The best way to start learning about a culture is understanding its cuisine! Japan has a wide array of dishes that bring its unique culture to life.
You might already know that unagi is a freshwater eel, a fatty fish served smoked or pan-fried. You might even know that cooking unagi right is essential as the eel has toxins in its raw form. You probably love its slightly sweet taste and are surprised that it doesn’t taste too fishy. But here are ten must-try Japanese dishes that you might not have known about, each will leave you wanting more!
Shabu-shabu is a hotpot dish of sliced meat and vegetables, boiled piece by piece during dinner. It also comes with dipping sauces on the side. Shabu-shabu translates to “swish-swish” after the sound made by meat and vegetables cooking in the broth! The most common vegetables are napa: long green onions, and carrots. As for meat, most people prefer beef or sirloin.
Okonomiyaki, a popular street food in Osaka, is a savory pancake made with flour, eggs, cabbage, pork belly slices, and drizzled with multiple condiments. If those ingredients aren’t for you, no need to worry! You can put practically anything in your own okonomiyaki recipe, even calamari!
Onigiri, or Japanese rice balls, are cylindrical or triangular rice balls wrapped in nori (seaweed.) Onigiri is typically eaten as a quick snack or a lunch alternative and is packed with flavor! It has both Japanese and Korean origins
Teppanyaki uses an iron surface to cook, grill, and stir-fry vegetables, meat, and seafood. The word teppanyaki comes from teppan which means metal plate and yaki which means to grill or pan-fry. It’s different from hibachi because teppanyaki requires a large flat iron grill and involves different foods.
Gyutan yaki (beef tongue) is a Sendai dish served alongside rice or soup and possibly other vegetables. The meat is soft and usually thick!
Tamagoyaki is a kind of Japanese omelette and often served in little rectangular slices. Tamagoyaki is made of layers of fried eggs and are sometimes paired with with soy sauce to add a different flavor. The best tamagoyaki is found in special restaurants but you can also score some at smaller chain stores.
Bento, served in the easily transportable box, is a single serving Japanese meal. A typical or traditional bento contains rice, meat, and pickled or cooked vegetables. It’s possible to buy bento boxes from street vendors or restaurants but it is most commonly a home-cooked meal prepared for spouses or children. Bento comes in many different forms and bento boxes have become popular worldwide for compactness and individuality. Today, bento is very common in China, Korea, and South Asia as well, just with different ingredients of the same concept!
This delicious skewered chicken is cooked on dashi, a steel or bamboo skewer. Then it is grilled above a charcoal fire and brushed with sweet sauce or salt while it’s being cooked.
Chazuke involves pouring tea or hot water over rice. The rice is then topped with pickles, dried seaweed, salmon, sesame seeds…etc. Chazuke can be eaten on its own, but it is commonly consumed at the end of a meal to fill you up a little extra!
Kashipan means “snack-bread” and is available on-the-go or freshly made at bakeries. Kashipan is a sweet and light bread which comes in various types, including ones filled with red bean paste or melon flavored bread.