Japanese cuisine is some of the best in the world. If you asked me it is THE best cuisine in the world.
But not everything served in Japan is delicious. And some of the things that are delicious are still very strange to us foreigners.
I still remember when I heard that Sushi was raw fish. I mean ‘eww’ raw fish. Why would anyone ever want to eat stinky, slimy raw fish? Or so I thought as a child.
Now I don’t think Sushi is so strange anymore. I have grown to love Sushi, and not a week goes by where I don’t have some delicious raw fish on rice.
‘Weird’ or ‘strange’ is very much subjective. I know that.
In this post, I would like to challenge you to some more or less weird Japanese food. I encourage you to try all of it (and more) when you have the chance. Because some of the weird Japanese food is incredibly delicious.
according to Stella from Around the World in 24 Hours
Natto is sometimes called the most unique Japanese food. There are Japanese people who think you have to be Japanese to appreciate it.
Natto is not complicated to make, even at home. It is soybeans that have been fermented with a special bacteria called Bacillus subtilis. But what makes natto special is its smell and texture. The smell is like old cheese, paint thinner, or possibly a dead foot. And the texture is like slime with mysterious things in it from a haunted house.
But despite natto’s unusual qualities, most Japanese people and some non-Japanese people enjoy eating it. Japanese people eat it many ways, like for breakfast or mixed with squid noodles.
I ate Natto for the first and only time at Sushi Nova Harajuku in Tokyo. The natto came inside a sushi roll, so it was an inexpensive and easy way to try Natto for the first time. If I really hated the taste, I could just drown the whole thing in soy sauce and Wasabi. But as much as I didn’t like the smell or texture, I did appreciate the salty, sharp taste, and it went well with the soy sauce. 7/10. Would eat again.
according to Jean from Traveling Honeybird
I’ve never considered that I’d nibble on the head of a teeny tiny octopus but then again I never thought I’d drink instant coffee from a 7-11.
The joy of traveling in Japan is eating and enjoying the weird and wonderful. On a recent trip, I kept on hearing murmurs and whispers about eating the octopus lollipop at Nishiki Market in Kyoto. On one hot summer day I wandered down the narrow market streets and discovered the joy that is Tako Tamago.
A teeny tiny octopus, with a quail egg in the head. It’s a sweet sensation on the tongue and is served cold. The sweetness and texture are rather hard to describe, as it’s an octopus lollipop!
It’s an enjoyable experience and one that I would do all over again without any hesitation.
Pricing is charged at the size of the octopus, and you can pick these up for as little as 100 yen.
Enmusubi (Chicken Oviduct)
according to Kenny from Knycx Journeying
Yakitori means Japanese Chicken Skewers. Various parts of the chicken (now we have beef, pork or vegetables) are grilled over a charcoal fire – eaters could taste the flavor of charcoal from the meat yet they are kept juicy and tender.
There are countless Yakitori restaurants in Japan and they are often near each other with their own unique signature and character, such as Wagyu beef or high-class free-range chicken.
Anything on a skewer is called “Yakitori”. Basic seasonings are usually salt and Yakitori sauce. However, certain ingredients taste better with different seasonings like Miso sauce or soy sauce. Once you pick up the menu at a Yakitori restaurant, the possibilities are limitless. It’s common to see a picture of a chicken on the table indicating various body parts from drumsticks, neck, liver, skin, Yagen Gristle, Genkotsu Gristle (cartilage), Gizzard, Tail, to one of the most unique body parts of all, chicken oviduct (Enmusubi).
The texture of Enmusubi is hard to describe, it’s chewy yet it doesn’t taste weird… It’s popular among locals. Enjoy it while it’s hot.
Uni (Sea Urchin Sashimi)
according to Ming Lee from Flyerism
In Japan, Karasumi (salted mullet roe), sea cucumber and sea urchin are regarded as the top three foods in the world. According to a reliable source, 40% of sea urchins in the market are shipped from Hokkaido. The best period for sea urchin sampling is during summertime, specifically from June to August.
There are two types of edible urchins: Hemicentrotus urchin and Pacific purple urchin. Most of the time, sea urchin is served raw as Sashimi, or as Sushi. Some people even mix it with soy sauce or vinegar. Although it doesn’t look pleasant, sea urchin is actually very healthy. It’s rich in vitamins, protein, and calcium.
The first time I stumbled upon sea urchin was at Nishiki Market in Kyoto. At first, I was taken aback by its look. What’s more, it’s not cheap. However, it seems to be one of the most popular dishes among the visitors.
Curiosity got the better of me so I decided to give it a go. It’s slightly salty, sweet and rich. It melted inside the mouth like Foie Gras. It’s nothing like I’ve tried before. Suffice to say, I am hooked and I would definitely try it again in a heartbeat!
according to Shalini from Eager to Travel
On my recent trip to Tokyo, I tried tuna eyeballs. My first impression on this dish was a little weird but since all my friends were excited to try tuna eyeballs, I thought I would give it a shot. The shop we visited had steamed ones so we took them home and fried them. To my surprise, the tune eyeballs tasted amazing.
Because I loved the dish, I tried it again at a restaurant. This time with soy sauce and rice wine cake. I am sure you would be a bit skeptical to try the eyeballs of a fish but once you get over your first instinct you will find tuna eyeballs mouth-watering and want to try them again and again.
The flavor is similar to that of a boiled egg with seasoning. I have also heard from the waiter at the restaurant that it has omega fatty acids and is very good for your health. It is said to increase your cognitive ability, too.
Hitsumabushi (Grilled Eel)
according to Lena from Nagoya Foodie
When someone first suggested trying eel in Nagoya I was skeptical. I mean I liked to eat fish, but eel just seemed like a slimy worm compared to fish. Eating eel seemed very weird to even consider.
I was over my skepticism once I saw the dish for the first time and had the first whiff of the mouth-watering aroma in my nostrils.
Nothing could have prepared me for how delicious grilled eel really is. In my opinion, it is the best dish in the world and when I get to eat eel I savor every bite.
Hitsumabushi is a delicacy from Nagoya, but eel, called Unagi in Japanese, can be eaten all over the country. It is served as Sushi, as Unaju or Unadon (which is a simple form of eel on rice). Eel is famous in different parts of the country not only in Nagoya. In Narita for example, the city next to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, you can see how eel is prepared one by one.
Don’t be afraid of trying weird Japanese food. Be adventurous, you might just find your favorite food.
Spam and Egg Onigiri
according to Claire from Backpacking Bella
What do busy Japanese people eat when they need to grab breakfast? It could well be an Onigiri – a kind of rice ball sandwich with various fillings. While I was recently visiting the tropical Japanese islands of Okinawa, I was surprised to see a packaged Spam and Egg Onigiri on sale in a convenience store. I hadn’t seen anything like this on mainland Japan, so I had to try one!
Okinawa’s obsession with Spam can be traced back to World War II’s Battle of Okinawa and the subsequent occupation of the islands by American military forces. In post-war Okinawa, Spam was one of the only available sources of meat, as it was easy to transport and could be stored for a long time. The famous U.S. tinned pork brand is still popular here and you can find an astonishing range of flavors in the supermarkets.
These days, a Spam and Egg Onigiri is loved by the locals as a quick and tasty meal on the go. It is comprised of a rice ball filled with layers of cooked scrambled egg, a slice of Spam and ketchup, all wrapped in Nori seaweed. It is rich, sweet, filling and so good. It’s just one of the many examples of how Japanese and American culture has fused on these fascinating islands.
As well as being sold in grocery stores, there’s a restaurant in Okinawa’s capital city of Naha called the Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten that specializes in these popular snacks and it has rave reviews from locals and tourists.
according to Greta from Greta’s Travels
Out of all the weird foods I have eaten during my two weeks in Japan, Mitarashi Dango were the only ones I actually enjoyed and ate more than once. Mitarashi Dango are skewers formed of up to 3 to 5 small round dumplings made from Mochiko (rice flour). They are sweet and quite chewy and are usually covered in different types of sweet sauces.
They are a popular street food sweet in Japan and can be found in most street markets all throughout the country.
I had my first Mitarashi Dango at Nishiki Market in Kyoto. They had different kinds of sauces, one covered in sweet Miso sauce and one covered in sweet soy sauce. I personally liked the sweet miso sauce one better as it was sweeter.
The Mochi dumplings per se are sweet but they don’t have a particularly strong flavor. They are chewy and a bit bland, with most of the flavor coming from the sauce. I was a bit suspicious of them at first but after I tried them the first time I had them again at street markets in Osaka, Tokyo, and Miyajima during my 2 weeks in Japan.
Final Thoughts on Weird Japanese Food
You might have had that involuntary thought in your mind while reading the post ‘I’m not going to try THAT’. I had it too to be honest.
But I encourage everyone, first of all, myself, to stop judging food and to try it first. To make up my mind about different dishes only after I have tried them once.
Yes, there is lots of weird food in Japan. But most of it is very delicious once you got over the first resistance in your mind. So be adventurous and try everything you are offered while traveling in Japan.
If you love food and you happen to come by in Nagoya, you should join me on a Nagoya Meshi Food Tour. On a 3-hour tour, you will get to try the best of what Nagoya has to offer while learning about the local food, culture, and history.
Do you want to learn more about the food in Nagoya? Then check out the Nagoya Food Guide. If you are interested in Japanese food in general click here for more posts. Other interesting posts include ‘What to eat in Japan‘ and ‘Unique non-alcoholic drinks in Japan‘
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In love with Japan and its amazing food, Lena wants to share her passion with the world. That’s why she started Nagoya Foodie. To teach about Nagoya, her adoptive home online through blog posts and offline through unique food tours.