Japanese food is a combination of rice, noodles, soup, meat, vegetables and fish. It appeals to all our five senses – sweet, salty, bitter, sour and especially umami (taste of meats). Japanese cuisine is highly focused on presentation, and good quality of ingredients with emphasis on seasonal fruits and vegetables.
A typical lunch in Japan would be a bento box which is similar to a lunchbox and consists of rice or noodles for carbs, meat or fish for protein and various vegetables for full nutrition. A lot of the bento boxes are made and decorated in creative ways and has become really popular. Even though sushi is by far the most popular dish from Japan, that’s not all Japan has to offer. Here are some Japanese dishes that may or may not be popular Internationally but are a delicious part of the Japanese cuisine.
Sushi is pretty famous around the world and the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Japanese cuisine. Sushi is basically seasoned rice (with vinegar) topped with various kinds of fish. Nigiri is a type of sushi in which rice is topped with raw fish slices. Makizushi is a type of rolled sushi in which rice is layered with cucumbers, carrots, meats or fish, rolled with nori seaweed and cut into little circles. Sushi is typically eaten by dipping in soy sauce.
Tempura is actually a batter in which meats, vegetables like green beans, pumpkin and sweet potato, seafood like prawns etc. can be deep fried until golden and crunchy. It is a light and airy batter unlike other fried food batters. Tempura can be eaten with grated daikon, soy dipping sauce or by itself. It can also be served with rice bowls or noodle dishes.
This is basically skewered barbeque meat. Small bite-sized pieces of meat like chicken are marinated in salt, mirin, wine, soy sauce, sake and sugar and barbequed till tender and charred. Various varieties of yakitori are momo-chicken thighs, negima-chicken and spring onion, tsukune-chicken meatballs. Not only chicken but other meats and vegetables can also be prepared in this way.
It is basically a beef cutlet similar to, but less popular than Tonkatsu or pork cutlet. The meat is coated in breadcrumbs and fried until golden brown. It can be served with shredded cabbage, salad greens, miso soup, barley rice, potato salad and pickles. It can also be eaten in a bento box, curry or sandwich filling.
These are a type of dumpling which is pan-fried to get a crisp exterior with a light golden color and can be filled with different things. Various varieties of Gyoza are available in Japan and the most popular is Yaki-Gyoza in which the filling is cabbage, ginger, garlic, onion and minced pork. It is eaten by dipping in soy sauce, chilly oil and vinegar dip.
Fugu is a type of fish, specifically pufferfish and is usually served as a sashimi. The catch here is that this fish can be toxic, so the chefs who prepare it have to do a rigorous training to make sure they can remove all toxic parts of the fish before serving it. This is an adventurous dish to try and thorough research should be done of the restaurant before eating Fugu to be safe.
Gyudon is basically a one-pot meal consisting of beef and rice. It is super easy to put together and tastes delicious. Steamed rice are loaded with beef (thinly sliced), onions, dashi broth and seasoned with a dash of soy sauce and mirin. Occasionally egg can be used as a topping. It is a very filling and wholesome dish.
Sashimi is basically thinly sliced raw fish or meat. It can be served with daikon radish, wasabi, soy sauce and ginger. Sashimi is never served with rice and should always be made with the freshest fish possible to avoid any risk of contamination and also because fresh fish tastes the best.
This is traditional Japanese Fried Chicken but in some Japanese areas pork may also be used. The meat is typically coated in potato starch and deep fried till it’s extremely crunchy and golden and can be served both with and without a slice of lemon on the side. It’s quick, easy and tasty and hence, much loved around the world.
It can be translated as Kushi meaning skewers and Katsu means deep fried meat, so the dish is deep fried skewered meat cutlets like pork or chicken. But fish or vegetables can also be used. More creative ones can be prepared using bamboo shoots and lotus root. Every region has a different way of preparing this dish.
11 Miso Soup
Miso soup is almost a staple food of Japanese cuisine and can be eaten in breakfast, lunch and dinner. The soup is made with a dashi broth and miso paste. It can be served with tofu, wakame seaweed, daikon, mushrooms, potatoes, onions, shrimp or meat to make it more filling and hearty.
Mochi are traditional Japanese sweet treats made out of glutinous rice. They are made by steaming, mashing and pounding rice to make it chewy and sticky. Then cute shapes are made out of the rice mixture and filled with sweet red bean paste. These are made on special occasions but sometimes due to excessive sweetness and stickiness they aren’t very pleasant to eat so small mochi are becoming popular nowadays.
This is essentially a dish you eat on the go and can be found in grocery stores in Japan while it is less common to see it in restaurants. Onigiri is a rice ball seasoned with various spices, usually filled with meat, vegetables, seafood and wrapped in seaweed(nori) which can be flavored or unflavored.
This is a type of soupy noodle dish made with wheat flour noodles and a broth/soup made with pork bone/chicken/fish, seasoned with soy sauce, miso and salt. The noodles can be topped with vegetables such as spring onions, bamboo shoots, nori seaweed, tofu, meats such as sliced pork and/or egg. It can be served hot as well as cold.
Soba noodles are made out of buckwheat which gives them an earthy, nutty flavor. Soba noodles can be served cold with green onions, shredded nori and wasabi or hot in soups along with spring onions, fish cakes and grilled mochi. They work well with garlic and sesame too. They are very popular in Japan as well as outside Japan.
This is Japanese omlette rice, a dish very popular outside Japan. Tomato flavored fried rice are made with ketchup and chicken then wrapped in a thin layer of softly cooked omelette. It is not the easiest dish to make and requires a lot of skill and practice but the taste is absolutely amazing.
It translates to grilled or fried egg. It is made by rolling together several thin layers of egg omelette. The egg can be seasoned with salt, sugar, mirin and soy sauce. Tamagoyaki can be eaten as a side dish, as a breakfast dish or can be included in a bento box or sushi filling. It can be rolled in the pan itself or using a sushi mat.
Dango are sweet, chewy, tender but firm colorful skewered rice balls enjoyed especially during cherry blossom time in Japan. This sweet delight is made out of glutinous rice flour, hot water, colored with pink food coloring and matcha powder for green and cooked until tender. They can be eaten with red bean paste, sweet soy glaze or as it is.
You have probably seen this in the cartoon Doraemon. It’s actually a Japanese dessert traditionally made with a sweet red bean filling in between two fluffy honey pancakes. Newer variations may also have custard cream, chestnuts, matcha cream and fruit cream fillings. They are usually eaten with a bitter Japanese green tea.
Teriyaki is basically a sauce made with grapeseed oil, garlic, brown sugar, low sodium soy sauce, mirin, sake and cornstarch. The most popular teriyaki dish is teriyaki chicken made by marinating chicken in ginger, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce , grilling till perfectly cooked and tossing in the teriyaki sauce for a rich, umami flavor. It can be served with white rice, Asian salad or steamed vegetables.