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31 Japanese Foods You Must Try on Your Next Vacation to Japan

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31 Japanese Foods You Must Try on Your Next Vacation to Japan

Lirene CilliersBy Lirene Cilliers   Posted 30th Apr 2024

For many, Japanese food = sushi. You probably know ramen, wasabi, and teppanyaki, but what about the three types of tsukemono, the gorgeous presentation of sawachi ryori, or the sweet dango served with green tea?   

If any of these have you tilting your head in curiosity, then consider this blog your golden ticket to the expansive universe of Japanese cuisine.  

Japan's food is a reflection of its rich cultural heritage, influenced by its geography and a strong Buddhist ethos, revealing dishes that are not just meals but experiences, characterized by the elusive yet profound flavor of "umami" (delicious savory taste). 

Pedaling with purpose across Japan, we embrace the ride as much as the quick, delightful bites that await—let's see what's on the menu.

Food of Japan: Main Dishes You Must Try 

1. Sushi & Sashimi  

Sure, it's a cliche, but it's also a necessary choice! Nothing compares to savoring freshly caught fish wonderfully arranged on sushi rice. This dish is fit for any emperor, or at least a very content bike tourer, when paired with a cold Asahi beer. 

2. Ramen

You cannot depart from Japan without losing yourself in a bowl of ramen! This is comfort reincarnated as food—a generosity of slurpable wheat noodles pirouetting in a pool of savory broth that's coaxed patiently into perfection, punctuated with tender meat or tofu. 

3. Udon

Winter's answer in a bowl—udon. Udon is a delicious type of thick wheat noodle regularly prepared in soup with kakejiru - a mild broth of dashi, soy sauce (dark in west Japan, light in the east) and marin (rice wine). Toppings range from tempura to tofu pocket and often a thin slice of kamaboko (fish cake). 

4. Okonomiyaki

Known as Japan's savory answer to the pancake, each bite bursts with a meandering mix of ingredients lovingly chosen by the chef. It's an adventure on a plate!  

5. Yakitori

Say hello to your trusty road-side ally—Yakitori. Perfectly grilled skewers of chicken, only touched by the smoke from the charcoal and a whisper of saucy goodness. Each bite is a testament to the joys of simplicity—nothing but tender, succulent chicken cooked to smoky perfection. Perfect on its own or paired with a Japanese whisky for a twilight toast to the day’s journey. 

6. Takoyaki

Turn the corner and you might stumble upon Takoyaki, an irresistible Osakan street snack. These bite-sized delights are balls of batter cradling a treasure - tender chunks of octopus. Expertly cooked to a perfect crisp on the outside while remaining delectably gooey within, these flavor bombs are a prime example of the magic that is Japanese street food.

7. Gyu-Don 

Thin slices of marinated slow-cooked beef with onions, delicately ladled over a bed of steamed rice. Sometimes served with toppings such as raw or soft poached eggs, Welsh onions, grated cheese or kimchi.  

Is your mouth watering yet? Explore all of this and more on our Stunning Shikoku Bike Tour of Japan.  

8. Tempura  

A typical Japanese dish favored in the West. Tempura is made with basic ingredients like fresh seafood and garden vegetables wrapped in a feather-light batter, then deep-fried to perfection. 

9. Tonkatsu

Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside! Tonkatsu are pork cutlets (usually fillet or loin) covered in panko breadcrumbs, fried to a choice golden brown. 

10. Onigiri 

This one deserves a spot on everyone's food map in Japan! Rice balls (although... it's shaped into triangles) stuffed with pickled plums, seasoned salmon, or a dab of wasabi, they are a nostalgia-laden handful of joy that speaks volumes about Japanese comfort food. 

11. Japanese Curry Rice  

A thick, hearty curry packed with tender meat and garden-fresh veggies—served with a generous helping of rice. Pair this with a chilled bottle of Orion beer on the side for a match made in culinary heaven. 

12. Edamame

Equally healthy as it is delicious! These young soya beans, simply cooked and often sprinkled with coarse sea salt, are a healthy (yet addictive) snack. Perfect to keep your sodium levels on par while cycling Japan! 

13. Miso Soup  

A staple at any Japanese table, miso soup combines the sharp, distinct flavor of miso paste with the rich, subtle depth of dashi stock. Perhaps add tofu cubes or slices of green onion to turn the soup into a nourishing bowl of warmth. Accompanied by a serving of traditional Japanese tsukemono (pickles), it's a classic duo that hits the right notes of umami

14. Honetsuki-dori 

Paired wonderfully with beer, this crispy bone-in chicken can often be found in pubs, served with a pair of shears for convenient cutting. Honetsuki-dori is fried to crispy perfection and seasoned simply with salt and pepper or, at times, a garlic and spice mix. 

15. Katsuo No Tataki 

Kochi, a natural paradise on the southern coast of Shikoku, is famous for its highly prized Katsuo - or in English, skipjack tuna. The most famous dish of which is Katsuo no Tataki, involving the traditional Warayaki method of cooking. The Katsuo is wrapped in straw and seared on the outside, while keeping the center rare. Thickly sliced and coated in sea salt or soy sauce, it’s then served with a variety of condiments, the most prominent being a generous amount of garlic.  

16. Sawachi Ryori

Who doesn’t love a giant platter filled with seafood? Better yet, a big Japanese porcelain Arita-yaki plate presenting a heaping bounty of fresh sashimi, shellfish, fresh Tai and of course, Katsuo no Tataki. Presentation, variety and serving style is symbolic of the cheer, energy and generosity you’ll find in the people of Kochi.  

Explore beyond the plate with our Cycle Kyoto to the Coast - Self-Guided tour, where the path from Kyoto to the coast is dotted with culinary treasures you won’t soon forget! 


17. Tsukemono 

Kyoto has masterfully preserved the ancient art of pickling vegetables, known as Tsukemono, adapting this pre-refrigeration technique into three exquisite variations.  

Shibazuke tantalizes the palate with its vibrant purple hue, blending slices of cucumber, eggplant, shizo, and ginger, all pickled in a tangy plum vinegar.  

Senmaizuke offers a sweet and spicy crunch, featuring thinly sliced shogoin turnips at just 1mm thick, marinated in a mixture of sweet vinegar, konbu kelp, and chili.  

Meanwhile, Sugukizuke introduces a delicate sourness with its carefully regulated sugukina turnip, fermented to perfection and often enjoyed alongside rice with a hint of soy sauce for an added depth of flavor. 

18. Kaiseki 

Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese meal with a soup, three main dishes, sides, and a dessert. In Kyoto, known as Japan's cultural heart, this becomes Kyo-Kaiseki. It uses Kyoto's unique ingredients like tofu, yuba, and local vegetables for a complex and sophisticated dining experience. But Kyo-Kaiseki isn't just about flavor—it's a feast for the eyes with its beautiful blend of colors and textures. 

Interested in learning more about Japan? Dive into 23 common Japanese phrases that will help you navigate your journey with confidence, whether you're planning a vacation or going on a cycle tour in Japan.

Food in Japan: Traditional Japanese Sweets and Desserts 

1. Mochi

Mochi is a Japanese delicacy often served during the New Year and other festive occasions. This soft, sticky treat is made by pounding steamed glutinous rice into a pliable dough. It can be enjoyed in various ways—plain, dusted with kinako (roasted soy flour), wrapped around sweet fillings like anko (red bean paste), or even added to savory dishes. 

2. Meiji chocolate   

Meiji chocolate, an iconic brand in Japan since 1926. Its creamy, silky-smooth texture melts in your mouth. From milk to dark chocolate varieties and innovative flavors infused with fruits or nuts, every Meiji chocolate bar promises a journey of delight for the senses. These chocolates pair nicely with coffee, where the robustness of the bean enhances the sweetness of the chocolate. 

3. Imo-kenpi 

When we say don't judge a book by its cover, this dish is what we mean! Imo-kenpi is a traditional Japanese snack originating from Kochi Prefecture, featuring sweet potato slices deep-fried and coated in a sugary glaze (yes... candied fried sweet potato!). 
It's a delightful mix of crunchy, sweet, and earthy flavors. Due to its sweetness, it might be complemented well with a brisk cup of sencha tea, which could offset the richness with its refreshing bitterness. 

4. Monaka or Momiji Manjū 

Monaka is a confection that features azuki bean paste sandwiched between two crisp wafers made from mochiko (rice flour). The lightness of the wafers combined with the sweetness of the filling makes for a balanced treat. They can be shaped into various forms, including the charming maple-leaf form known as Momiji manjū from Hiroshima. 

5. Choux Cream 

One of the most popular pastries in Japan and you will surely nod your head in approval! It's a Japanese cream puff filled to the brim with a velvety custard cream. Each bite erupts with the rich sweetness of the custard, balanced by the pastry's subtle buttery hint. Accompanied with a cup of milky café au lait, it's a match made in Japan! 

6. Kakigori   

A go-to dessert during the hot, humid Japanese summers. Essentially a mound of finely shaved ice, often drizzled with condensed milk or paired with adzuki beans, each spoonful is a cooling, saccharine mini-vacation. 

7. Taiyaki  

Bring out the tea, because it's time for Taiyaki. This darling of the snack world, shaped like a fish, can be filled with anything from red bean paste to chocolate or custard, and even sweet potato. The pastry pairs well with a cup of milk tea, its creaminess balancing the pastry's sweet filling. 

8. Dango 

This skewered Japanese sweet dumpling can be found at numerous vendors. A mix of rice flour and water are boiled until firm, then covered in sweet or savory sauces. The popular Mitarashi Dango is grilled after skewering and covered with a soy-based sauce, often served outside Shinto shrines.  

Food of Japan: Traditional Japanese Beverages 

1. Shochu 

This distilled spirit may be less famous internationally than its cousin, sake, but is versatile due to its diverse base ingredients like sweet potatoes, barley, or even rice. Enjoy it on the rocks for a smooth sip that can soothe those well-earned bike-muscle rubs. 

2. Sake

A wine made of rice that can be enjoyed warm or cold. Whether you're sipping a delicate, floral junmai-daiginjo or a robust, earthy tokubetsu-junmai, remember – moderation is key, or you may find the bike ride back a tad wobblier than anticipated. 

3. Matcha tea

Most would be familiar with matcha tea! Nothing beats enjoying a cup of matcha tea after soaking in an onsen, rejuvenating from your bike ride through mountains, rivers, and historic towns. Bike, Walk, and Onsen your way through Japan!  

4. Calpis  

A non-carbonated soft drink you can't help but love. With its sweet-tart taste, this fermented milk beverage could evoke memories of childhood lemonades, but with a twist. Always refreshing, it's the perfect pick-me-up that says, "Yes, you do have another 10 miles in you." 

5. Japanese Whisky  

Japanese whisky is a type of whisky produced in Japan, characterized by its meticulous production process and often noted for its smoothness and complex flavor profiles, ranging from light and floral to smoky and peated. Japanese whisky offers a moment of Zen in every glass. 

Riding Through the Flavors of Japan 

At the heart of every culture lies its food, and there's no better way to experience Japan than by cycling through its breathtaking landscapes, meeting its people, and feasting on its diverse culinary offerings.  

If you're anything like us, and your travel itinerary is essentially a food tour on wheels, then our specially curated bike tours in Japan is your tickets to the ultimate Japanese adventure. 

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