Sushi is a traditional Japanese food made by combining vinegar rice and seafood (although sometimes other ingredients are also used). There is a type of fermented sushi, known as nare-zushi, but the most typical types of sushi are nigiri-zushi and temaki-zushi.
There are plenty of other ingredients available for those who do not like raw fish, including boiled prawns and grilled conger eel. You can find sushi all around Japan, but the sushi from restaurants in high class areas like Ginza or close to fishing ports is especially delicious. If you are looking to eat cheaply, you can visit a kaitenzushi, or conveyor belt sushi restaurant, where you can enjoy sushi for 100 yen a plate.
Don't miss our Ultimate Sushi Guide for important manners and tips you'll need to know when eating sushi in Japan!
Tempura is a Japanese dish made from seafood, fresh vegetables and other ingredients dipped in a flour and egg batter and fried in oil. While you can enjoy tempura at all sorts of restaurants, if you want to try it at its best, we recommend going to a specialist tempura restaurant, where each dish will be brought to your table as soon as it is ready, even if you order a lot!
Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish in which meat and vegetables are stewed in an iron pot. The sauce, known as warishita, is made from soy sauce and sugar. There is a lot of variation in the ingredients and way of eating the dish depending on the region, with some areas mixing beaten egg into the sauce to create a milder flavor. If you are looking to enjoy a lot of great beef, this is the dish for you!
Ramen is a noodle soup dish which has grown to become incredibly popular and is thought of as a byword for Japanese food. Originally, the soup was made from a chicken bones, but in recent years, pork, beef and seafood also being used in the soup, creating a diverse range of tastes. In addition to the typical salt, soy sauce and miso flavors, you can even find curry flavored ramen now. There is also a type of ramen where the noodles and soup are served separately, known as tsukemen. If you want to visit a ramen restaurant in Japan, first check out 5 Things to Keep in Mind When Trying Ramen in Japan. It's a great primer to get you ordering like a pro!
5. Curry rice
While curry has its origins in India, the curry we eat in Japan is a unique, localized dish based on the curry brought over to Japan from the UK. Made with meat and vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, etc.) flavored with curry powder, stewed, and served with rice. Sometimes fried foods, such as pork cutlets, are placed on top of the dish. While there are some specialist curry restaurants, you typically won't have any problems with the curry at a regular restaurant or chain restaurant.
Tonkatsu is a popular Japanese dish based on western pork cutlets, where a thick slice of pork is dipped in a flour and beaten egg batter, coated in breadcrumbs and fried in oil. There are both sirloin and fillet tonkatsu, with the fillet tonlatsu being more expensive. While quite tasty even at a cheap restaurant, we really recommend trying tonkatsu at a specialist restaurant.
This traditional Japanese food is a dish of noodles is made from soba (buckwheat) flour eaten with a soy sauce and sugar sauce, and toppings such as egg, tempura or other ingredients. The noodles you get from a soba noodle shop will be particularly good, but very expensive, so it might be good to try the soba at a standing restaurant. The different dishes and toppings are usually on display in a showcase outside the restaurant, making it easy to decided what to order.
Udon are noodles made from kneaded wheat flour, and eaten with a sauce made from soy sauce and sugar, similar to soba. You can enjoy udon on at the standing soba restaurants, but as the firmness of the noodles, known as koshi, is a key part of the dish, we really recommend eating it at a specialist udon restaurant. In winter, why not try the delicious noodle stew, known as nabe yaki udon?
Karaage is chicken seasoned with soy sauce, salt and a number of different spices, sprinkled with starch and fried in oil. It is like the Japanese version of fried chicken, but the flavor is very different. There are a lot of local variations, with for example chicken nanban in Miyazaki, where the karaage are covered with tartare sauce, and tebasaki in Nagoya, where the karaage are covered in a sweet and spicy sauce. We definitely recommend trying these out!
Yakitori is a dish in which skewered chicken seasoned with a sweet salt or soy sauce based sauce and barbecued. You can usually find yakitori at Japanese bar/restaurants, known as izakaya, but we recommend eating it at a specialist yakitori restaurant, where you can enjoy all sorts of different parts of the chicken at quite a reasonable price (unless you go to a high class place, where it will cost quite a lot.).Another popular Japanese food is skewered pork, or yakiton in Japanese, which is delicious as well!