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Guide To The Top 7 Foods To Try In Japan

December 01, 2015 6 min read 3 Comments

top food to try in japan

There's so many delicious things to eat in Japan. Sushi might be the most popular, but Japanese food has so much more variety. In this post, we'll give you taste of the top 7 foods that you should try while you're in Japan. 

Sushi (寿司)

sushi from jiro

Sushi from Jiro in Ginza Tokyo © AdamGoldberg 

We’ll start off the list with the most popular Japanese food, sushi. It doesn’t matter where you go, sushi is much fresher and has way more variety in Japan than anywhere else. A lot of the seasonal and most delicious fish just aren’t available outside of Japan. For example the Sea Bream (たい), Saurel (あじ), and Amberjack (かんぱち) are some of the tastiest whitefish you can eat, but are rarely found outside of Japan. Oh, and sushi is typically much cheaper in Japan too ($20 equivalent of sushi in Japan will cost you over $40 in the US).


best value sushi japan

$10 sushi set from Umegaoka

Where to get the best sushi:

If you are in Tokyo (and can get up early and don’t mind sushi for breakfast), the best place to get the freshest sushi is probably at one of the many small restaurants in the Tsukiji fish market. If you feel like getting the best bang-for-the-buck sushi for lunch, check out Umegaoka Sushi (梅丘寿司の美登利総本店) in Shibuya where you can a ton of high-quality sushi for less than $20.

Yakiniku (焼き肉)

best yakiniku Japan

Yakiniku Japanese BBQ ©YakinikuHero

Japanese BBQ is one of Japan’s most popular (and fun) meals you can have. There are a ton of great Yakiniku restaurants and all-you-can-eat buffets all over Japan. But if you want the real deal, and some of the best meat you can find in all of Japan, you’ve got to head to Hida-Takayama. This sleepy rural area north of Tokyo is not only a great place to experience traditional Japan and amazing hot springs, but is home to the renowned Hida-beef. It’s not as well-known (or pricey) as the Kobe-beef, but it’s still just as much saliva-inducing.

best yakiniku japanese bbq

You grill your meat on a traditional charcoal grill at Kyoya

Where to get the best Yakiniku:

If you are able to trek out to the Hida-Takayama area, you can have amazing Yakiniku BBQ at a little family owned restaurant called Kyoya.

Kushikatsu (串カツ)

kushikatsu top Japanese food to try while in japan

Who can say no to fried food! Tempura is the most well-known type of fried Japanese food. My personal favorite is the kushikatsu. This style of deep fried skewered meat and vegetables originated in Osaka but can be found all throughout Japan. It’s really fun to eat because there are so many different types of kushikatsu. While it’s typically served as a quick Izakaya type of bar food, some of the best kushikatsu restaurants are where the chef serves you a multi-course selection of premium meat and seasonal vegetables.

Where to get the best Kushikatsu:

Without a doubt, if you want the best kushikatsu, you need to head to the Shinsekai area of Osaka where the kushikatsu was born. Check out the original Kushikatsu Daruma (串カツだるま) for an amazing meal.

Tonkatsu (トンカツ)

best tonkatsu in Japan

Speaking of deep fried goodness, if you’re in Japan, you shouldn’t miss out on some delicious Tonkatsu. Tonkatsu is panko breadcrumb crusted fried pork loin, and while it’s available in many Japanese restaurants in the US, there’s really nothing quite like the ones in Japan. What makes the Tonkatsu in Japan better is the pork meat. Most Tonkatsu in the US are made with all-purpose pork loin that can be used for a variety of things. Tonkatsu in Japan is made with pork (kurobuta from Kagoshima) that is specifically for Tonkatsu, giving it a whole different level of tender juiciness.

Where to get the best Tonkatsu:

For a really authentic Tonkatsu experience, head over to the fashionable Harajuku district in Tokyo. There you’ll find the popular Fukuyoshi, which makes Tonkatsu that you’ll be dreaming of for days afterward.

Tofu (トーフ)

best tofu in japan

You’ve had tofu, but also never had tofu. What I mean by this is that you’ve probably had mass produced generic tofu which is bland and quite frankly, pretty bad. Real hand-made tofu is something completely different, so you definitely need to get freshly made tofu if you are in Japan.

Tofu originally came from China and was brought to Nara, which was at the time both the religious and political capital of Japan. Because there were a lot of priests in Nara, tofu quickly became associated with Buddhism and vegetarian meals. As the capital moved to Kyoto, so did the tofu. Now Kyoto is considered the tofu capital of Japan, and there are many 100+ year-old tofu stores and restaurants in the area.

fresh tofu in Japan

Cutting fresh tofu in Kyoto ©EemeliHaverinen

Where to get the best tofu:

If you want to try the best of the best, stop by the 360 year-old tofu factory/restaurant Okutan.

If you want to learn more about the history and a behind-the-scenes look at how tofu is made, check out this article by Kyotoguide.

Ramen (ラーメン)

different types of ramen

Ahh the humble ramen…everyone loves it, and everyone has their favorite ramen shop. Ramen typically consists of 3 elements: the broth, the noodle, and the toppings. But there are infinite varieties of ramen because each store has their own unique way of making it.

In general though, there are 4 types of ramen flavors:

  • Shio (塩) – salt flavored and usually light and clear broth.
  • Shoyu (醤油) – soy sauce flavored and light brown colored broth.
  • Miso (味噌) – a relatively newer type of ramen that originated in Hokkaido. Made with miso paste and has a thicker broth than the others.
  • Tonkotsu (豚骨) – originated in Kyushu and made from boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen for hours. It has a creamy broth.

chasu ramen

Ajisen Chasu Ramen ©DanielGo

Ramen varies significantly based on the region of Japan too. Here are a few of the regional specialty ramens:

  • Sapporo – the capital of Hokkaido in northern Japan is credited as the birthplace of miso ramen. It’s typically richer in flavor and is topped with sweetcorn, butter, bean sprouts, garlic, and pork.
  • Kitakita – this rural region of northern Japan (south of Sapporo) is famous for its thick, flat, curly noodles and a crisp broth made with both pork and dried fish. Some people have this type of ramen for breakfast!
  • Tokyo – this style of ramen is usually made with chicken-based soy broth and utilizes thin, curly noodles.
  • Yokohama – while right next to Tokyo, Yokohama’s ramen is very different from Tokyo’s. The broth is a thicker soy-Tonkotsu base and the noodles are much thicker.
  • Hakata – this is where the Tonkotsu broth originated. The noodles are typically very thin and straight and the ramen is topped with an abundant amount of pork.

There are so many more types of ramen, it would take hundreds of posts to cover each one. If you want to see some other regional ramen, check out this amazing post done by Luckypeach.

Also, don’t forget to pair ramen with a plate of Gyoza! That’s a must, no matter where you go to eat ramen.

nagi ramen

Niboshi ramen at Nagi

Where to get the best ramen:

If you are in Tokyo, stroll down to the atmospheric Golden Gai neighborhood in Shinjuku. Here you’ll find a small but amazing ramen store, “Nagi”. Order their Niboshi ramen which unlike most ramen, is made with dried sardines. Oh and they’re open 24 hours a day!

Japanese Convenience Store Sandwiches

japanese convenience store

You’re probably wondering, “what in the world?!” But have you ever stepped into a Japanese convenience store? It’s one of the most magical and amazing places in all of Japan! I’m not even kidding! The 3 major convenience store franchises are 7-11, Lawson, and Family Mart. You can get pretty much anything you need at these convenience stores, from the obvious food and drinks, to free wifi, to event tickets, to copy machines, to even laundry services. The average Japanese person goes to a convenience store at least once a day.

And the ultimate must-try food in these convenience stores? Their egg-salad sandwiches! But don’t take my word for it. Instead, I’ll leave you with a quote from the famous food author and critic, Anthony Bourdain.

anthony bourdain loves japanese convenience store sandwich

“One thing I keep coming back to - every time I come back to Japan… one thing that has an unholy grip on me, for no reason that I can gather… it’s the convenience store egg-salad sandwich. Pillows of love!”

There'll be more in-depth Japanese food guides coming, but until then, if you enjoyed this post you'll be sure to like these posts too!

3 Responses

Renae Lucas-Hall
Renae Lucas-Hall

November 15, 2016

I really enjoyed reading this well-written article. There’s lots of information about food in Japan on the internet but this one is particularly good because you obviously know a lot about the food scene in Japan, especially Tokyo, and you’ve included some very good and original recommendations.


March 16, 2016

Enjoyed reading this post in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Japan.


December 03, 2015

I definitely second your recommendation for convenient store sandwiches. XD

As much as I absolutely love Japanese food, I can’t stay away from the convenience store food.
Its so surprisingly yummy and easily available.

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