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51 Weird and Wonderful Japanese Foods to try

Japanese Foods

Japan is a country that is known to have come up with ideas for various types of exotic, weird, and fabulous foods. Its list of cuisines has developed through many years as the country experienced various social and economic changes. In the past, the Japanese had completely shunned meat but as the country continued to modernize, meat-based dishes such as tonkatsu became very common.

Various types of Japanese dishes, particularly Sushi, have spread and become popular throughout the world. Since 2011, Japan has overtaken France in the competition for the number of restaurants starred by Michelin and still holds the title currently.

Most of Japan’s dishes are typically based on combining the staple food, steamed white rice, commonly known as Gohan, with one or several combinations of main and side dishes, okazu. Others borrowed ideas from different countries and communities in the past and mixed a few of their own recipes resulting in some very tasteful and elegant food. These dishes can also be accompanied by tsukemono pickles or miso soup.

Below are some of the 51 weird and wonderful Japanese foods to try out if you happen to be visiting the country or trying out a local Japanese restaurant.

51 Weird and Wonderful Japanese Foods to try

1. Takoyaki.

One of the first Japanese Foods to try is Takoyaki. People in most parts of Japan think of Takoyaki as a fast food that you get from street vendors during festivals and events. The meal itself is literally fried or baked octopus but sometimes when octopus meat is not available for cooking, people use sausage or pieces of shrimp.

Japanese Foods

2. Tempura.

Tempura is one of the most famous foods in and out of Japan. It generally consists of seafood and vegetables that have been deep fried or battered. When prepared properly, Tempura often comes out as light and crispy even though it is fried food. It can be prepared right in front of you using seafood such as fish and shrimps as well as seasonal vegetables.
Tempura

3. Natto.

I absolutely HATE Natto. There, I said it. In English, they are fermented soybeans and most of the times the locals eat it for breakfast. It has a weird, slimy look and known to be smelly, but it is a highly nutritious and healthy food that is loved by most Japanese people. It actually smells like socks that haven’t been washed for a week.

Natto

 

Japanese Foods

4. Udon.

Udon is a staple food commonly found in the Japanese diet and is easy to find in most restaurants and fast food joints. It consists of thick flour noodles that are served in a hot soup or chilled with a dipping sauce of shoyu, mirin, and dashi. My daughter’s favourite.
Udon

5. Shabu Shabu.

Shabu Shabu is a Japanese hot pot dish that consists of paper-thin sliced beef. There are lots of Japanese restaurants which offer Shabu Shabu, but it can also be prepared at the home dinner table using a portable gas stove. The meal is believed to have originated in 1950 when a restaurant in Osaka started serving it. Shabu Shabu refers to the motion of moving food through boiling water to cook it quickly. It’s also very pricey!

Shabu shabu meat

6. Dango.

Dango is a general name for mochi dumplings that are ball-shaped. The mochi itself is normally not sweetened but the sauces and toppings are. In my  opinion, they are a casual and everyday type of Japanese sweets that are skewered on bamboo sticks so as to make them easier and more fun to eat.
mitrashi dango

7. Omurice.

Omurice or omelet rice is ketchup fried rice that has been wrapped with a thin crepe-like fried egg. It was created in Japan in the early 1900’s and introduced as a western style dish. Omurice has been a popular food among people of all ages, especially children. I secretly love it too.

Omurice

8.Teppanyaki.

Teppanyaki is grilled meat and vegetables that have been prepared on a flat iron grill. The meat used in this meal is usually beef but is not limited to it and can sometimes be interchangeable with a grilled Yakiniku beef that has been cooked on a slotted grill. Most of the time, Teppanyaki is taken with a spicy garlicky dipping sauce or just plain salt.

Teppanyaki

9. Wakame Salad.

Wakame is seaweed that has been cultivated in Japan for over 1000 years. The Salad may include Tofu, sesame seeds, and other variants of see weed. My family love it with soy sauce and vinegar.
Wakame salad

10. Donburi.

Donburi is a bowl of rice that can have meat, fish, and/or vegetables on top. It is a type of Japanese food that is normally made at home or taken as a quick and filling meal from restaurants that serve fast food. When I go to restaurants that serve Donburi they are packed with office workers and salary men.
Donburi

11. Gyoza.

Fried dumplings with crimped edge characteristics, or Gyoza are filled with ground meat, vegetables, and spices. Gyoza are typically the Japanese version of Chinese jiaozi dumplings. They normally come with slightly thinner dough than the original Chinese version.
Gyoza

12. Taiyaki.

This remains one of my worst Japanese culinary experiences. It is basically a warm cake that has been shaped like a fish with red bean filling. It is very popular at street fairs and festivals in Japan sold by a number of street vendors and fast food restaurants. Its inner fillings can consist of custard, cheese, anko, or sweet potatoes. Not a fan of anko (sweet bean paste) myself but the locals love it.

Taiyaki

13. Mentaiko.

Mentaiko is a strong tasting raw pollock or cod. I eat this served as a side dish accompanied by a good stiff drink. It is also a very popular ingredient topping added in a wide variety of dishes such as Japanese spaghetti.
Mentaiko

14. Okinawa Soba.

Okinawa Soba is a dish that consists of thick wheat noodles in a serving of katsuobushi flakes, pork, and kombu. It is similar to ramen but with thicker noodles. Soba in Japanese means buckwheat but Okinawa Soba does not contain any buckwheat.
Okinawa Soba

15. Shirasu.

Shirasu is a serving of immature sardines raw or cooked on rice or in sushi. this meal is a common specialty in the Island of Enoshima, although you can buy them in virtually any supermarket. My kids love them on rice, and despite the eyes looking back at you in despair, so do I.
Shirasu

16. Shioyaki.

Shioyaki is grilled and salted whole fish that is usually from a sea bream. It is a common daily seafood dish in Japan with a simple flavor of fish and salt that never gets tiring. Here is an image of Ayu (sweet fish) Shioyaki. I’ll be honest and say I love them.

Shioyaki

17. Kakuni.

Kakuni is a thick pork belly that has been cut and simmered in soy sauce, mirin, sugar, dashi, and sake. It is quite popular throughout Japan and available as a specialty in the Nagasaki area. Be careful of the spicy hot mustard on the side though.
Kakuni

18. Ramen.

Ramen is hot Chinese-style white noodles that come in a broth of meat, soy sauce, fish, or miso. It’s a very cheap and filling snack that is easy to find in Japanese restaurants. The quality of Ramen served in all Japanese restaurants tend to differ a lot and you are more likely to see long queues in restaurants that have a good reputation of serving high-quality ramen.
Ramen

19. Miso Soup.

In Japan, taking miso soup during breakfast is just as important as drinking tea or coffee. It’s a hearty soup consisting of miso, dashi, and tofu. Most of the times, it includes a variety of seafood, vegetables, and meat. Real Japanese soul food. Personally, I prefer red miso but each to their own. This is a must Japanese food to try.

Miso soup

 

20. Yakitori.

Yakitori translated means grilled chicken. It is a category of Japanese cuisine that features many types of ingredients that are grilled on a thin bamboo skewer and includes every imaginable part of a chicken as well as other vegetables, meats, and tofu. Restaurants or fast food joints serving yakitori are normally drinking spots that are very lively. Here is one street with some yakitori shops.
Yakitori restaurant

21. Edamame.

Edamame are immature soybeans that have been cooked inside salty water in their pods. Restaurants that have Edamame serve them frozen and they taste a whole lot better than when they are taken fresh from the farm. Some of the finest Japanese pubs will only serve Edamame during certain seasons. One of the best Japanese Foods to try with beer.
Edamame

22. Mochi.

Mochi is a sticky variety of Japanese rice also known as Mochigome that is pounded into a paste, toasted, and formed into cakes or blocks and eaten directly.
Mochi

23. Sashimi.

Sashimi is generally raw or sliced fish or meat. It is served fresh and features certain aesthetics which ensure the meal does not look like just simply hunks of fish.
sashimi

24. Wagyu.

Wagyu is a Japanese beef steak serving that contains higher levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than regular beef and that can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. It tastes like a strange combination of butter and melting tender and is quite decadent. once you’ve had a taste of Wagyu, other stakes will seem somewhat stingy in their leanness.
Wagyu Beef

25. Japanese Curry Rice.

Japanese Curry Rice is based on the curry version of the British Navy. In the 19th century, the imperial Japanese Navy adopted this curry style from the British Navy and even now, it is still served in the Japan Navy every Friday. The curry went on to spread widely from the Navy to Japan’s civilian population during the Meiji-Era
Japanese Curry

26. Tofu.

Tofu is the most versatile vegetable protein that is normally deep fried and splashed with dashi, stir-fried with beef, or served chilled and sprinkled with herbs. It is available in various types of options and can be found in most Japanese restaurants.
Tofu

27. Oden.
Oden is a Japanese hotpot which is ordered item by item. It’s a popular food served with drinking food, Kon Bini food, street food, and winter food. Oden is sometimes cooked in a very traditional broth.
Oden

28. Onigiri.

Onigiri is the Japanese equivalent of a sandwich. It is generally a type of rice that is circular, triangular, or square shaped and designed mostly to be eaten by hand. The center of an onigiri rice ball can be filled with different types of ingredients. My favourite is spicy cod roe or conga eel.
onigir

29. Kaiseki.

Kaiseki is a type of multi-course Japanese meal. It is available in fine cuisines that can have 5 – 16 courses. Each course is small and aesthetically pleasing to the eye with seasonal ingredients. Kaiseki is normally prepared by an experienced chef or cook.
Kaiseki

30. Chikuzenni.

Chikuzenni is a mixture of various vegetables such as shiitake, lotus root, burdock, bamboo shoot and carrots. In the past, a small amount of turtle was typically added in the mix but nowadays, chicken is used. In my opinion, it’s best cooked slowly as the ingredients are poured down gently at low temperatures in a small amount of mirin and dashi.
Chikuzenni

31. Futomaki.

Futomaki is a type of Japanese food that is rolled into a long thick cylinder with nori on the outside and multiple ingredients on the inside. Ingredients usually various types of vegetables such as kanpyo, avocado, and cucumber. In Japan, most Futomaki is loaded with lots of vegetables but are not meant for vegetarians as they can also include raw fish, an egg, or cooked fish.
futomaki

32. Ganmodoki.

Ganmodoki is a fried tofu fritter made of vegetables such as carrots, burdock, and lotus roots. It may also contain an egg. It has a goose-like taste hence the name Ganmodoki which translated means ‘artificial goose. During the Edo era, Ganmodoki was commonly prepared and served in a stir fired konjac dish.
Ganmodoki

33. Ochazuke.

Ochazuke is a simple dish that consists of green tea poured over cooked rice mostly with seafood such as salmon. If green tea is not available, hot water or dashi is used in place of it. Common toppings used in this dish include nori and sesame seeds.
Ochazuke

34. Umibudo.

Umibudo is seaweed that looks like a string of green grapes. Each tiny ball of Umibudo is normally filled with a salty liquid that isn’t sea water despite its salty taste. If you want more of a kick, you can marinate them in Soy sauce or vinegar. The dish is a well-known specialty of restaurants and food joints in the Okinawa area.
Umi Budo

35 Tonjiru.

Tonjiru, which literally translates to ‘pork soup’ is the 2nd most popular Japanese soup after miso soup and considerably heartier. A serving of tonjiru will normally consist of pork, onions, konnyaku, carrots, burdock root, daikon, mushrooms, tofu, and potatoes in a dashi and pork soup.
tonjiru

36. Chawanmushi.

Chawanmushi translated means ‘steamed tea in a bowl’. It is basically a Japanese egg custard that is not sweet but instead has an umami flavor. Its ingredients normally consist of Japanese favorites such as dashi, mirin, soy sauce, and shitake mushrooms. Most of the time there is a single Ginko nut at the bottom of the bowl or cup.
Chawanmushi

37. Ebi Furai.

So, these are shrimps that are covered in breadcrumbs, and then deep fried. Ebu Furai is common in the Bento area and is normally sold pre-cooked at Japanese supermarkets and fast food restaurants.
Ebi Furai

38. Shogayaki.

The Japanese love Shogayaki for lunch or dinner. You need some thinly sliced pork served fried in mirin, soy-sauce, ginger and honey. Be careful if you are on a diet as you will probably end up taking a second serving.
shogayaki

39. Oshizushi.

Everyone knows sushi, but oshizushi is a special kind that has been firmly pressed on a wooden mold known as oshibako. It a specialty served mainly in Osaka and the most common type available in most Japanese restaurants is the Battera pressed mackerel oshizushi.
Oshizushi

40. Gunkanmaki.

Gunkanmaki translated literally means gunship rolls. It is a type of sushi that is basically a hand formed oval of Sushi rice wrapped in nori forming a boat shape. Here is one with Salmon roe:

Gunkanmaki

41. Umeboshi.

These are an acquired taste but Umeboshi are pickled Japanese ume fruit ( a variety of plum) which is commonly known for its unbelievably sour and salty taste. They are generally served with rice. Various types of restaurants in Japan can offer a single umeboshi in the center of white rice typically designed to look similar to the Japanese flag.
Umeboshi

42. Tsukemono.

Tsukemono is vegetables that can be been pickled in various ingredients such as miso, vinegar, malted rice, sugar, salt, or sake. There are more than 50 different types of tsukemono and are typically served as a side dish or topping. For example, Beni Shoga is a tsukemono topping for common foods such as yakisoba, takoyaki, and okonomiyaki.
tsukemono

43. Tofuyo.

Tofuyo is a fermented aged tofu and a delicacy that is specially served in Okinawa. It has a pungent smell and taste similar to a strong cheese that has aged for some time.
Tofuyo

44. Katsuo Tataki.

Tataki is a Japanese cooking method that sears fish or meat briefly over a hot flame. the ending result is a meat or fish that is crispy on the outside and raw on the inside. The dish is then marinated in vinegar and sliced thinly. If you ever get the chance to try it, then skipjack tuna is what I recommend.
Katsuo Tataki

45. Kamaboko.

If you’ve ever eaten ramen, you’ll have seen these are part of the topping. Kamaboko are loaves of Japanese fish sausage that have been made from pure white fish. They aren’t as bad as the name sounds and are mostly used as toppings for noodle dishes. Although they look modern, they have been produced in Japan since the 14th century.
Kamaboko

46. Nasu Nibitashi.

Nasu Nibitashi is braised eggplants/aubergine that are cooked in dashi(stock) with soy sauce and ginger. The ingredients used in Nasu Nibitashi are very simple and it is a common side dish in most restaurants in Japan but can be difficult to find in restaurants outside the country. This Japanese food is normally taken cold or at room temperature and tastes fantastic when eaten during hot seasons.
Nasu Nibitashi

47. Tebasaki 

Everyone loves Chicken wings. I live in a town called Nagoya and they are super popular here. Tebasaki is what the locals call them and they can be sweet or spicy.
Tebasaki

48. Kuromame.

Kuromame is a dish consisting of Japanese black beans that are cooked in sweet syrup. Black beans are one of the best Japanese foods to try over new Year. There are a lot of steps that must be followed over a period of several days while keeping in mind a few things here and there. Properly made, Kuromame taste very delicious and looks very beautiful.
Kuromame

49. Nanbanzuke.

This is a dish which consists of fried fish in a vinegar marinade. A wide variety of fish can be used in the dish including exotic fishes such as the Wakasagi Smelt and the Japanese jack mackerel. I heard they were inspired by a traditional Portuguese dish known as Escabeche and introduced through the trading ports in Kyuushu.
nanbanzuke

50. Kamameshi.

Do you like rice dishes? Then you may like this one. You can make it in an iron pot with vegetables, small amounts of meat, and seafood. It is typically flavored with the usual Japanese ingredients such as mirin and soy sauce. Kamameshi was used in the past as a communal food served during events. Grocery stores also sell Kamemashi pre-cooked and the dish is very common in some popular food distribution joints in Japan such as Bento.

Kamameshi

51. Chikuwa.

Chikuwa are fish sausages that have a hole-like feature in the center. Ingredients used in the making of this exquisite snack include sugar, fish paste, starch, salt, and MSG. You can usually find them sold by street vendors who grill them on a stick over an open fire or barbecue grill.
Chikuwa

Ok, so we promised you 51 Japanese Foods to try and we delivered. BUT, as a special treat we will add one more to those of you who have read this far. Cod Sperm. Not everyday you read that now is it. but yes, in Japan, they gulp down the stuff.

Japanese Foods to try

Make a point to visit a Japanese restaurant near you and try out some of these weird and wonderful foods.

Sources:

http://www.japanesecooking101.com/

http://japanesefood.about.com/

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_cuisine

 

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