For many, Japanese cuisine = sushi. You probably know ramen, wasabi, and teppanyaki, but what about the three types of tsukemono and the gorgeous presentation of sawachi ryori, or the sweet dango served with green tea?
The breadth of Japan’s cuisine is an experience all its own and there is a variety of specialties that don’t quite make it into the west. Given Japan’s rich cultural history, shaped by its location as well as strong Buddhist influence, it’s dishes are layered in flavors and steeped in “Umami” - a Japanese term for a “savory” flavor. Maybe you’re planning a trip to the “Land of the Rising Sun” for the 2020 Winter Olympics or possibly have decided to make Japan an exotic retreat on your annual bucket-list. Either way, here are eight delicious items, street food and sit-down alike, you don’t want to miss.
Quick to eat and easy to find, these bites are available throughout Japan:
This skewered Japanese sweet dumpling beckons you from numerous vendors. A mix of rice flour and water, they are boiled until firm then covered in a variety of sweet or savory sauces. The popular Mitarashi Dango is grilled after skewering and covered with a soy-based sauce, often served outside Shinto shrines. Hanami dango can be found during cherry blossom season, colored in pink, white and green. Dango is traditionally served with a cup of green tea.
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).
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.
During our Stunning Shikoku bike tour, cyclists have a free day to explore Kochi, known for its bountiful seafood and agriculture. Below are two signature dishes you can be sure to find.
4. 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.
5. 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. Guests are invited to take directly from the large platter. Presentation, variety and serving style is symbolic of the cheer, energy and generosity you’ll find in the people of Kochi.
Our self-guided tour: Cycle Kyoto to the Coast, riders find themselves in Kyoto. Once the capital of Japan, it served as a central point of gathering for various items from all over the country, of which local artisans continued to develop and perfect. The dishes below reflect this variety and crafting.
Continuing a technique carried over from the days prior to refrigeration, Kyoto has taken the technique of pickling vegetables with salt - Tsukemono - into three delicious directions. Vivid purple Shibazuke includes slices of cucumber, eggplant, shizo and ginger, all pickled in plum vinegar. Senmaizuke is made from large round shogoin turnips, sliced at 1mm and marinated in sweet vinegar, konbu kelp and chili. For Sugukizuke, a sugukina turnip whose production has been highly controlled for over a century undergoes a fermentation process that creates a mild sourness, popular with rice and a drop of soy sauce.
The formal Japanese full course meal of 1 soup, 3 main dishes, plus numerous sides and a dessert - this is Kaiseki. Eating this in what is often seen as the heart of Japanese culture, Kyoto, and so including the unique products that this area provides: tofu, yuba, and local vegetables, gives you the delicate and sophisticated experience of Kyo-Kaiseki. The sophisticated array of colors and textures make this a visual dining experience, as well as delicately flavorful.
These dishes only touch the surface of the food adventures awaiting you in this gorgeous country. If you’re one to explore on a bicycle, Grasshopper can give you an uncompromised authentic experience. Consider joining the Grasshopper Adventures bucket list tour Stunning Shikoku, or our self-guided Cycle Kyoto to the Coast! However you manage it, plan for Japan!