Your Japanese Food Guide: 10 Traditional Foods from Japan to Try

Silas & Grace

A photo of a black tray holding foods from Japan. It has a bowl-like cup holding a matcha latte, a spoon, and a small plate with two Japanese sweets on it. One sweet is green, and the other is pink. There is also another tray with the same thing on the other side of the table. And a white teapot is in the middle of both trays.

I’ve often compared Japanese cuisine to French.

They both understand and have an appreciation for the aesthetics of dining, and expertly combining ingredients that change the flavors in an incredible way.

A photo of an overhead shot of intricately plated and colorful foods from Japan. There are multiple small bowls and plates with different meats, fruits, and vegetables. And they are all artfully displayed.

The food from Japan has always impressed me.

And when I finally went there and lived there for three months during the fall, I realized I knew nothing about their dishes.

Yes, I had incredible ramen in Bangkok, and fresh sushi in Taiwan, but when I went to Kyoto, it was all so much better.

I mean obviously, I’m literally in the country that created the dishes I love. And I understood that the Japanese food was going to be better when I visited.

But, even when you mentally understand this, it’s on a whole different level when you actually experience it.

Does that make sense?

Oh, and beyond being beautiful, Japanese food is also fun!

And if you ever go to Japan or want to try the recipes at home, then I definitely recommend exploring the different parts of their dishes and treats.

Good example, these creme brûlée doughnuts (that you could get dusted with matcha powder), were one of the funnest and tastiest things I ate.

And I got them way too much. 😂

So don’t be intimidated, just see Japanese food as something fun to explore.

You’re expanding your knowledge of new types of foods, and other people’s cultures, and that’s pretty cool!


The Top 10 Foods from Japan to Try

In this list, I’m going to be covering some foods that a lot of people know about, but will be giving my own thoughts and advice on the food.

I promise, it won’t be some guide where the person is like, “Hey, try sushi, it’s Japanese. You need to try it.” And that’s it.

I just want to cover some basics, foods and drinks you might not have thought about, and help you get the best experience possible. 👌

1. Sushi

An image of a Japanese sushi restaurant. It shows a bar-like table right next to the area where the cooks are preparing the sushi. And on the table are many dishes and drinks, with lots of people standing and eating.

I honestly find the history of sushi so fascinating because it’s been around for such a long time, and it’s taken on so many different forms.

In fact, sushi wasn’t always raw. It used to be a way to preserve fish, and they would do this by wrapping the fish in fermented rice.

But before we continue, if you haven’t had sushi yet because it makes you a bit nervous, or you had some that you didn’t like, I’m gonna help you out. 🙂

If you want to like sushi or try it, you have to remember two things:

1. If you try sushi and don’t like it, there’s going to be a different type of sushi that you do like.

Think of it like eating steak for the first time. You go to a restaurant and they prep and spice it in a way you’re not crazy about. You probably wouldn’t go, “Yeah, steak is bad, I’m never having it again.”

You’d most likely understand that there are other ways of having it that you would like. It’s not something you’d give up on right away.

Make sense? 🙂

2. Find a gateway sushi.

If you’re getting into something new, like sushi, and something that can be an acquired taste for some, then find the easiest version of it to eat.

I’m not talking about California rolls.

Like make it tastier than that.

Go for some crunchy rolls. The kind that have been deep friend, covered in a tasty sauce, and taste incredible.

That was my gateway sushi. It was easy to eat, tasty, and made me more curious and open to other types of sushi.

Here are some quick tips on how to properly eat sushi so you have the best experience possible:

  • Don’t put the pickled ginger on the sushi, this is meant to be a palate cleanser.
  • If you do eat your sushi with soy sauce, then you’ll want to just quickly dip it in. Letting it soak in the soy sauce since will make the sushi fall apart.
  • In Japan, it’s poor form to add a lot of wasabi onto your sushi. Just add a very small amount if you want some extra spiciness.
  • If you’re eating nigiri, and want to dip it in soy sauce, pick it up with chopsticks, and flip it over so that the fish part gets dipped. That way the rice isn’t getting soaked and then falls apart.

The different types of sushi you can try:

There are many different types of sushi you can try, and many of them vary be region.

But, here are just a few that you might want to know about:

  • Maki sushi: Sushi that is rolled in nori, or sheets of dry seaweed.
  • Uramaki-zushi: Ingredients that are wrapped in seaweed sheets, but with the sushi rice on the outside.
  • Nigiri sushi: Sushi rice that is shaped by hand and topped with a thin slice of fish.
  • Chirashizushi: This is made by putting different slices of raw fish on top of sushi rice in an artful way.
  • Inarizushi: Sushi rice stuffed inside deep-friend tofu pockets.

Oh also, here’s a good guide from a Japanese food blogger on how to make authentic sushi at home!


2. Ramen

A photo of the Japanese food, ramen. It shows an image of a bowl of ramen on fire, because the oils on the broth are being burned off. It's meant to be a cool experience you can get in Japan.
Fire ramen at Menbaka in Kyoto.

If you haven’t been to a ramen house yet, then I promise you, ramen is so much more than those instant packets or cups.

I mean, with some good techniques, you can make those taste pretty good (like adding mayo or cream 👌).

But when you go to a good restaurant with fresh noodles, rich homemade broths, tasty meats, and marinated eggs, it kind of becomes one of your favorite Japanese dishes.

I remember the first time I went to a ramen house. It was for my seventeenth birthday, and I got something call tonkotsu ramen.

It was this rich creamy pork bone broth. It’s the kind of broth where it’s cooked for days and has incredible deep savory flavors.

A closeup photo of Japanese ramen. It shows a creamy broth, with meat, egg, and seaweed. And on the side is a cup of green tea.

This photo isn’t from my seventeenth birthday. 😂 But it was definitely a good bowl of tonkotsu ramen!

And if you’re curious about the different kinds of ramen, then here’s a quick list of the common ones you can find in restaurants:

  • Miso: A miso based broth. Miso is made from fermented bean paste and it tastes great!
  • Shoyu: A meat and soy sauce based broth.
  • Tonkotsu: A pork based broth.
  • Shio: A salt based broth.

Here’s another good guide to Japanese ramen that also includes recipes if you want to do it at home yourself.

3. Wagashi

A photo of the Japanese sweet, wagashi. It shows a pink ball shaped wagashi with a small green sweet, shaped like a leaf, on top. And next to the wagashi is a matcha latte.

I love wagashi!

It’s a traditional Japanese sweet and can take on many different forms.

I love having mine with red bean paste, there’s something so delicious about the sweet flavors!

Also, many of them are seasonal, so it can be fun to pick out ones that match the season you’re in.

Here’s one I got at a tea shop in Kyoto during the fall. It’s so cute!

An image of a Japanese jack-o-lantern themed wagashi on a small square plate. And next to the plate is a bowl-like cup with a matcha affagato.

Also, when I was in Japan, my husband took me to a wagashi shop (the one pictured above this) in Kyoto where the emperor’s family has gotten their sweets from.

It’s called Sasaya Iori and it’s over 305 years old!

And lastly, if you want to try wagashi at home, then here’s a recipe for dango, one of the types of wagashi you can get in Japan.

4. Matcha

An image of a Japanese matcha latte in a large bowl-like cup. It has pretty latte art on top.
A matcha latte I got at one of my favorite restaurants in Kyoto.

While we were living in Japan, my husband and I met a tea master who ran a tea shop close to where we lived.

We talked to him quite a bit, and he was super helpful for understanding the art of tea ceremony and matcha.

In fact, my husband ended up being trained by him along side other students and found it very beautiful and enjoyable.

But the reason why I’m bringing this up is because this is where I learned to appreciate matcha.

Matcha is a fine powder made from green tea leaves, and it’s whisked in a cup filled with hot water.

It has this wonderfully deep, earthy, and almost creamy flavor (if made right).

This tea master showed us that, if you buy the right type of matcha powder and have it made properly, it can taste incredible.

Because even if you have high quality matcha, if it’s made by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, it can be pretty bad.

Here’s a photo my husband took of me trying the one his tea master made. His tasted a lot better than the one I attempted. 😂

An image of a woman, in a grey knit sweater, carefully drinking Japanese matcha out of a matcha bowl.

Also, matcha is a big part of celebrating the seasons!

While my husband hadn’t reached a point in his lessons where he was ready to perform tea ceremony for others, we were invited to a special seasonal event that marked the new year of tea ceremony.

It took place in an old beautiful shrine called, Nashinoki-jinja Shrine.

We got to observe and drink the wonderful matcha that was prepared for us.

A photo of a Japanese tea ceremony. Many are in traditional outfits and everyone is bowing to eat other.

If you ever get the chance to attend one of these, then I highly recommend it! It was a wonderful experience!

And lastly, if you want to give it a try yourself, then here’s a guide on how to make matcha! 🍵


5. Coffee in Japan

A closeup photo of a pretty cup of coffee from an old Japanese coffee shop. The cup has a coat of arms on it with gold paint and it says, "1940 Inoda's Coffee."

If you’re visiting Japan, then I think it’s important to know that they have a love for coffee.

But their coffee culture can be a bit different than some western countries.

While Japan is starting to fill up with third-wave coffee houses, there’s this old more traditional way of doing coffee.

So you’ll see cute looking coffee houses filled with older gentlemen reading newspapers, and drinking coffee from beautiful coffee cups.

Or traditional narrow two story Japanese buildings, with a large coffee roaster at the front of the shop, and an owner who gets his coffee cups from a specific maker.

There’s something simple but artisanal in their coffee culture.

It’s a bit hard to explain, but it’s more like something you have take part in to understand.

I’m sorry if that’s not helpful! 😅 But I felt that it needed to be shared.

6. Udon

A closeup image of a person picking up Japanese udon noodles with their chopsticks. They are very thick noodles that are one of the common foods from Japan.

Udon is probably my husband’s favorite noodle dish.

They’re these super thick noodles made of wheat flour, and they’re so much fun to eat.

Traditionally, they’re served with soup and can be very comforting on a cold day.

But you can also have them cold which can be great for days when it’s hot and you need something more refreshing.

And just like with many different types of dishes in Japan, udon can vary depending on the region you’re visiting.

Here are just a few of the different types of udon you might see:

  • Kake Udon: Udon noodles served with a hot broth and green onions.
  • Kamaage Udon: These noodles are dipped in a hot sauce, or you can pour soy sauce on top. They’re also not cooled off in cold water after being cooked, which apparently gives them an interesting texture.
  • Tsuke Udon: Cold noodles that are dipped into a hot broth.
  • Yamakake Udon: Also called totoro udon, these hot noodles are served in a broth with grated potatoes and Chinese yams.
  • Tsukimi Udon: An udon noodle soup where a raw egg is placed inside and cooks in the hot broth.

For a recipe you can make at home, here’s a tempura udon dish that looks incredible!

7. Lotus Root

A closeup photo of the common Japanese food, lotus root. They're slices of a root that has holes in them, and they look like they've been cooked in a brown sauce.

When I was in Japan and went grocery shopping, something made me go, “Yes, I need to buy this lotus root.”

Why? I don’t know, but it tasted so good! 😂

And now whenever I see it on a menu as a part of a recipe, I’m a lot more likely to order that dish.

Lotus root has a wonderful texture when it’s cooked, and easily takes on the flavors and seasonings you cook it with.

And if you’re curious about it, then kinpira renkon is a Japanese stir-fry lotus root dish. Here’s a recipe for kinpira renkon if you want to make it yourself!


8. Okonomiyaki

An image of a Japanese okonomiyaki. It's a savory pancake with other tasty ingredients inside. And this one is topped with a white and brown sauce and a flaky fish topping.

I really like this Japanese dish!

It’s this really satisfying fluffy savory pancake that can be made with egg, meats, cabbage, cheese, and other tasty ingredients.

It also has awesome toppings like Japanese mayo (which is so creamy and good), and a delicious brown sauce.

Also, depending on the region you’re in, the okonomiyaki can be prepared differently. So check out the local restaurants and see how they’re making it!

Here are the two main types of okonomiyaki:

  1. Kansai-Style (or Osaka Style): The ingredients are mixed together with the batter and then put on a griddle to cook. There are also other toppings they put on it for extra flavor.
  2. Hiroshima-Style: For this style, they make a crepe and cook the ingredients separately. Then once it’s done, they place the ingredients on top of the crepe, and then place the crepe on top of noodles.

Here’s a recipe for kansai-style okonomiyaki if you want to make it at home. Also, here’s one for the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki as well!

9. Onigiri

A photo of a person holding up the Japanese food, onigiri. It shows a seaweed sheet wrapped around shaped rice with a filling inside. It had a bite taken out of it.

Onigiris are one of my favorite snacks to eat.

They’re rice balls formed into a triangular shape with a tasty filling. Also, they have a nori seaweed wrap at the bottom, or sometimes all the way around.

There are different styles you can get (I like the ones that have soft boiled eggs on them), but here are some fillings you might like yourself:

  • Tuna-mayo
  • Dried bonito mixed with soy sauce
  • Red bean
  • Tempura
  • Boiled egg
  • Japanese fried chicken

Onigiris are fun to make, and if you want to try it yourself, then here’s a cute onigiri recipe to try.

10. Mochi

An overhead shot of the Japanese sweet, mochi. It shows a small box with two rows of three. And in each row are three different colored mochis sitting in paper cups.

Mochi is such a fun Japanese sweet!

It’s made from glutinous rice flour pounded into a soft chewy paste and formed into a shape.

Also, there are different types you can get.

Some are made with ice cream wrapped in the mochi paste which is are super fun to eat.

Others have a sweet red bean paste inside, or they’re coated in a sweet soy bean powder.

I think the best option is to probably just try out as many as you can, you know, as an experiment, not for enjoyment at all.

Oh, and here’s a recipe for homemade mochi ice cream!


Japanese Food FAQ’s

An image of three different small plates and bowls filled with colorful and intricately plated and designed Japanese foods.

Alright, in this section, we’re going to cover some frequently asked questions people might have about foods from japan.

And if you’re not seeing your question answered here, let me know, I’m happy to either add it or answer in the commented down below. 😊

1. What is Japan’s famous food?

Sushi is by far Japan’s most famous food.

It’s something that nearly everyone knows about, and can be found in even the smallest towns around the world.

In fact, I had a friend who, before we took him out for really good ramen, thought that the only thing Japanese cuisine consisted of was sushi.

We were very glad to help him expand his culinary horizons. 😂

2. Are there any special foods in Japan?

There are plenty of special and interesting foods to try in Japan.

One of them is natto, which are fermented soybeans. I’ve never had it, but apparently you either love it or hate it for it’s flavor and slimy texture.

Another special food in Japan would be uni, which are the reproductive parts of a sea urchins. They’re very sweet and taste great!

And lastly, I think omurice is another great one to try. It’s an omlette, shaped and placed on top of rice. I’ve had mine with Japanese curry and it’s super tasty!

3. What are 3 common foods in Japan?

This is one that’s been asked a number of times, so here are 3 common foods in Japan:

  1. Japanese curry: A super savory brown curry that’s pretty different from Indian, Thai, or other Asian curries. It’s incredible comfort food that’s normally served with rice, and can be topped with pork cutlet.
  2. Udon: Udon is a very commonly eaten dish in Japan. There are many ways it can be prepared, and it’s just a simple and delicious meal.
  3. Nabe: Nabe is a hot pot and is traditionally and commonly eaten in Japan. It makes for a very comforting and warm dinner in the winter time!

4. Why is Japan famous for food?

First off, I feel that part of the reason why Japan is famous for food is because many people have taken an interest in their culture. When you look at their traditions, architecture, and attention to mindful beauty, it’s easy to appreciate them as a country.

But beyond that, I believe it has to do with them pushing themselves to do their best when it comes to their cuisine.

They’re not just focused on the flavors, although that is very important. They’re also focused on the aesthetics, and that of course draws others in.

They have this word, ganbatte, which means, “Do your best!” It’s a common word used in Japan, and when you visit, you see the attitude of people wanting to do their best.

And I feel that they take this type of thinking with their dishes as well.

I hope you found this simple guide to the foods in Japan helpful!

There’s a lot to cover, so I will be adding more in the future, and if you have any questions about Japanese food, then feel free to ask in the comments.

I will do my best to answer them! 😊

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Silas & Grace

Chasing Foxes was started in 2016 as a way for Grace and her husband, Silas, to start traveling. However, they started to realize that they had a passion for improving themselves, and wanted to help others level up their lives as well. So whether it's with cooking, travel, or staying healthy, they want to help you better your life bit by bit, as they do the same.

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