Last Updated on February 17, 2023
Noodles are a staple part of Japanese cuisine, but there is so much more to Japanese food than Ramen! If you’re planning a trip to Japan, the variety of Japanese food to try is a literal feast of gastronomical delights! From hand-prepared sushi to hot food on a stick, there’s a wealth of culturally rich and delicious cuisine to sample. Now, you’re probably thinking “but where to start”? With this handy infographic and introduction into Japanese cuisine, you’ll soon be able to order delicious Japanese food like a professional traveller!
Although there is so much more to Japanese food than noodles, this humble food staple needs a mention! Noodles have been eaten in Japan for thousands of years, and I don’t mean instant ramen, although the average Japanese person eats around 45 packets of instant ramen a year!
There are many types of noodles, but the most popular are: Ramen, Soba, Shirataki, Udon, Sōmen, Harusame and Tokoroten. The oldest noodle is thought to be the Tokoroten, a white and jelly-like noodle. Most noodles are made from flour (either buckwheat or wheat flour) and water. But some like Tokoroten or Harusame are made from ingredients such as seaweed, potato or mung bean starch.
Sushi is a delicious dish made of seasoned rice topped with seafood or vegetables.
TAKEAWAY: Do you know where the word “sushi” comes from? Thousands of years ago, fish was kept in fermented rice to stop it from spoiling. The rice in this preparation called narezushi was originally discarded, but the Japanese discovered that using vinegar negated the need for fermentation. However, the vinegar left a “sour taste”, which translated to Japanese becomes “sushi”.
Service rice and fish together as sushi became popular in Japan in the 17th Century. But it wasn’t until the 20th Century that sushi’s popularity exploded around the world thanks to the California Roll. There are many types of sushi, but the most popular are: Nigiri, Maki, Chirashi and Oshi.
Insider’s tip: In general, you are supposed to consume a piece of sushi in one bite so as not to destroy the chef’s beautiful work!
Japanese Snacks & Street Food
When wandering around Japan’s cities, there will be plenty of stalls and food vans where you can sample some of the tastiest street food in the world. The Japanese love food on a stick, so make sure to try some tasty Yakitori (similar to a kebab but on a stick of bamboo). Or if you fancy something a little different, you must try my personal favourite: Takoyaki. These are delicious deep-fried balls of seasoned octopus and veggies that are served piping hot with a drizzle of Japanese mayo on top. They are seriously good!
For some, dessert is the highlight of a meal, and the Japanese definitely know how to do desserts. If you’re eating in a fancy restaurant, make sure to sample anmitsu. It’s kind of like jelly and ice cream but is served beautifully with pieces of fruit and agar jelly.
If you’re on the go or fancy a sweet snack, try mochi. These delicious balls of sweet sticky rice come in so many flavours, you’ll want to try them all! Another popular sweet treat is dorayaki. These are two squishy sponge pancakes with sweet bean paste sandwiched in between. You might recognise them from the anime Doraemon (whose name came from this dessert) or the viral internet bunny Oolong, as he balanced a dorayaki on his head!
Finally, let’s talk drinks. The green tea in Japan is delicious, much better than any instant bag versions you’ll try outside of the country! Japanese green tea is produced by steaming rather than firing the leaves, which gives it a beautiful subtle taste. For those who fancy something a little stronger, there’s nihonshu, or what we Westerners call “sake”. This is a Japanese rice wine and is made in a similar way to beer.
Insider’s tip: It’s very rude to start drinking before everyone at your table also has a drink and is ready to raise their glasses for a toast, which is usually “Kampai!”
Well, now that you know everything there is to know to master Japanese food, ready for a trip to Japan? You will look like a professional traveller when ordering and eating the most representative Japanese dishes. And if you love what you are tasting, remember to show it to the chef by eating up until the last grain of rice and making some satisfactory noises. Sluuuuuurrrrp!