Are you wondering what to eat in Japan? There are countless delicious dishes to be found in Japan. Some can be found all over the country like Sushi or Ramen, others are local specialties like Hitsumabushi or Kishimen in Nagoya.
With this post, I attempted to get a wide sample of delicious Japanese foods from different parts of the country. Other travelers to Japan helped me compile this list of the best food in Japan. It will be a real task to write about all the food I have tried and loved in Japan, but I thought I have to start somewhere.
Where possible I tried to have a restaurant recommendation as well, but as a general rule, if you put in the name of a dish in Google Maps you will find a restaurant serving it close to you.
Let’s get started on my quest to teach you what to eat in Japan.
according to Sarah from Borders & Bucket Lists
Ramen is one of the most famous Japanese dishes. While many people know it in its instant cup-form, traditional Japanese Ramen is much tastier.
At its most basic, Ramen consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles and a Japanese-style broth. The flavor of the broth heavily depends on where it is eaten in Japan. For example, on the Japanese island of Kyushu, Tonkotsu Ramen, which has a pork-based broth, is ubiquitous. However, in the port town of Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido, Shio Ramen is much more popular. To top the dish off, there are many topping options, including dried seaweed, sliced pork, mushrooms, and green onions.
While I’ve tried Ramen all across my home state of Hawaii as well as throughout Japan, my personal favorite Ramen restaurant is Ippudo. Ippudo is actually a high-quality Ramen chain that has establishments throughout the entire country of Japan. It is known for its pork bone broth, thin homemade noodles, and refreshing flavor. As a matter of fact, it is so popular that Ippudo has locations in France, Australia, Hong Kong, China, the UK, and the United States!
according to Lau from Living Out Lau
The origin of the Takoyaki started in 1935 when a street vendor named Tomekiche Endo invented it off the inspiration of Akashiyaki, a small dumpling made with batter and octopus. Takoyaki are not shaped like a dumpling, they are made in the shape of a ball.
The main ingredients to Takoyaki are batter, octopus, tempura scraps, green onion, and pickled ginger. After that, a sauce known as Takoyaki sauce is poured on top along with some green laver.
Nowadays, it is extremely popular as a snack and you can literally find it everywhere on the streets of Japan. The best place to try Takoyaki is definitely Osaka, where it was popularized. I had some of my best ones in Shinsekai, an extremely popular gastronomical destination for tourists.
according to Katy from Untold Morsels
Popular throughout Japan, Okonomiyaki are savory pancakes made with batter and cabbage plus other ingredients which vary from region to region.
The dish comes from the Kansai region (in particular Osaka) and Hiroshima and translates as “cooked as you like it” in English.
Kansai style Okonomiyaki is prepared by adding shrimp, pork, vegetables and whatever takes your fancy to batter and then cooking the mixture in a pan or griddle. Once both sides are cooked, the pancake is topped with mayonnaise and Bonito flakes ensuring each bite gives you a delicious Umami hit.
Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki is more like a crepe with the additional ingredients added separately. The finished pancake is served on top of noodles for the ultimate carb fest.
We ate delicious Okonomiyaki with mixed seafood at Nishiki Warai Rakusai – a stall in Kyoto’s Nishiki market (find out how to spend 2 days in Kyoto). Served piping hot and fresh from the griddle, we had sauce dripping down our chins and warmth in our bellies. You can try Okonomiyaki topped with egg and many other combinations at this popular eatery.
according to Nick Kembel from Spiritual Travels
Hoto was one of my favorite foods in Japan simply because I’d never heard of it before visiting, and I doubt I’ll ever see it on a restaurant menu outside of Japan. I also found the dish filling, healthy, and body warming, which was perfect as I was visiting Japan in winter and it was VERY cold!
Hoto is a Miso-based noodle soup dish, which is made unique with the addition of slices or chunks of pumpkin. While some refer to Hoto as Udon noodles, locals point out that they aren’t quite the same, as they are prepared in the same way that dumplings rather than Udon noodles are made.
Hoto is a specialty of Yamanashi prefecture, which lies about 100 kilometers west of Tokyo on Honshu Island. The wheat noodles were first developed in the area to make up for poor rice crops in the volcanic region.
Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes are in Yamanashi prefecture, so these are the best and easiest places to try Hoto. Kawaguchiko, the main access town to the Mt. Fuji area, is home to numerous Hoto restaurants, and you can even enjoy a simple bowl of it inside the main Kawaguchiko bus station, which is where I shot this photo.
For more information on visiting the Hoto area, see my guide to planning a Mount Fuji day trip.
according to Chloe from Chloe’s Travelogue
Kaiseki is a unique Japanese multi-course dinner typically served in a Ryokan – a type of traditional Japanese lodging. As the meal features local and seasonal specialties, it is the best way to experience regional specialty cuisine at the comfort of your room.
The dinner starts with a glass of aperitifs such as a plum wine or local-specialty alcohol. The main course follows with multiple plates made of local delicacy and seasonal ingredients.
When I traveled to Kanazawa, I tasted the Hokuriku region’s famous seafood and crabs at my Ryokan. First, the boiled conch, deep-fried shrimp and vegetables, noodles and egg soup came out as appetizers. The main course featured a variety of Kanazawa seafood, from Sashimi to grilled fish to salmon steak to steamed crabs. And a piping hot beef stew warmed me up for the snowy winter night.
While Kaiseki dinner requires a separate booking and extra budget, the experience is priceless. Also, the mouth-watering course meal is fulfilling; you will be pleasantly surprised at the generous portion and the number of plates in your Kaiseki dinner.
Before you sign up for this special treat on your next trip to Japan, first read all you need to know about Japanese Ryokan and Kaiseki meal.
according to Valerie from Valerie’s Adventure Time
Soba noodles are a must-try when visiting Japan. They are served in many different ways in Japan but the most popular is either hot in a broth as noodle soup or cold with a soy-based dipping sauce.
The latter was my favorite dish in Japan and it is called Zaru Soba. Zaru is the Japanese word for the bamboo tray the noodles are traditionally served on. So this dish literally translates to exactly what it is: buckwheat noodles on a bamboo tray. It is great for hot days (which you have plenty of during summer in Japan) and besides being super delicious, it is also healthy and easy to prepare at home! What I love so much about Zaru Soba, is that after you enjoyed the cold noodles with the dipping sauce, the rest of your dipping sauce is mixed with the noodle water (Sobayu) and you can enjoy it as a hot soup. This gives a great contrast to the cold dish and basically makes it a two-course meal.
Since Soba is such a popular dish in Japan, you can find it all over the country and many restaurants have it on the menu. So make sure you try Zaru Soba during your time in Japan!
according to Sarah from A Social Nomad
Karashi Renkon is a specialty of the island of Kyushu and specifically Kumamoto. A mix of Miso and hot Japanese mustard, mustard Miso is stuffed into the holes of the lotus root, then coated in a turmeric flour batter and fried. Karashi Renkon is generally sliced and eaten cold and is usually eaten as an appetizer or snack with beer or when you are tasting sake.
The texture of the Karashi Renkon is interesting. The lotus root is crunchy and cold, and the mustard is spicy hot. The batter can, unfortunately, be a little soggy. Lotus root is a popular vegetable in Japan and to prepare Karashi Renkon it is first boiled, before being stuffed with the mustard Miso.
You can find Karashi Renkon in most stores in Kumamoto to take home as a souvenir.
according to Amber from With Husband In Tow
Japanese food is known for some of the best noodle dishes in Asia. One of the most commonly found noodles are Udon noodles. Udon noodles are thick, wheat noodles. When compared with Soba noodles, they are thicker, whiter, and even a little chewier.
They can be served both cold and warm but are most commonly served in soups. There are also a lot of varieties including Curry Udon and Zara Udon, which is served cold on a bamboo mat. Some restaurants also serve pieces of Tempura, including breaded and fried prawns, alongside, which is called Tempura Udon. When dunked into the soup, it makes the Tempura a perfect accompaniment to the Udon soup.
Udon noodles are served as a typical Japanese lunch. It’s possible to find Udon at cheaper restaurants for only a few hundred yen but look for places that serve handmade Udon, which is more expensive but more delicate.
If you are in Tokyo and you are looking for some delicious Udon visit Taniya in Ningyocho district not too far from Tokyo Station. They serve freshly made Udon noodles all day long in a great Japanese atmosphere for reasonable prices.
according to Bret from Green Global Travel
Unless you’ve been living in a cave most of your life, I shouldn’t need to tell you what Sushi is. The dish is deceptively simple– just sweet vinegared rice, seafood, vegetables (especially seaweed or Nori), and occasionally some tropical fruit– with soy sauce, fresh ginger, and wasabi for seasoning.
But the execution of Sushi is everything: There are as many different types of Sushi as there are colors in the rainbow, including Chirashi, Inari, Maki, Nigiri, Uramaki, and more. And a great Sushi chef is often treated like a rock star on the local culinary scene.
The roots of Sushi in Japan date back to the Muromachi period (1336–1573) when vinegar was added to increase the longevity of salted fish preserved in rice. But it wasn’t until the late Edo period (1603–1868) that the Japanese started serving fresh fish over vinegared rice and Nori.
Our only chance to eat Sushi in Tokyo came during a long layover at Narita International Airport, but even the airport Sushi there rivaled some of our favorite Sushi restaurants back home in Atlanta. We look forward to going back someday and trying more of Japan’s national dish!
Matcha Ice Cream
according to Alison from Alison Fey
Matcha is a powder made by grinding green tea. It is used traditionally to make a special kind of strong tea during tea ceremonies but also as an ingredient in other dishes (such as Soba noodles) and also sweets.
One of the most popular sweets made from Matcha powder in recent years is undoubtedly Matcha ice cream and one of the trendiest places to try it is at Suzukien Matcha in Tokyo.
Suzukien Matcha in Asakusa offers 7 different strengths of Matcha ice cream, the strongest of which is Level 7. Level 7 is said to be the richest matcha ice cream ever made, and if you’re in Tokyo this Matcha ice cream is definitely worth trying.
You can order 1 or 2 scoops, so you can try out other strengths or flavors, such as black sesame or Sakura with red beans. If you choose to order two scoops, I recommend eating the other flavor or Matcha strength first, as while Level 7 tastes amazing, the strength overpowers the other flavors.
Just be aware that Suzukien Matcha is popular, and you might have to queue for anywhere between 30 minutes to a few hours during peak periods in a waiting area. But it is definitely worth the wait, to be able to try out the strongest Matcha ice cream ever made.
according to Kenny from Knycx Journeying
Tokyo is full of fun, culture and great food. The variety of Japanese cuisine is so rich that it would take days to have a taste of everything just because we have so limited space in our tummies.
There’s one dish that is traditional and local – the Oden. It’s a Japanese one-pot winter dish, and it is my number one Japanese comfort food. The dish is deceptively easy to make, boiled eggs, Daikon radish, Konjac, Shirataki noodles, fish cakes and many other simple ingredients in a big, light, soy-flavored stew. However, it takes time for the Daikon to cook and become fully tender, and other ingredients to absorb the soy sauce to get all juicy and soft.
I found a very traditional restaurant, Tokoyuu, in Ueno when I was in Ueno Park for the hydrangea blossom during summer. While Oden is more like a winter dish, it’s available all year. Locals usually come to an Oden restaurant before dinner for snacks and drinks.
according to Laura from Travelers Universe
Mochi is a Japanese rice cake traditionally eaten around the New Year. Nevertheless, you can find in supermarkets and specialist shops year-round. Not only in Japan, mind you, but in Asian supermarkets in the west as well.
I first ate Mochi while visiting Tokyo. I was finding my way around a train station when I stumbled upon a stand preparing Mochi on the spot. They put on quite a show and I couldn’t help but order one of each flavor. I instantly fell in love with this mildly sweet dessert/snack.
You can find green tea and Sakura flavored Mochi among others. The Mochi is often filled with red bean paste and covered in Kinako powder. An ice cream variety is also available.
according to Sophia and Kurosh from RoadGoat
Rojiura Curry Samurai is a Hokkaido style curry soup place. Hokkaido is the large island at the north of Japan, well known for hearty soups and flavor. So right off the bat this little cozy gem in the super hipster neighborhood of Shimokatizawa, Tokyo is certainly interesting. While it may not stand out to you on the menu, the Samurai Soup with 20 veggies and fried chicken cannot be missed. Each of the 20 veggies was cooked to perfection – some deep-fried, others steamed. Even the chicken was perfectly crispy! This dish is a textural experience like no other curry I’ve ever had.
A note to experienced curry eaters: you might be surprised to find that the curry is not poured directly onto the rice, so it does make a different eating experience than you might expect. Eating it involves dipping the rice into the sauce.
Hokkaido-style curry is popular in Tokyo and quite a few curry joints have popped up in recent decades. But stop by for quite possibly some of the best curry you can find in the city!
according to Erin from Never Ending Voyage
Shojin Ryori or Zen Buddhist temple cuisine is perfect for vegetarians and vegans who want to try creative Japanese meals without worrying about animal ingredients.
Although Shojin Ryori is eaten by monks, it’s not austere. These multi-dish meals are often sophisticated and use delicious, seasonal ingredients. Dishes vary but usually include tofu (which is better in Japan than anywhere else in the world), an array of vegetables, rice, pickles, Miso soup, and likely some unusual ingredients you won’t recognize (like the jelly-like Konnyaku). It is always beautifully presented.
The best places to eat Shojin Ryori are in temples in Kyoto and in the mountain town Koya-san near Osaka where you can even spend the night in a temple.
You can also find it in traditional restaurants in many places around Japan. We had a fantastic Fucha Ryori meal, which is a version of Shojin Ryori with a focus on tea, at Bon in Tokyo.
Although it can be pricey, it’s worth splurging on Shojin Ryori at least once as it’s a cultural experience as much as a meal. Lunch is more affordable than dinner.
See my vegetarian Japan guide for more ideas on places to try Shojin Ryori and other veggie-friendly Japanese dishes.
according to Thais from World Trip Diaries
Wagyu is what high-quality Japanese beef is called. There are many different Wagyu types, all over Japan. The meat is tender, with fat marbled all over it, and it tastes even a little sweet. Some of the most famous are Kobe beef (easy to find around Kansai: Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, etc), Matsusaka beef (easy to find in Mie), and Shiga Beef (all over Shiga: Hakone and surroundings), but there are many, many others all over the country.
There are many restaurants where you can try Wagyu, from Yakiniku (Japanese barbecue restaurants, where you grill your own meat), steak houses, to small food stands selling different foods with Japanese beef. It’s expensive, and I recommend you don’t go for the cheapest cut, as it won’t be that good. Go for the good stuff – it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
according to Lena from Nagoya Foodie
Hitsumabushi is my favorite food I have ever tried. The dish is originally from Nagoya, where I currently live. Hitsumabushi is freshwater eel, called Unagi in Japanese which has been grilled to perfection, dipped in a special sauce and served on rice.
The dish comes with pickles and soup, often Miso soup. You eat Hitsumabushi by dividing the dish into 4 parts. The first serving is just eel as it is with rice. For the next serving, you add other toppings such as Sancho (special pepper), green onions, wasabi and other seasonings to your bowl of eel and rice. The third serving is poured over with a broth either made from dashi or green tea to create Unagi Ochatsuke. And the last serving is for you to enjoy however you liked best. One dish that is basically 4 different courses.
You can enjoy Hitsumabushi at countless establishments in Nagoya, if you are short on time, or really hungry when you arrive in the city, my recommendation is Hitsumabushi Ino in the underground shopping street on the west side of Nagoya Station. The Hitsumabushi served here is perfectly crispy on the outside and juicy inside and the atmosphere is that of a traditional Japanese restaurant.
Final Thoughts on What to Eat in Japan
I hope these 16 dishes have made you just a little bit curious about Japanese cuisine and show you how very diverse Japanese food really is. Every region in Japan has different food to offer and it is a great pleasure to find the local dishes in every part of the country.
By the way, as well as the food there are lots of interesting drinks in Japan you should try during your visit!
If you want to find out more about the cuisine in Nagoya commonly referred to as Nagoya Meshi check out the Nagoya Food Guide.
If you enjoyed this post and want to check it again in the future safe it to your ‘Japan Travel’ or ‘Food in Japan’ Pinterest board!
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.