When you go to Japan, make sure not to miss out on these traditional dishes.
Japan has a rich and ancient food culture that has produced countless delicious dishes. With so much amazing food, it is hard to narrow the list down to five “must-haves,” but I am up to the challenge. Here are five dishes that are not to be missed in Japan.
Of course, you don’t have to go to Japan to get sushi. In fact, you can probably find it at your nearest grocery store. But there is nothing like eating sushi in Japan. For one, sushi here is about as fresh as you can possibly find it: there is a good chance that the tuna roll you bite into came off the boat that day! On top of that, sushi is a time-honored tradition in Japan, one that the country has perfected over the centuries. There is simply no better place to have it. Luckily, there are thousands of sushi bars all across this island nation.
Ramen comes in at a close second on this list, and no, I am not talking about the small bags of dried out ramen you can buy for a dollar at the supermarket; I am talking about chewy, slurpy goodness. Like all great soups, a delicious ramen starts with a delicious broth, and there are a few basic broth varieties that you should be aware of. Shoyu ramen has a soy-based broth, bursting with umami flavor. Shio ramen, by contrast, has a salty broth. Miso ramen is flavored with a fermented soybean paste (if you have ever had a bowl of miso soup before a meal at a Japanese restaurant, you are familiar with this flavor). Because the soybean paste imparts such a strong flavor, miso broth is a popular choice among vegans. Finally, tonkatsu ramen features a creamy broth, made from simmering pork bones. This is one of the most popular ramen varieties across Japan.
Curry, in some form, can be found in most Asian countries, and Japan is no exception. Japanese curry tends to be thick and dark, as opposed to the thinner, lighter curries of South and Southeast Asia. That is because Japanese curry is thickened with a fatty roux, similar to an American gravy. It can contain all kinds of vegetables and meats – chicken and pork are popular choices – and are often eaten with rice, noodles, or bread. This is warm comfort food for a cold day in Japan, as well as an affordable lunch or dinner.
Fried everything isn’t just an American phenomenon: it’s big in Japan as well. “Tempura” refers to an umbrella of fried foods. Unlike American batters, tempura tends to be light, crispy, and devoid of breadcrumbs. Traditionally, tempura is fried in sesame oil, though vegetable or canola oil are popular substitutes. When it comes to eating tempura, you have lots of options: it is a popular choice as a snack, appetizer, or even as an entrée. It can also be eaten on its own or served over rice. To add flavor to this light, crispy dish, many Japanese diners like to dip the tempura in an accompanying sauce. In Japan, restaurants specializing in this flaky, fried food are called tempura-ya.
Strictly speaking, “yakitori” is grilled chicken served on skewers, but the term can refer to any type of grilled, skewered meat or vegetable (mushroom yakitori is a popular vegan treat). Yakitori is a popular snack – or meal – across Japan, and an increasingly popular dish here in the Sates as well. One of the reasons yakitori is so popular is that it can be served quickly: the skewers are often prepared in advance, then thrown on the grill to be cooked in a matter of minutes. Rather than being rubbed or marinated, yakitori is usually served with a dipping sauce called tare, made from soy and rice wine. Restaurants specializing in yakitori are referred to as izakaya, and they dot every city in Japan. These small, often bustling restaurants are great places to socialize over beer and snacks.
Here Are 5 Fun Facts About The Iconic Above Dishes
- While sushi is most closely associated with Japan, it is thought to have originated in China. The Chinese developed it over a thousand years ago as a way to preserve fish in fermented rice.
- It is estimated that nearly 95 billion packets of instant ramen are consumed annually, with China being the world’s top instant ramen consumer. As popular as this meal is, there is simply no substitute for the real thing!
- Japanese curry is thought to have originated in the country’s navy, as a way to get sailors to eat their meat and vegetables. You see, at the turn of the 20th Century, the Japanese navy enticed new recruits with the promise of white rice, a luxury item at the time. Because so many of these impoverished recruits had never eaten white rice before, they scarfed it down, to the exclusion of just about everything else. As a result, malnutrition was a serious – and fatal – problem for the Japanese navy. Taking a cue from the British navy – who used curry powder quite liberally – Japanese naval cooks seasoned meats and vegetables with curry powder, resulting in a delicious and nutritious meal. The sailors loved it and a classic dish was born.
- While sushi is thought to have originated in China, tempura is thought to have been introduced to the island by Jesuit missionaries from Portugal, in the 16th Century. In fact, it is believed that the term is a derivation of that Latin word “tempora,” which refers to the periods of fasting mandated by the Catholic Church. During these periods, Jesuit priests would fry vegetables to create a tasty, meat free meal. Luckily, this practice caught on.
- In Japanese, “yakitori” literally translates to “grilled bird,” but again, the term encompasses a huge variety of tasty grilled dishes.