Undoubtedly, one of the most popular reasons people visit Japan is for its layered, long-standing and completely delicious food culture. In the United States, we get access to some of it, primarily through sushi, but the truth is that there’s a culinary world that can only be experienced by visiting the country itself. Here are five foods you have to try while in Japan.
Chances are most of you have eaten sushi in the past, but you’ve never truly eaten sushi until you’ve done so in Japan. The craft is truly an art form--something that must be studied, apprenticed and practiced many times over before any sushi chef can take the reins themselves. Everything--from the fish’s texture to the thickness of the cut--is performed with exacting precision. You’ve likely eaten sushi many times at home, so it only makes sense to head to the source to see how the masters perform their craft.
Depending on where you call home, it wouldn’t be surprising if you’ve dug into a savory bowl of ramen or two. The traditional serving is comprised of noodles, pork broth, thinly sliced pork, and usually accompanied by scallions, a soft-boiled egg and other accoutrements. Japanese ramen chefs also like to turn up the bells and whistles, with different kinds of ramen to satisfy different needs. Do you have a soft spot for chicken katsu? There's a ramen for that. Prefer chicken broth to pork? They’ve got you covered. Enjoy a good curry? There’s a ramen for that, too. There are other different broth bases, too--soy, salt and many other kinds of permutations. No matter the day or weather, ramen is sure to please.
A favorite of revelers and beer drinkers, yakitori is as much of a social event as it is a grilling bonanza. Chicken is often the star of yakitori joints, called Izakayas, which serve a variety of other small plates, too, akin to tapas. There other grilled delights that can be served as yakitori such as duck, eggs, okra, beef and anything else that can possibly be skewered.
With its base including eggs and tempura flakes, okonomiyaki are savory, flour-based pancakes that are prepared on a griddle and served with a variety of ingredients. Think pork, cabbage, cheese, and even caviar, along with vegetables griddled and topped with mayonnaise, sweet sauce and dried tuna flakes, called bonito.
Another quintessential Japanese dish is gyoza. As popular in Japan as ramen, this traditional pan-fried dumpling is a staple of Japanese cuisine. Wrapped neatly in a tasty, and convenient, bite-sized package, the gyoza is fried first to achieve a crispy brown bottom and sides, before being steamed to achieve the perfect balance in opposing textures. With both vegetable and meat options, the gyoza is sure to please all parties involved.