Going to Japan, my family was a bit worried about me because I have been known to be a bit picky. However, when abroad I take a new attitude and try to eat foods that I would not normally choose and make a point to try the local cuisine. I was also a bit concerned, as I thought Japanese food was Sushi and Ramen exclusively. But that is not the case!! Japanese food turned out to be quite varied and very delicious.
I wanted to talk a bit about the different types of food I encountered and which were my favorite.
-Sushi: Obviously sushi is a part of the Japanese diet. But one thing I found different than the sushi in the US is that in Japan, it is not a bunch of fancy sushi rolls with toppings. Rather, nigiri and sashimi is more popular. Raw fish here is safer and food standards higher.
-Ramen: Yes! There is ramen. But it isn’t just some microwavable ramen, even though that is an option. Rather, ramen becomes a cheap dinner or lunch option where one can usually customize their bowl. At the ramen restaurant I went to, you bought the ramen from a machine to get the receipt and then wrote on a pad of paper the amount of spice, garlic, meat etc. you wanted.
-Soba noodle dishes: noodle dishes with noodles made with buckwheat flour. Many small noodle shops make their own noodles. You can get noodles in cold or hot dishes, cold noodles where the noodles are washed after boiling. Cold noodles served plain with sauce to dip it into or with other toppings. Hot noodles can have different meats, vegetables, or tempura on top, although pork is the most popular.
-Udon noodle dishes: Most noodle shops have the same noodle dishes, and you get to choose the noodle! Udon is the thicker noodle of the two.
-Tempura: Fried seafood and fish, and tempura flakes are popular additions to soups or noodles, kind of akin to breadcrumbs.
-Katsu: Fried meats, most popularly ton (pork) or karage (chicken).
-Omurice: Fried rice topped with egg and ketchup. I find this to be an odd combo, but Nathan loved it.
-Okonomiyaki: These are cabbage pancakes, which sounds odd, but in reality is DELICIOUS. A normal okonomiyaki might have shrimp in it, but there are also specific okonomiyaki restaurants. At these restaurants, you can have okonomiyaki with cheese, tomato and ham, or beef and onion, the options are endless. I was lucky enough to go to an okonomiyaki restaurant with Nozomi, a former IWU abroad student, and Nathan, where we met Taka, future IWU abroad student.
-Japanese curry: Kare can go on top of just rice or also katsu with rice. It is delicious, and not spicy at all compared to other country curries, so suitable to everyone.
-Yakisoba: fried noodles! There is also a bread form…yes, yakisoba in bread. Which is not as good.
-Gyoza: dumplings!! Would eat every day.
-Soups: there are tons of soups, like corn soup, but the most popular soup is miso soup. It is common to get a soup and rice as side dishes to your main dish.
-Don dishes! Don dishes are dishes that are served over rice. Oyakodon is chicken and egg over rice, or gyudon is beef and onions over rice. With don dishes, you can also put raw egg over them. Raw eggs are safe in Japan, so the egg is poured over the meat and the rice and mixes well together.
-Takoyaki: little balls of octopus and batter. This is a must try in Japan!!
-Taiyaki: A personal favorite of mine. These are little fish shaped waffles with fillings inside, like custard or red bean.
-Yakitori: chicken skewers.
-Mochi: This might not be a street food, but rather an every time food. Mochi is rice that is pounded into a paste/cake format. It can be flavored or filled and colored, which means Mochi is available in many beautiful formats.
-Onigiri: Rice balls that can be filled with meats or fruits and wrapped in seaweed. A beautiful option for a quick breakfast or snack. Or a couple for lunch!
-Yakiniku: A dining experience where you can cook your own food at your table. There are options to have unlimited food for an hour, so go with your friends when you are hungriest, and grill up all of the fanciest meats and side dishes you can think of! An expensive outing, but wonderful when sharing with friends.
-Shabu-Shabu. I did not get to have this experience. but heard good things of at your tbale hotpot cooking.
-Steakhouses: In Japan, hamburgers are generally eaten with a knife and fork. At the steakhouse I went to, you received your steak as well as a hot rock that you cooked it on if you wanted it more well done! For larger steaks, you were given a small grill. Ours also had a salad bar, complete with soup and curry!
-Senbei: rice crackers, a good snack!!
-Melon pan: This is NOT a bread that tastes like melon, like one would expect, but rather a bread shaped like a melon. It is usually butter flavored, but can be nut flavored.
-ice cream: ice cream in Japan is acceptable at any hour. You can get pretty decent ice creams from vending machines. Here, soft cream is preferred, but there are Baskin Robins stores (known there as 31 flavors) as a hard ice cream option. They have way better flavors than in the states, and you can get free dry ice to take your ice cream home. And 7-11’s selection is always incredible. 7-11 in Japan is ALWAYS a good option for where to get food.
-omiyage: omiyage means souvenir, and omiyage are very popular in Japan. Each prefecture seems to have a different sweet that they specialize in, so omiyage are sold in prepackaged boxes for you to take home. In Tokyo, you can get Tokyo bananas, little baked goods that look like bananas and can have fun patterns on them.
-cute desserts: Desserts are all incredible here. But one Japanese rule seems to be that everything be adorable.
Long story short, Japan’s food is worth travelling for on its own. When you add on top of that the sights, culture, and kind people, Japan is a must visit location.