago – Baby octopus stuffed with a quail egg and skewered caught me by surprise in Kyoto’s food market. I almost passed up this delicacy then remembered Ronda convincing me to try skewered chicken heads in Cebu and thought I had to try it just for her. They have a sweat candied outside and are much tastier than expected. I definitely prefer eating baby octopus like this than the raw Korean version, sannakji that wriggles in your mouth! That being said I’m not
Karage – Karage is a special type of fried chicken that is always boneless and always delicious. You can find it on the street or in restaurants ranging from 300-1000 yen. From a street truck it’ll come with giant skewers to help you eat it and the more you buy the more you get so it can easily be turned into a meal.
Okonomiyaki – Also know as ‘Japanese pancakes ‘ Okonomiyaki comes with a variety of ingredients but typically has an eggy dough, sprouts, green onions and whatever else you add. Seafood and other veggies are quite common in okonomiyaki and you’ll usually have the option to add fish-flakes on top. There are always 2 sauces, sweet or spicy, and most Japanese add mayo on top of this meal. Typically cooked at your table and often by the visitor this is a meal everyone should experience. You get a little metal spatula to cut and flip your okonomiyaki and it is even served differently in different regions. For instance, Hiroshima okonamiyaki is specifically layered and will be cooked by the chef while more traditional okonomiyaki is a bit more of a medley that you make at your table.
Takoyaki – These octopus balls are doughy, chewy, delicious and always piping hot! You can find many ingredients besides octopus in them but its usually seafood and comes with a savory brown sauce and fish flakes on top. Popular as a street food you can find it at most rest stops too.
Gyoza – All east asian countries have their version of dumplings and Japans are called gyoza. Often smaller than Korean mandu that I’m used to but still quite delicious. A thin doughy exterior holds a meaty veggie mix. Most gyoza I ate were fried but I hear you can find them steamed too. Gyoza should only cost about 250-300yen but some places specialize and charge a little more.
Dango – A sort of sticky rice dumpling, these balls are usually skewered and covered in a sweet sauce. They are much chewier than traditional rice cakes that I’m used to here in Korea
Drinks in Japan
Sake (nihonshu) – Sake is a quintessential Japanese drink. This rice wine is famous around the world and rightfully so. There are countless brands but the important thing to think about when ordering sake is do I want it hot or cold. Personally I prefer hot sake but that may simply have been because I visited Japan in the winter. Certain sakes are supposed to be hot and others cold while some can be enjoyed either way. Sake is typically served in either large or small carafes and then poured into small sake cups that resemble shot glasses. At 15-20% ABV sake will creep up on you but can be enjoyed more freely than its stronger cousin, shochu.
It is normal to sip sake and not drink the whole cup at once. But you can still do that.
Beer – Japanese beer is easy to drink but largely devoid of flavor. Perhaps that’s why its so easy to drink. All Japanese meals can be enjoyed with a beer and you can buy beer in just about any restaurant, at a connivence store and even in vending machines on the street!
Shochu – Shochu is the vodka of rice wines and can be found at Izakayas and many other Japanese restaurants. Typically about 40% ABV shochu is often served on ice or simply with hot/cold water to dilute it but can also be found in cocktails. I didn’t enjoy shochu very much but its well worth trying if you are visiting Japan!
Green tea – Everyone’s heard of and probably tried green tea. Japan is famous for green tea and you’ll be able to get it at just about every meal. Its a simple, healthy drink that will warm you up on a cold winter visit to Japan.
Ginger tea – Often simply called ‘ginger hot water’ this is my favorite Japanese tea. At many temples you’ll find ginger tea and it might even be free. It has a slight ‘spicy’ flavor too it but I simply love ginger tea.
Tap Water – Surprise! Even though Japan is in Asia it’s perfectly safe to drink the tap water. I did for 2 weeks and if you’ve got a refillable bottle this is a great way to save a few bucks and help the environment.