What to eat in Japan guide to the best of traditional Japanese cuisine as well as the tastiest and best street food: You know as certified foodies, food was a big part of our Japanese vacation. We visited both Tokyo and Kyoto and hope to revisit them as well as discover other destinations in Japan such as Osaka and Nara.
The one thing that disappointed me a bit about Japan was the lack of tons of sushi restaurants, something l had assumed would be so. Unless there is a specific area that we did not visit that was chock full of sushi places, we had a hard time finding them, and they were pricey when found.
We did go by the famous (old) Tsukiji fish market one afternoon. This is the place where they have the world famous tuna auctions at 5AM daily. I’m not that invested in fish, no matter how exciting it sounds ;-) to wake up that early, line up by 4.30AM hoping to be one of the only 120 people allowed in to watch the auction. I understand you can find really good sushi for breakfast close by. When we went, it was in the afternoon, and it wasn’t brimming with sushi places either.
*Update* Please note that since our visit, the location of the market has changed. The new location is at the Toyosu market and can be found at 5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0045.
What to eat in Japan: A guide to the most awesome food to try
Yakiniku Tokyo Food Guide:
What Japan does have are a gazillion Yakiniku restaurants. Yakiniku translates to grilled meat. Think Japanese BBQ, similar to Korean BBQ. You get to cook your own bite sized pieces of meat and vegetables at a little grill that is at your table. This seems to be way more popular than sushi. It would be extremely hard to be vegan or vegetarian in Japan.
There is meat everywhere you look. They are also high in unsaturated fat, so indulging doesn’t feel quite so bad, and the Japanese tend to live a long life, so they must be doing something right. Once cooked, you dip the meat in different kinds of tare sauces which are mostly varying mixtures of sake, soy, sugar, garlic and sesame oil and fruit juices. That should have been added to our first impressions :-). I think populous Tokyo is probably the best food city in Japan.
Tokyo and Japan Food: The most delicious and mouth-watering cut of beef of the Waygu (Japanese Cow) beef that you might be familiar with is Kobe beef. In the old days, the cows, in order to produce the most awesome meat, were put on regimented diets which include sake (Japanese wine) and beer. The alcohol was supposed to aid their digestion as well as induce hunger during the humid seasons. They were also regularly massaged to prevent cramping. It was a cow’s life back then :-) . These have mostly been discontinued as it was determined not to have any effect on the quality of the meat. Bummer!
My theory is that Yakiniku in Japan is quite popular because the restaurants get to do very little and get a high return. Once you’re seated and your grill is lit, they do little besides bring you the already cut meat and side dishes to grill by yourself. No complaining from customers as to the quality of the food since you only have yourself to blame if you burn it or what not. The sell the meat in 100gm servings. Your bill can add up very quickly, 100gm is not even appetizer size :-) . We rarely ate a meal that was less than $70 for Yakiniku.
Foodies in Japan: Sushi in Tokyo
The times we had sushi, they were very, very good. The best sushi in Tokyo that we had was at a place called Ouigisushi. It is worth checking out. The sushi was fantastic and you got really thick slices of fish. The price was also very fair. Most of the restaurants would have one or two plates only of sushi, like an after thought. Once we thought it was just us, but while walking around, we heard a French family behind us on the street complaining about the lack of sushi places. Maybe we were expecting too much..haha! We did find some places where it was prepackaged for takeout, but that’s no fun.
We found a great place in Kyoto with really good sushi as well. The name is Japanese, so l have no idea what it’s called, but it is quite close to the Kyoto train station. The only sucky part was that you must agree to this appetizer as part of your bill, and it costs about $3.50 per person. It was disgusting tasting to us. We also fell for the “extra cold beer” at $7 plus a glass. It was not super cold, and tasted the same. Don’t fall for it ;-) .
Foodies in Japan and the popular Japanese Noodles
No visit to Japan would be complete without Udon noodles. We found most reasonable priced, about $7.50 average for a big bowl of soup accompanied by either gyoza, the Japanese dumplings or tempura shrimp. There were plenty of places that offered them, and we basically just followed the locals to wherever they went. We were never disappointed.
Some other popular dishes in Japan that we tried, but did not take pictures of included Tonkatsu which is a Japanese pork cutlet dish (something we have a lot of at home, so it was not super special) and Unagi (eel), another food that we have plenty of at good Japanese restaurants stateside.
What to eat in Japan – Best Street food
I am not a huge fan of street food anywhere, truth be told as l don’t have a strong stomach. l also usually like comfort when l eat. A table, napkins, service. Federico is not a huge fan either, and his stomach is fussy, so we try to avoid it. We however, had no qualms about eating street food in Japan. The stalls looked clean and the food delicious.
We ate lots of Takoyaki. A favorite snack food that became popular in Osaka, it is now commonly found everywhere in Japan. Takoyaki is a wheat flour based batter mixed with diced octopus (Tako) and tempura scraps. It is shaped like a ball and cooked on the grill in a pan. It’s soft and chewy and my goodness, insanely hot! Wait at least 5 minutes after splitting it open or you burn your mouth. It’s really good, but you can’t taste much when your mouth hurts as Federico found out. :-)
Teriyaki Chicken: The real deal!
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Green tea ice cream:
The meals usually came with green tea, so that was what we had. We rarely felt the need for beer or wine truthfully. I thought l would have sake, but l remembered not liking the taste so we skipped that too. We rarely had dessert. We did try the green tea ice cream that everyone raves about. Federico loved, as did a lot of people in line with us. Tasted like medicine to me, so nope..not a fan!
Foodie App Japan: If you’re looking for great tasting food in Japan and don’t speak Japanese, be sure to download the Japan Foodie app from Google Play or the Apple store. You can even use it to pay for your meal. It comes in very handy.
In Conclusion, some of the best food to eat in Japan include:
- Onomiyaki (street food)
- Takoyaki (street food)
- Gyoza dumpling
- Udon and Miso Soup
- Waygu beef
- Tokyo salad
- Teriyaki chicken skewers (street food)
- Green tea ice cream (acquired taste)
- Tempura shrimp
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What do you think of the food in Japan? Are you a meat or fish lover? Does any of these look good to you? Have you tried them or would you be willing to try them?