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Food in Japan | Dishes in Japan

New Foods to Try in Japan

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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

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

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

Food in Japan, Dishes in Japan - Katsudon

Katsudon is fried pork cutlet and egg over a bed of vegetables and rice – one of our favorite dishes in Japan. Yum!

Okonomiyaki

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).

Food in Japan, Dishes in Japan - Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki, similar to a Japanese “pizza”, is customized with your choice of ingredients and a must-try food in Japan.

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.

Food in Japan, Dishes in Japan - sushi

A traditional sushi meal with Ebi (cooked prawn), Sake (salmon), Ikura (salmon roe), Toro (fatty tuna).

Japanese Beer

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.

Food in Japan - Yebisu Beer Museum

The Yebisu Beer Museum offers daily tours, with a complimentary beer tasting.

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.”

While in Toyko, I recommend Hilton Tokyo, which is centrally located to the rail system, shopping, and many restaurants for you to try out some adventurous new foods.

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Food in Japan | Dishes in Japan

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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,…

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