One of the best things about visiting Japan is absolutely the food! We really enjoyed the Japanese cuisine and also tried some new foods. Even though I had thought we have pretty authentic Japanese food in California, I just now realised how the local ingredients give the food a different flavour. The food in Japan is simply to die for!
Before our trip I was a little bit nervous how we would know all the local rules and etiquette in Japanese restaurants, but pretty quickly we started to feel right at home. The Japanese are fairly used to tourists and will usually understand that you can't know everything. Being polite will take you pretty far. Quite fast we started to realise how to eat certain foods, or in which restaurant you should remove your shoes when getting in. And you can always check what other guests are doing. People in Japan are very friendly especially to kids, and our little blonde haired daughter got a lot of attention. They usually brought her a plastic plate with a fork and spoon, or they drew funny faces on her plate.
If you visit Japan, you should at least try these:
Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish which has some Chinese influences. With the noodles, there is some delicious broth, and it is usually seasoned with soy or miso. Depending what kind of ramen you order, there might be some pork or some seafood in it. There are so many different versions of ramen, and almost every region in Japan has their own ramen dish. During lunch hour, many good ramen restaurants have a line. We were told that when you eat ramen, you don't have to be so sophisticated. Slurping and making some noise is allowed.
We found a great ramen restaurant in Kyoto where we kept going back. Our little one really fell in love with ramen there, and still often asks for noodles for dinner (meaning ramen). She especially loved the broth which she kept calling "the soup".
2. SOBA NOODLES
Soba noodels are mainly made with buckwheat flour which gives the noodles it's darker colour. Soba is served as a soup but can be served in many other ways also like grilled.
I think this was the best sushi plate I have had in my life so far. I think I might of gone to heaven when I was eating it... or maybe I was just very hungry. But of course, when you are in Japan, you need to try some sushi. We happened to find this little sushi restaurant in Kyoto by accident, and after we had eaten we noticed that the place was full of trophies and diplomas. Maybe this was why the food was so good?
Tempura is a popular, Japanese battered and fried food. Usually it is made with either seafood or vegetables. Tempura can be served as it is, or with noodles, sushi or rice.
Yakitori at it's simplest means a grilled chicken skewer. They are usually served with some side dishes, like here, with two different cheese skewers and a vegetable skewer.
My Japanese colleague made sure that on our trip we would taste a food from her home region Hiroshima. It is called okonomiyaki (meaning "whatever you like grilled") and you can see it on the picture on the left. She told me that it is sort of a Japanese pancake or an omelette. Okonomiyaki fast became one of my favourite foods in Japan. Traditionally it is made with wheat flour, yam, eggs and cabbage. Then you can choose the ingredients you like such as seafood, meat, vegetables or cheeses. "The pancakes" in Hiroshima and Osaka regions are a little bit different from each other, so I would recommend to try the different versions. Okonomiyaki is cooked on a teppan, a hot plate in the middle of the table, and it is topped with different kinds of sauces. On the right side on the picture you will see a noodle dish my husband ordered; yakisoba.
Tonkatsu is sort of a battered and fried pork cutlet which is served with some tonkatsu sauce. We actually ordered it several times because our little daughter seemed to like it, and at the beginning of the trip she was very picky about the food. You often get some rice, cabbage salad and other food as a side of tonkatsu.
Ok, fine. These octopus balls might not have been our favourite dish, or maybe we should have tried them more than once to get used to the flavour. But hey, at least we tried! Takoyaki is a popular street food in Japan, and is basically battered and fried octopus. On top you will have okonomiyaki sauce, dried fish (Katsuobushi) and some spices.
I already got my first dorayaki in the airplane where it was served as a dessert. Later we bought some for a snack. Dorayaki is basically two little pancakes with some adzuki bean paste in between them. This red paste was used in many snacks in Japan, and it was great since it's not too sweet.
11. MATCHA AND SESAME ICE CREAM
Everything is colourful in Japan! Even the ice cream. We were curious to try the green tea flavoured matcha ice cream and the sesame ice cream. Maybe they were not exactly to my taste, but I enjoyed the experience.
12. JAPANESE TREATS (WAGASHI)
You should also try Japanese treats. There are so many kinds, from mochi balls to very decorative higashi cakes. Many of them have the adzuki bean paste inside of them, like the taiyaki fish in the picture below, which also are sort of a treat. Japanese treats are packed in the most beautiful packages, so they also make an excellent gift or souvenir to take home with you.
These funny fish cakes seemed to be sold everywhere we went. They are almost like waffles with some filling. Most often the filling is adzuki bean paste but we also found some with vanilla creme inside. These cakes are easy to have as a snack or take them with you when touring around Japan.
13. BAKED GOODS
When in Japan you should definitely stop by a local bakery. We found them everywhere, and enjoyed different kinds of baked good for breakfast and as a snack. There were all kinds of funny figures and shapes, and it was interesting to taste them all.
We had so many interesting new food experiences in Japan! Many restaurant have menus with pictures which made ordering so much easier. Some places even had models of food portions on display in their windows. One fun thing to do is to try out a restaurant where you order food from a machine. After ordering and paying, you can sit down and wait for the waitress to bring your food just like any other restaurant. These places seem to mostly offer ramen.
There are still many foods we didn't get to try in Japan and are not on this list. Do you like Japanese food? What is your favourite?