New Foods to Try in Japan
I thought that I had a pretty advanced palate before my first trip to Japan. We went to visit my brother, who lives and works in Japan teaching English at a primary school.
I’m not 100% sure if what I ate in Japan was “normal” or just my brother playing tricks on me. I felt like I was in a mashup of two Food Network shows: Bizarre Foods and The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I tried foods like dried lightning squid (and fresh too), snake sake, and tiny dry roasted crabs. This is the same brother that told his in-laws when they were visiting the U.S. for the first time that it’s customary to eat frozen pizza every day for breakfast. So who knows?
Traveling to Japan helped me expand my food horizons, and here are some safe bets for new food and drinks to try.
Must-Try Food in Japan
Dango is a popular street vendor and festival offering. It consists of variations of small rice flour dumplings. Although I hope to try more types of dango on my next trip to Japan, I can personally recommend yaki dango, a savory grilled dango with a hint of sweet, served on a skewer. I was a little wary of the grilled bay scallop on a skewer appearance (mostly because my brother wouldn’t tell me what it was), but I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor. It had a chewy consistency and was a very filling snack.
We visited during Sakura viewing season and were served hanami dango, which is traditionally served for the cherry blossom season. These are delicately sweet pink, white, and green dango that make a perfect dessert with a cup of coffee.
Katsudon is a kid-friendly dish consisting of a bowl of rice topped with a thinly sliced Panko breaded pork cutlet, fried egg and vegetables. If you are traveling with picky eaters, this is a universally-liked dish with very mild flavors. When I was feeling overwhelmed with the unfamiliarity of Japanese cuisine, this was my go-to menu selection. The rice is just amazing.
Read more >> Picky Eaters? Tips to Help Kids Eat Foreign Food
Okonomiyaki has been likened to a Japanese pizza. This was the first food that I ever ate in Japan after a 10-hour red eye flight, and it was the best thing ever.
Restaurants that specialize in this dish have tables equipped with a griddle or a smaller version of a Teppanyaki grill in the center. Your server will bring you bowls of ingredients and a squeeze bottle of the batter to make the dish yourself. You place the veggies and meat on the grill, and then cover it with the batter. The end result is a crispy, fluffy, pancake-like dish that you can top with different sauces and bonito (dried seasoned fish).
Conveyor Belt Sushi
I’m pretty sure that sushi is on everyone’s Japan must-try list, but conveyor belt sushi is a pretty cool novelty and is inexpensive too. Order off the menu and your sushi is delivered to your table via the conveyor belt that conveniently passes by. At the end of the meal, the plates all have barcodes on them and your server tallies up what you ordered by scanning the stack. Make sure try a traditional sushi restaurant and a conveyor belt establishment just to cover all of your bases.
An Asahi or Kirin in the U.S. is just not the same as the domestically brewed versions in Japan. We tried several domestic beers on our trip (for research purposes, of course). My husband and I agreed that we liked Yebisu best.
While in Minato, we visited the Yebisu beer museum, a sophisticated establishment where we received a crash course on the history of beer production in Japan. We learned that although beer may have been a common working class beverage for Americans of the 19th century, beer in Japan was a luxury, only consumed by the very wealthy.
The museum houses meticulously preserved Yebisu promotional materials and period art throughout the company’s rich history. The tour is conducted in Japanese, with no English translation, but we enjoyed checking out the art installment, which did have English descriptions.
At the end of the tour, we sampled varieties of the company’s flagship beers and toasted our fellow tour mates with “Kanpai” which means cheers or bottoms up. And here is my most utilized of my few memorized phrases for getting along in Japan: how to order a beer, “Bīru o onegaishimasu.”
You may also enjoy:
- Only in Tokyo – What to do with Kids
- 9 Tips for Viewing Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
- Top 10 Things To Do In Tokyo With Kids
- Visiting Supermarkets Abroad – Aruba, Japan & Spain
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Rachel is from Peoria, Illinois. She works full-time as a software implementation consultant in the healthcare field. Her family includes her husband Justin, also an IT professional,…