Japanese traditional green tea with dessert
Asia,  Food,  Japan

Traditional Japanese food to try while in Japan

While in Japan, you need to try all the food that they offer. From sushi to ramen, Japanese cuisine is famous around the world for its unique flavors, ingredients, and presentation. But there is so much more to Japanese cuisine than what is most known. So many more lesser-known traditional Japanese food are delicious and worth trying while in Japan. Here are some traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan that should not be missed in order to have a more authentic food experience. Whether you’re a foodie looking for new experiences or someone who loves trying new things, you’re sure to find something to love on this food journey through Japan.

Traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan:

Washoku
Washoku refers to Traditional Japanese food, which emphasizes the use of seasonal ingredients and the presentation of food in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Washoku places a strong emphasis on harmony in both taste and appearance, and is known for its use of seafood, rice, soy products, and pickled and fermented ingredients. Some common dishes in Washoku include fish, tempura, miso soup, and soba noodle dishes. Washoku is often enjoyed in a traditional Japanese setting, such as a ryokan (inn), and is typically served on tatami mats with low tables and cushions.

Kakuni at Isshin Daikanyama
Traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan
Washoku dish at Isshin Daikanyama

Kaiseki

Kaiseki takes the main principles of washoku and elevates them to fine dining. It is comprised of small dishes masterfully prepared and served course by course. Ingredients are taken at the peak of their freshness and elegantly plated to represent the season. Kaiseki consists of a series of small dishes, each with its own unique flavor and presentation, and is often enjoyed in a formal setting such as a high-end restaurant or during a special occasion. The cuisine is known for its use of seasonal ingredients and the incorporation of local and regional flavors.

Tuna bowl from jogashima keikyu hotel
Traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan
Tuna bowl

Shojin ryori
Shojin ryori is a type of Buddhist cuisine that originated in Japan and is known for its use of plant-based ingredients and abstence of meat and animal products. The cuisine is based on the Buddhist principle of ahimsa, or non-harm, and is typically enjoyed by practitioners of Buddhism in temple settings or during retreats. Shojin ryori is characterized by its use of seasonings such as soy sauce, miso, and sake, as well as its incorporation of ingredients such as tofu, seaweed, and mushrooms. The cuisine is often enjoyed in a traditional setting, such as a temple or a special retreat, and is typically served in small portions on individual plates.

18 dish Shojin ryori breakfast at Tsumugi
Traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan
18 dish Shojin ryori breakfast at Tsumugi

Fugu

The Japanese delicacy fugu, or blowfish can be found in restaurants in Japan. Only trained and licensed chefs are allowed to prepare and serve fugu, and the fish must undergo strict inspections to ensure its safety. When prepared and served correctly, fugu is considered a delicacy in Japan and is enjoyed for its delicate flavor and tender texture. However, it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with consuming fugu and to only eat it from reputable restaurants and chefs.

Fugu Ramen at Fugu–dashi Ushio Hachidaime Keisuke‘s
traditional Japanese food
Fugu Ramen at Fugudashi Ushio Hachidaime Keisuke‘s

Basashi

Basashi is a type of horse meat sashimi that is popular in some regions of Japan. In these areas, horse meat has been a traditional food for centuries, and is considered a delicacy by many Japanese people. It is typically served as sashimi, thinly sliced raw horse meat that is often served with condiments such as ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce. The dish is made by thinly slicing raw horse meat and serving it raw, usually with soy sauce and wasabi. The dish is typically served in small portions and is often enjoyed with a cold drink. This is one of the many Traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan if you are up for an adventure.

Basashi sushi
traditional Japanese food
Basashi sushi

Tamagoyaki

Tamagoyaki is a classic Traditional Japanese food, which is sweet Japanese omelette made by rolling together multiple thin layers of egg mixture. Tamago means egg and yaki means grill, so tamagoyaki literally translates to ‘grilled egg‘. Tamagoyaki is often served as a side dish or as a snack, and is commonly enjoyed for breakfast or as part of a bento (lunch box). The dish is known for its sweet flavor, soft texture, and cylindrical shape, and is sometimes garnished with green onions or other ingredients.

Tamagoyaki
Tamagoyaki

Unagi

Unagi is very popular in Japan but can also get quite expensive. Anago (saltwater eel) is also popular, being Unagi’s inexpensive counterpart. The eel is often grilled and served in a sauce made from soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), and sugar. The grilled eel is then placed on top of a bed of rice to create a dish called unagi-don or anago-don. Eel dishes are often enjoyed during the summer months and are considered to be a delicacy in Japan. This is definitely one of the many traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan

Unagi don
traditional Japanese food
Unagi don

Ozoni

Ozoni is a traditional New Year’s mochi soup that is traditionally enjoyed in Japan during the New Year holiday season as a part of a larger New Year’s celebration meal. The soup can vary greatly in ingredients and flavor from region to region in Japan. It usually consists of a broth made from dashi or soy sauce, and is always filled with mochi and vegetables.

Ozoni traditional Japanese food
Ozoni

Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi tofu is a type of deep-fried tofu, I personally don’t like tofu, but agedashi tofu is delicious! The tofu is cut into small blocks and coated in a mixture of cornstarch and flour before being deep-fried until crispy. The dish is then served in a light dashi broth, garnished with green onions and grated ginger, and often served with a side of dipping sauce. Agedashi dofu is often enjoyed as an appetizer or as a side dish, and is known for its crispy exterior and creamy interior.

Agedashi Tofu traditional Japanese food
Agedashi Tofu

Ohagi
Ohagi is made by shaping sweetened rice into a ball and then wrapped in a layer of sweetened azuki bean paste and then coated with soybean flour, kinako (roasted soybean flour), or other ingredients. often enjoyed as a snack or dessert. It’s a traditional food that’s served during special occasions, such as the tea ceremony or autumnal equinox.

Ohagi
Japanese Foods you need to try while in Japan
Ohagi

Chawanmushi
Chawanmushi is steamed egg custard dish that literally translates to ‘teacup steamed egg custard‘. The custard is made by whisking together eggs, dashi, soy sauce, and other ingredients like shiitake mushrooms, ginkgo nuts, or shrimp. Chawanmushi is often served as an appetizer or as a part of a larger traditional meals.

Chawanmushi
traditional Japanese food
Chawanmushi

Yaki onigiri
A elevated riceball, made by grilling riceballs until its crispy on the outside. They are mostly found at street stalls and Izakayas. Yaki onigiri can be filled with a variety of ingredients, such as salmon, pickled plum, or bonito flakes, and is often enjoyed as a snack or as a light meal. It is a popular food item during the summer months as it is easy to transport and requires no utensils to eat.

Yaki onigiri
traditional Japanese food
Yaki onigiri

Hiyashi Chuka
A Cold noodle dish that is especially eaten during the summer months for its light and cool flavor. The dish consists of cold noodles served with a variety of toppings such as sliced ham, egg, cucumber, and tomatoes. The toppings are arranged on top of the noodles, and the dish is often served with a cold sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil.

Hiyashi Chuka
Hiyashi Chuka

Gyutan
Gyutan (beef tongue) is commonly grilled or simmered and is eaten as its own or part of a bigger meal. It is known for its rich and savory flavor and is so tender that it will melt in your mouth. Gyutan is especially popular in Sendai and the surrounding Tohoku region and is considered a regional specialty. Gyutan is Traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan.

Gyutan yakiniku
traditional Japanese food
Gyutan yakiniku

Kinpira
Kinpira is made from sliced burdock root and carrots that are cooked with soy sauce, sake, and other seasonings and is often enjoyed as a side dish or as a light meal. It is loved for its crunchy texture and being slightly sweet, but also savory flavor. It is often served with rice and other dishes to create a balanced meal.

Kinpira
traditional Japanese food
Kinpira

Korokke
Japanese-style croquette that is very popular and can be found in many places including convenience stores, supermarkets, and specialty food shops. The dish is made by combining mashed potatoes, ground beef or chicken, and various other ingredients, such as onion and carrots, and then coating them in panko breadcrumbs before deep frying. Korokke is often enjoyed as a snack or as a light meal, and is known for its crispy exterior and soft, flavorful filling. It is often served with tonkatsu sauce or other dipping sauces.

Korokke
traditional Japanese food
Korokke

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is a variation of okonomiyaki that is popular in the area around Hiroshima. The main difference between Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and regular okonomiyaki is that they stack and layer the ingredients rather than mixing the ingredients like cabbage and meat. They also add yakisoba to the layers. It is a very fun experience to watch chefs stack each layer in front of you, and is a must do when you are in the area.

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki
traditional Japanese food
Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

Yatsuhashi
A soft, chewy, and sweet Kyoto delicacy that is made from sweet red bean paste and rice flour. It is often sold as a souvenir in Kyoto and is considered to be one of the traditional sweets of the city. Yatsuhashi is one of the Traditional Japanese food you need to try while in Japan, especially in Kyoto.

Yatsuhashi traditional Japanese food
Yatsuhashi

Stone Gyukatsu
Gyukatsu is a traditional Japanese food that consists of a deep-fried beef cutlet. Some restaurants specialize in gyukatsu and offer a variety of cuts and preparation methods, making it a versatile and adaptable dish. Stone gyukatsu is a variation of gyukatsu, but instead of it being ready to serve, it is served raw, and you cook it on a hot stone to your liking to create a juicy and flavorful crust. If you’re in the mood for a simple and satisfying meal or something a little more elaborate, stone gyukatsu is a Japanese Foods you need to try while in Japan.

Gyukatsu from Asakusa Gyukatsu
traditional Japanese food
Gyukatsu from Asakusa Gyukatsu

Hokkaido Soup Curry
Hokkaido Soup Curry is a unique type of curry that originates from the Hokkaido region of Japan. It’s known for its thick, soup-like consistency and its mild, savory flavor. It’s a popular option for a comforting and satisfying meal, especially during the colder months. Some restaurants specialize in soup curry, offering a variety of ingredients and preparation methods, making it a versatile and adaptable dish.

hokkaido soup curry
traditional Japanese food
hokkaido soup curry

There are so much more Japanese Foods you need to try while in Japan but these are the ones you need to try first. Whether you’re looking for a snack, a meal, or a dessert, Japan has a lot of options to choose from. So next time you’re in Japan, take the opportunity to explore beyond the sushi and ramen and try some of these must-try dishes. Your taste buds will thank you for it!


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Some Useful Sources when traveling to Japan:

My Japan posts: Pennyless Travels Japan posts
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General Tourism information: Japan Travel Website
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