There's so much more to Japanese food than sushi and ramen. Our local insider Selena rounds her top ten must-eat foods to try on your trip to Japan.
Kaiseki is traditional, seasonal, local, multi-course Japanese cuisine. Special attention is always given to color, texture, and presentation in kaiseki, and the meal is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Though it’s totally possible to eat it in high-end restaurants such as Rokusantei, many prefer to enjoy kaiseki as part of a ryokan, or traditional inn, stay, many of which are famous for their cuisine.
Sushi hand rolls are homestyle sushi, generally made at home with love but less precision than you would find in a sushi restaurant. Fillings might include tuna, salmon, egg, cucumber, or greens, but anything goes. Not usually found in restaurants, but you may find these in convenience stores, or you could take a class and make your own.
Unagi, or freshwater eel, is an acquired taste, but one that has a lot of fans in Japan. Usually served broiled with a sweet and salty soy sauce based glaze, over rice, unagi is most often found in specialty restaurants that are dedicated to the dish.
At its most basic, zaru soba is cooked buckwheat noodles served on a bamboo dish, with a bowl of cold soy-based dipping sauce (our favorite part), and accompanied by toppings like chopped green onions, wasabi, and sesame.
It can often be found at stand-up noodle joints on train platforms for a quick slurp during your commute.
These hotpot dishes are especially sought after in winter, where the warming combination of tofu, mushrooms, cabbage, and thinly sliced meat and seafood is heated over a small burner at the table.
Best shared with friends and paired with a crisp Japanese beer, you can try this at a specialty restaurant like Nabe-zo. The most convivial way though, is to go to a nabe (hotpot) party where everyone crams into someone’s apartment and cooks together.
Another Japanese soul food, tonkatsu is a breaded, fried pork cutlet, cut into slices and served on top of rice with a side of cabbage and a sweet, salty sauce.
A real stick-to-your-ribs dish, it can be easily found in chain restaurants like Katsukura or in the school or company cafeteria.
Meaning all-you-can-drink, nomihodai is a popular way to go out and have a good time with friends or coworkers. For a set price, you can go to an izakaya (dining pub) and drink all you want for a few hours.
The drink menu usually includes beer, wine, cocktails, and nihonshu or shochu, and it’s offered at most chain izakaya – Doma Doma is a favorite.
Vegetables and seafood are coated in panko and fried to a light, perfect crisp. These are dipped in salt or shochu and eaten with a satisfying crunch. Common items are shrimp, mushrooms, eggplant, onion, and kabocha squash.
One cheap and cheerful chain that’s popular for a quick lunch is Tenya.
Sweet red bean paste is ubiquitous in traditional Japanese desserts, finding its way into mochi, ice cream, and pastries.
This sweet morsel’s name means "big luck" in Japanese, so eating one might just bring good fortune! A light, sweet, chewy mochi coating surrounds a filling of an, or sometimes strawberry or even chocolate. Find these in department store basements that offer specialty food counters.
Want to learn how to make Japanese cuisine? We handpick four of the best cooking experiences in Japan to help you become a sushi or tempura master at home.
In search of the best food in Kyoto, we discovered some of the best culinary delights. From local styled sushi, the flavours at Nishiki Market, the delight of yatsuhashi to the traditional excellence of kaiseki, Kyoto truly is a culinary capital.