From the familiar to the exotic, Japanese chefs have truly thought up some crazy concoctions. Take a gastronomically unique adventure when you indulge in these must-try Japanese favourites.
Oh, you say you’ve already tried sushi, right? Let me tell you, you haven’t. Eat sushi as it was meant to be consumed – as street food – when you visit Japan. There is a sushi roll to fit every taste, dietary preference, and budget, and we recommend you try them all.
This is the nice way of saying horsemeat in Japan. But before you gag and run away, give us a chance to explain: when properly prepared, horse meat is actually tender and mildly sweet. Basashi is paper-thin slices of raw horsemeat dipped in soy sauce and topped with ginger.
Enjoy authentic egg noodles in a salty broth after a long night out. Ramen is widely considered Japan’s favourite late night meal. Choose from the four popular soup styles – miso, soy, salt, and tonkotsu (pork bone) – and several different vegetable mixes. For a complete guide on choosing the best ramen shops, see Cover-More New Zealand’s Tokyo ramen restaurant rundown.
Another noodle dish, soba consists of long, thin buckwheat noodles. Enjoy the mildly nutty flavour and firm-to-the-bite texture of this popular dish (buckwheat has been historically eaten by mountain-dwellers). Eat noodles hot or cold with a variety of broth options.
Unagi is river eel grilled over charcoal and lacquered with a sweet barbecue sauce. According to folklore, unagi is the ideal antidote to the heat and humidity of Japan’s stultifying summers. It’s a delicacy evocative of old Japan and most restaurants that specialize in eel have a wonderfully traditional feel. Fresh, wild-caught unagi is available May through October.
Light and fluffy tempura is Japan’s contribution to the world of deep-fried foods (though it likely originated with Portuguese traders). The batter-coated seafood and vegetables are traditionally fried in sesame oil and served with either a tiny pool of salt or a dish of soy sauce-flavoured broth spiked with grated radish for dipping. Do not miss out on ebi-ten (tempura prawns).
Part dinner, part work of art, kaiseki is Japan’s haute cuisine. It originated centuries ago alongside the tea ceremony in Kyoto (and Kyoto remains the capital of kaiseki). There’s no menu, just a procession of small courses meticulously arranged on exquisite crockery. Only fresh ingredients are used and each dish is designed to evoke the current season.
Experience Japanese comfort food when you try okonomiyaki (sometimes called monjayaki). Loosely translated, okonomiyaki means “as you like it” – and that’s just how you can consume these savoury pancakes. Fill yours with combinations such as cabbage and pork belly, shrimp and cheese, or even octopus, then top with fish flakes, dried seaweed, mayonnaise and Worcester sauce.
These gummy ice cream balls come in a variety of flavours – though the most popular are green tea, vanilla and strawberry. Mochi ice cream is a truly self-contained treat, with a “wrapper” of sticky rice enclosing a sweet ice cream middle, eat these on the go with your bare hands. But don’t eat too fast – mochi first-timers are usually surprised by how cold the centre can be.
This is (probably) not like any Italian spaghetti dish you have ever tasted. The king of Japanese quick-and-cheap dinners, this pasta is usually mixed with onions, green peppers, ham, and ketchup. Yes this dish sounds mildly disgusting, but nothing is a more authentic representation of what it feels like to be a Japanese youth coming home from a night out.
If you are planning a Japanese getaway, be sure to indulge in some, if not all, of these culinary staples. But, as always, be careful when you do. Take precautions when eating unfamiliar foods and drinking water.
Whether you have pre-existing medical dietary restrictions or not, it is a good idea to invest in travel insurance from Cover-More. Nobody wants a bad piece of sushi to become a gigantic foreign medical bill. Get a quote on international travel today.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Melissa Pilkington