Top 40 Traditional Japanese Foods

by Gina Elizabeth
Japanese Foods

Looking to try traditional Japanese cuisine?

Japanese food is famous around the world.

Before you head to the Japan, check out this listicle of Japanese foods you must try!

甘い Umai!” (“Delicious!”)

40 Traditional Japanese Foods

1. Sushi

Japanese Foods - Sushi
SHUTTERSTOCK

Sushi is cold, vinegared rice that is shaped into pieces and typically topped with raw or cooked fish.

Sushi rolls are often wrapped in seaweed sheets called Nori and filled with fish, egg, or vegetables.

Sushi Etiquette

Here are the local Japanese rules of eating sushi:

  1. Eat with your fingers – Most Japanese people eat sushi with their hands. Some people now use chopsticks, but in most sushi restaurants in Japan, you wipe your hands with a hot towel first.
  2. Always eat sushi in one piece – Do not take bites out of each sushi piece. Put the whole piece in your mouth.
  3. Don’t put ginger on your sushi – You eat the pickled ginger in between each piece, to clean your palate.
  4. Eat in the right order – Sushi made with white fish is eaten first, then red fish like tuna, and any sushi with egg is always last.
  5. Don’t put wasabi in your soy sauce – It’s not allowed. Although some people do it sometimes.
  6. Soy sauce – Dip just the fish in the soy sauce, and not the rice. Rice absorbs more soy sauce which can be overwhelming. If eating a sushi roll with seaweed, hold the seaweed side with your fingers and dip one rice side in your soy sauce.
  7. Do not shake – After dipping your sushi in soy sauce, do not shake it to remove excess sauce.
  8. Gari (pickled ginger) – Do not eat gari with sushi in the same bite. Gari is meant to cleanse your palette in between each piece of sushi. Gari should also not touch soy sauce.
Japanese Foods Gari
SUSHI UNIVERSITY

2. Asa Gohan (Morning Rice)

Japanese Foods - Asa Gohan
SBS TV

Breakfast in Japan is called “asa gohan” or “morning rice”. Choushoku is the formal word for breakfast.

Traditionally, Japanese breakfast consists of steamed rice, miso soup, a protein such as grilled fish, and side dishes.

A typical Japanese breakfast features:

  • Mixed rice with either ikura (salmon caviar) or uni (sea urchin)
  • Grilled fish
  • Eggs with furikake (a dry condiment)
  • Pickled vegetable salad
  • Natto (fermented soybeans)
  • Miso soup

3. Miso (Soup)

Japanese Foods Miso Soup
PARKER FEIERBACH

Miso soup (misoshiru) is a traditional Japanese soup consisting of a dashi stock into which softened miso paste is mixed.

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji and sometimes rice, barley, seaweed, or other ingredients. 

Miso soup is also called Omiotsuke.

  • Dashi – stock used in Japanese cuisine.
  • Kōji – a fungus used in East Asia to ferment soybeans for making soy sauce and miso.

4. Kare-Raisu (Curry Rice)

Japanese Foods Curry Rice
OYAKATA

Japan’s national dish, Kare-Raisu is Japanese curry served with rice.

It is thicker in texture and tastes sweeter but less spicy than Indian curry.

The meat of choice is more often pork or beef, differing from Indian curry in which chicken or mutton is usually used.

In Japan, “curry rice” is most often referred to simply as “curry” (カレー, karē).

Did you know?

Before eating, Japanese people say “itadakimasu,” a polite phrase meaning “I receive this food.” This expresses thanks to whoever worked to prepare the food in the meal.

5. Robata (Grill)

Japanese Foods Robata
GARETH LEONARD

Robatayaki (“fireside-cooking”), often shortened to robata, is similar to a barbeque. Foods are cooked over hot charcoal, and served with long, wooden spatulas.

Traditionally, the food consists of grilled seafood and vegetables, but other grilled food may also be served.

The robata cooking style uses a wide, flat open fireplace in the style of an irori (sunken hearth), rather than a shichirin (small portable grill).

6. Mochi (Rice Cakes)

Japanese Foods Mochi
TASTE ATLAS

Mochi is a popular Japanese rice cake made of a short-grain japonica glutinous rice, and sometimes other ingredients such as water, sugar, and cornstarch.

The rice is pounded into paste and molded into the desired shape.

Mochi’s thick, sticky texture is a chocking hazard, especially among the elderly and young children. Experts advise moistening your throat before eating, cutting the mochi into small pieces, chewing thoroughly, and swallowing carefully.

7. Shabu Shabu

Japanese Foods Shabu Shabu
SHABU-TATSU

A popular Japanese hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables parboiled (partially cooked) in water and served with dipping sauces.

The difference between Japanese shabu-shabu and Korean hot pot is that hot pot ingredients are meant to be cooked thoroughly! Korean hot pot is also spicy.

Shabu-shabu is derived from the “swish swish” sound made when preparing the dish. 

8. Sashimi (Raw Fish/Meat)

Japanese Foods Sashimi
NJ SUSHI HOUSE

Sashimi is thinly sliced, raw food. Unlike sushi, it doesn’t include vinegared rice.

Sashimi is typically seafood, but other meats can be used.

Typically, sashimi is some type of salmon or tuna.

Other popular types of sashimi are mackerel, yellowtail, shrimp, scallops, clams and octopus. Translated, sashimi means “pierced fish.”

9. Unagi (Grilled Eel)

Japanese Foods Unagi

Unagi has a subtle sweet flavor that’s slightly chewy, somewhat reminiscent of raw salmon. Others might say the taste more closely resembles catfish.

Raw eel is poisonous, so unagi is always cooked.

Japan is a maritime nation surrounded by the ocean. And fish was Japan’s primary source of animal protein until about 100 years ago. 

Other popular Japanese seafood choices include:

  • Maguro (bluefin tuna)
  • Ika & Tako (squid and octopus)
  • Sake (salmon)  
  • Uni (sea urchin)
  • Hotate (scallops)
  • Fugu (pufferfish)
  • Ikura (salmon roe)
  • Saba (mackerel)
  • Shishamo (willow leaf fish)
  • Tai (sea bream)
  • Sanma (Pacific saury)

10. Udon Noodles

Japanese Foods Udon Noodles
SPRUCE EATS

Udon noodles are a staple of Japanese cuisine.

Udon are thick, chewy Japanese noodles made of wheat flour. There are several varieties of udon noodles in Japan ranging in thickness, shape, and texture.

Udon noodles are usually served chilled in the summer and hot in the winter.

Hot Udon

  • Chikara – topped with toasted mochi rice cakes.
  • Goboten – with deep-fried shredded burdock root
  • Haikara – “modern udon”
  • Kake – topped with thinly sliced green onions, and perhaps a slice of kamaboko.
  • Kamaage – served in a communal hot-pot with hot water, and accompanied by a hot dipping sauce of dashi sukiyaki.
  • Karē nanban – modern udon served in a spicy curry-flavored broth, which may also include meat or vegetables.
  • Kitsune – topped with aburaage (sweet, deep-fried tofu pouches). The dish is called “fox” because of its association with aburaage.
  • Maruten – topped with maruten, deep-fried large fish cake
  • Nabeyaki – a sort of udon hot-pot, with seafood and vegetables cooked in a nabe, or metal pot. The most common ingredients are tempura shrimp with mushrooms and an egg cracked on top.
  • Oboro – dashi broth with kombu flakes.
  • Oyako – chicken and egg, with sliced onion in a sweetened dashi soup over udon. It has a sweet savory flavor.
  • Sutamina – usually includes meat, a raw egg, and vegetables.
  • Tanuki – topped with tempura batter pieces. 
  • Tempura – topped with tempura, especially prawn, or kakiage, a type of mixed tempura fritter.
  • Tsukimi – topped with raw egg, which poaches in the hot soup.
  • Wakame – topped with wakame, a dark green seaweed.
  • Yaki – stir-fried udon in soy-based sauce, prepared in a similar manner to yakisoba.

Cold Udon (Hiyamugi)

  • Hadaka – Also known as “naked udon” it’s cold udon served on its own.
  • Zaru  Chilled udon served on top of a zaru (bamboo tray). The boiled noodles are chilled with cold water, which you then dip in cold tsuyu. The tsuyu is often strong in flavor. When topped with shredded seaweed, it’s called “zaru udon,” but without the seaweed, it’s called “mori udon.”
  • Hiyakake – Boiled and chilled noodles with cold dashi poured over it.
  • Hiyashi bukkake – The noodles are boiled and strained, then chilled with cold water. Concentrated tsuyu is poured over the noodles to eat. Toppings can vary with items like green onions or grated daikon radish.
  • Bukkake – Cold udon served with thick dashi broth.
  • Kijōyu – served in a cold soup of raw (unpasteurized) soy sauce and sudachi (a type of citrus) juice, sometimes with a bit of grated daikon radish.

11. Soba Noodles

Japanese Foods - Soba Noodles
FOODIE CRUSH

Soba noodles are made of buckwheat flour, roughly as thick as spaghetti, and prepared in various hot and cold dishes.

Other popular Japanese Noodles:

  • Ramen are made from wheat, are much thinner and longer than udon.
  • Somen are long, thin Japanese noodles. These slim white noodles are made from wheat flour, and stretched, rather than cut.
  • Hiyamugi are very thin dried Japanese noodles made of wheat. They are slightly thicker than somen.
  • Shirataki are long, white noodles. They are often called miracle noodles or konjac noodles.
  • Harusame are round or flat, thin rods that are generally 5 to 7 inches in length. They are also found as long, thin delicate noodles gathered in tight bundles. 

12. Tonkotsu Ramen

Japanese Foods Ramen
TIME OUT

Tonkotsu Ramen consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a pork broth, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (chāshū), and scallions.

Ramen is one of the best-known and most popular Japanese foods around the world.

There are four major types of Japanese ramen, decided by the base flavor (tare)

  1. Shio (salt-based ramen)
  2. Shoyu (soy sauce-based ramen)
  3. Miso (soybean paste-flavored ramen)
  4. Tonkotsu (pork bone broth ramen)

Tonkotsu is a Japanese broth made from simmered pork marrow or pork bone. The broth is prepared by boiling the bones for about 8 to 12 hours or more.

Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen.

Ichiran ramen is the most popular tonkotsu ramen chain in Japan. The chain restaurant began in Fukuoka in 1960 as a ramen stall.

13. Yatai (Street Food Stalls)

Japanese Foods Yatai

Yatai are small food stalls that can be found along Japanese streets and at festivals, and are a great way to start your foodie adventure in Japan.

These vendors offer on-the-go dishes that are cheap and tasty including: 

  • Takoyaki – Golden balls of fried batter filled with seafood or veggies
  • Yakisoba – A noodle stir-fry dish
  • Yakitori – Skewered chicken
  • Imagawayaki – A dessert often found at festivals 
  • Ikayaki – Grilled squid topped with soy sauce
  • Yakiimo – Baked sweet potatoes
  • Yaki Tomorokoshi – Roasted corn on the cob
  • Crepes – A very think pancake
  • and more…

14. Konbini (Convenience Store) Food

Japanese Food - Konbini

Konbini (Japanese convenience stores) are one-stop shops on every street corner in Japan.

24/7 konbinis serve as a place to grab a late-night bite.

And the ATMs almost always take foreign cards, unlike in Japanese banks.

Konbini is the abbreviated word for konbiniensu sutoru, “convenience store”. [READ: Konbini Food – The Definitive Guide to Japanese Convenience Store Eats]

Top 10 products sold at konbini in Japan

  1. Onigiri
  2. Egg Sandwich
  3. Yakisoba Bun
  4. Bento Sets
  5. Instant Ippudo Ramen
  6. Fried Karaage
  7. Coffee Cream Treat
  8. Mochifuwa Pancake
  9. Black Gateau Chocolat
  10. Hot Drinks

Source: klook.com

15. Matcha Green Tea

Matcha: Japanese Tea Ceremonies to American Diet Culture | by Kiya Arnold |  The Ends of Globalization | Medium
MEDIUM

Japan’s world famous matcha green tea is made from finely powdered dried tea leaves.

It has a slightly bitter taste and a vibrant green color that results from the leaves’ high chlorophyll levels.

16. Yoshoku (“Western Food”)

Yoshoku: the much-loved marriage of Japanese and Western cuisines | TOKYO  RESTAURANTS GUIDE| find your restaurants and attractions in Tokyo
TOKYO RESTAURANTS GUIDE

Yoshoku means “Western food” and “washoku” means “Japanese food”.

With its origins dating back to the Meiji period (1868-1912), yoshoku was encouraged to incorporate Western ingredients into the diets of Japanese people.

17. Onigiri (Rice Ball)

Easy Onigiri Recipe: Delicious Japanese Rice Balls
ALL WAYS DELICIOUS

Onigiri or sometimes called Nigirimeshi or Omusubi.

A quintessential Japanese snack — the onigiri rice ball is the best, on-the-go food in Japan.

Its a Japanese rice ball made of rice formed into triangular or cylindrical shapes and often wrapped in nori (seaweed sheets).

The most popular onigiri to try in Japan are:

  • Salmon
  • Tarako/Mentaiko (pollock roe)
  • Umeboshi (brined plum)
  • Kombu (kelp)
  • Tuna Mayo
  • Sujiko (salmon roe)

18. Sake (Rice Wine)

Japanese Foods - Sake
NISHIKIDORI

Sake, also referred to as Japanese rice wine, is a popular alcoholic drink made by fermenting rice.

There are 4 basic words to describe the taste of sake; rich (Hojun) and clean (Tanrei) for flavor.

And fragrant (Hanayaka) and moderate (Odayaka) for aroma.

19. Natto (Fermented Soy Beans)

Seriously Asian: Natto Recipe
SERIOUS EATS

Natto is fermented soybeans. The beans are brought to fermentation by a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis and then aged for about a week.

Natto has a mild fermented flavor with a slightly bitter, earthy undertone that some describe as similar to aged cheese.

Natto is famous for its pungent acrid smell that is similar to old socks or smelly cheese.

20. Sumeshi (Sushi Rice)

Japanese Foods Sushi Rice
BBC GOOD FOOD

The main difference between sushi rice and white rice is the texture. Sushi rice is much stickier than white rice, making it ideal for sushi.

Sushi rice is flavored with vinegar-based seasonings and it’s only used for making sushi.

Ordinary rice, or uruchimai, is the staple of the Japanese diet and consists of short translucent grains.

Did you know?

Kinmemai rice set a Guinness World Record in 2016 for the world’s most expensive rice with its $109 per kilogram.

21. Gyudon (Beef & Rice Bowl)

Japanese Foods Gyudon
SERIOUS EATS

Gyudon is a popular domburi (rice bowl) dish consisting of beef and onion served over a bowl of rice.

The meat and onion are cooked in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar and sake giving the dish a sweet, salty flavor.

22. Gyoza (Dumplings)

Japanese Foods Gyoza
GYOUZA-HOUEI

Gyoza are dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables and wrapped in a thin dough.

Also known as pot stickers, gyoza originated in China (where they are called jiaozi).

They have become a very popular dish in Japan.

23. Nori (Seaweed)

Japanese Foods Nori
HOW DAILY

Nori is a dried edible seaweed used in Japanese cuisine.

Nori sheets are eaten as a snack — with its briny flavor and crunchy texture — it’s best to buy the plain sheets and toast them yourself for maximum flavor.

It has a strong and distinctive flavor, and is often also used to wrap rolls of sushi or onigiri (rice balls).

24. Matcha Aisu Kurīmu (Green Tea Ice Cream)

Japanese Foods Green Tea Ice Cream
GIONTSUJIRI

Green tea ice cream (Matcha aisu kurīmu or Matcha aisu) is a popular ice cream flavor in Japan and other parts of East Asia.

It was served in the late 1860s (Meiji period) to royals.

25. Senbei (Rice Cracker)

Japanese Foods Senbei
BOKKSU

Senbei is a traditional Japanese treat that is best described as baked rice cake cookies or crackers.

As opposed to typical American cookies, senbei is intended to be a savory snack that is available in flavors like soy sauce and ebi (shrimp), red pepper or sesame.

26. Insutantorāmen (Instant Noodles)

Konbini Noodles
TOKYOEXCESS

Many ramen establishments have been teaming up with convenience stores such as 7-Eleven to sell instant versions of their top-selling noodles.

There are plenty of different flavors to try!

You can’t go wrong with instant noodles. They also make tasty souvenirs to take home from Japan.

RELATED: Best Japanese Instant Noodles

27. Okashi (Sweet Snacks)

Konbini Okashi
JUSTMYJAPAN

Okashi is the Japanese word for confectionery (sweet) snacks.

Some of the most popular okashi are: Pocky, Kit Kat, Royce chocolate potato chips, Tokyo banana, etc.

Dagashi and wagashi are types of okashi.

28. Dagashi (Penny Candy)

Japanese Foods Dagashi
TOKYOJAPAN.MEDIUM

Dagashi are comparable to American penny candy.

The word dagashi is derived from the Japanese words da (“futile” or “negligible”) and kashi (snacks).

Dagashi used to be sold in stores specializing primarily in dagashi called dagashiya but are now sold in convenience stores (konbini) as well.

29. Wagashi (Snacks)

Japanese Traditional Sweets (Wagashi)
JAPAN GUIDE

Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections that are often served with green tea, especially the types made of mochi, anko, and fruit.

Wagashi are typically made from plant-based ingredients.

The term wagashi is derived from the words wa (Japanese) and Kashi (snacks).

What is a confection?

A confection is a food made with sugar and carbs. Bakers’ confections include sweet pastries, cakes, baked goods, and breads.

30. Oden (Simmered Soup)

Japanese Foods Oden

A classic winter comfort dish in Japan, oden is a one-pot dish with an assortment of fish balls, fish cakes, deep-fried tofu, hard-boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, & a light, soy-flavored dashi broth. 

Hot oden is real “soul food” for the Japanese in the winter months.

31. Melon Pan (Sweet Bread)

Japanese Foods Melon Pan
OCEANS-NADIA

A sweet bread covered in a thin layer of crisp biscuit/cookie crust with grid line pattern on top. The Japanese word for bread is “pan”.

Some say that the original melon pan resembled an oriental melon with the parallel lines on the crust, and was filled with sweet white bean paste (shiro-an) inside.

Other very popular Japanese sweets include:

  • Anmitsu – Small cubes of agar jelly, a white translucent jelly made from red algae
  • Daifuku – A small round mochi stuffed with a sweet filling, most commonly anko
  • Dango – A dumpling made from rice flour
  • Dorayaki – Two small pancake-like patties wrapped around azuki bean paste filling
  • Taiyaki – A fish-shaped cake commonly sold as street food
  • Anpan – A sweet roll most commonly filled with red bean paste

32. Tamago Sando (Egg Sandwich)

Japanese Foods Tamago Sando

Available at konbinis (Japanese convenience stores), some say that it’s the best egg sandwich they ever tasted!

Any sandwich expert would agree that they are more than just a grab-and-go food, but an art form itself.

We think it owes a lot to the Japanese sensibility and creativity for food.

33. Yakitori (Grilled Chicken Skewers)

Japanese Foods Yakitori
SAVOR JAPAN

Yakitori are grilled chicken skewers made from bite sized pieces of meat.

Its made from all different parts of the chicken, such as the breasts, thighs, skin, liver and other innards.

Usually made to order and cooked over charcoal, yakitori is a popular, inexpensive dish commonly enjoyed together with a glass of beer.

34. Wagyu (Beef)

Japanese Foods Wagyu Beef
EAT THIS NOT THAT

Wagyu beef from Japan is the most prized beef in the world.

Wagyu is any of the four Japanese breeds of beef cattle. Some examples are Kobe, Matsusaka, Kobe, Yonezawa, Mishima, Ōmi and Sanda.

High-grade wagyu can cost up to $200 per pound. The rarest steak in the world, olive wagyu, can cost anywhere from $120 to over $300 for a steak.

If you’re eating “Kobe beef” outside of Japan, there’s a good chance it’s fake. In the U.S. Kobe is mostly served in high-end restaurants.

35. Bento (Lunch Box)

Japanese Foods Bento 1
EATER

A bento is a single-portion take-out or home-packed meal. A traditional bento may contain rice or noodles with fish or meat, often with pickled and cooked vegetables in a box.

The bento has been used for centuries in Japan to carry a delicious, nutritious, and visually appealing meal to eat on the go — kids take their bento boxes to school; employees take their bento boxes to work.

Many Japanese restaurants in the United States have bento boxes on their menus.

36. Yakisoba

Japanese Foods Yakisoba
JAPAN INFO

Yakisoba, “fried noodle”, is a noodle stir-fry dish.

It’s classic festival and street food in Japan.

The dish first appeared in food stalls in Japan during the post World War II period.

37. Tamagoyaki (Omelette)

Japanese Foods Tamagoyaki 1
SPRUCE EATS/D’OPEN KITCHEN

Tamagoyaki is a type of Japanese omellette, which is made by rolling together several layers of fried egg.

Salt, dashi (broth), and a bit of sugar is added, giving it a slightly sweet taste.

Tamagoyaki can be eaten hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

It is often prepared in a rectangular omellette pan called a makiyakinabe or tamagoyakiki.

38. Tempura (Deep Fried Food)

Japanese Foods Tempura
KIKKOMAN

Tempura refers to a variety of foods that have been lightly battered and fried, with the most common tempura dishes featuring seafood and vegetables.

39. Jidohanbaiki (Vending Machine Food)

Japanese Foods Vending Machine Food
STRICTLY DUMPLING

The vast majority of jidohanbaiki serve hot and cold beverages.

Some serve hot meals and other foods such as: instant noodles, fresh produce, sushi, ice cream, and more.

40. Bīru (Beer)

Japanese Foods Beer
SWEDISH NOMAD

While sake may be the most well known fermented beverage from Japan, beer is the most popular drink for the Japanese.

Four companies currently dominate the market: Asahi, Kirin, Suntory and Sapporo.

Japanese beer is a fermented alcoholic drink made from grain, yeast, and water.

Dutch traders introduced beer to Japan in the 17th century, also known as the Edo period.

41. Chanko Nabe (Sumo Stew)

Japanese Foods Chanko Nabe
EPICURIOUS

A Japanese hot-pot stew or one-pot dish (nabemono) that is eaten in large amounts by sumo wrestlers as part of a weight-gain diet.

The dish consists of chicken broth or dashi soup base with mirin or sake for flavor.

42. Kaiten-zushi (Conveyor Belt Sushi)

Japanese Foods Conveyor Belt Sushi
WIKIPEDIA

Note: Some sushi chains in Japan have halted conveyor belts due to COVID, and clients now order using touch panels.

Kaiten-zushi is a sushi restaurant where plates with sushi are placed on a rotating conveyor belt or moat that winds through the restaurant tables and seats.

The final bill is based on the number and type of plates of the consumed sushi.

Customers may also place special orders. Some restaurants use mini wooden “sushi boats” traveling small canals or mini locomotive cars.

Japanese Food FAQs

Is it rude to eat with a fork in Japan?

The biggest part of Japanese dining etiquette involves the use of chopsticks. Don’t use the chopsticks like a sword and “spear” your food. The Japanese consider this behavior rude. If the food is too difficult to pick up, use a fork instead.

What is the most commonly eaten meat in Japan?

The most popular type of meat by far in Japan is pork. Nearly as much pork is consumed as chicken and beef combined.

Is miso soup healthy?

Miso soup is full of healthy probiotics, which can reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel disease and other problems with the digestive system.

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