Traveling to Japan – Foods and Drinks You Have to Try

This post was last updated on February 1st, 2020 at 06:06 pm


One of the nicest things about traveling through Japan is the food. Japanese value food and how it is presented. They also say that the Chinese eat with their tongue and the Japanese with their eyes. The food in Japan is a bit more expensive, especially in restaurants. You pay more for the more famous dishes than in other Asian countries. If you look for the smaller restaurants and try their traditional Japanese food you can already save a lot of expenses.

 

Food in Japan

Many Japanese dishes are a nice mix of taste and texture that you rarely find in other cuisines. The presentation of Japanese food is perhaps even more beautiful, it almost feels like an insult to the chef to eat what has been made so carefully. When eating in Japan, everyone immediately thinks about eating sushi with chopsticks, but there is much more.

 

TIP – Cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are important gourmet destinations.

 

Because in addition to sushi you also see Japanese eating meat, noodles, a form of curry rice, hamburgers or roast chicken. Even the Western fast-food chains are very normal here. All major cities have an extensive range of restaurants that serve Western and Asian dishes.

 

Expensive?

The food in Japan is certainly not cheap, but you can score a nice meal for little. Eating out doesn’t have to be expensive. Lunch is cheap, it rarely costs more than ¥2,000 ($18). And with a cheap bowl of noodles for dinner you will get through the night.

 

Image of street food vendor making takoyaki
One of our favorite street foods in Japan: Takoyaki

 

What does Japanese food taste like?

Like many Asian countries, food in Japan is often based on rice and fish. The reason for this is that no meat has been eaten in Japan for a substantial part of history. They did not slaughter animals. As a result, people mainly ate fish such as tuna, cod, trout, crab, mackerel, squid, oyster, salmon, sea bass, sole, squid, and shrimp. Everything is available. If you eat in Japan you will come across ingredients such as fish and rice; wasabi, seaweed, ginger, and tofu.

 

Breakfast in Japan

You can get breakfast between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM at most ho(s)tels, ryokan, and minshuku. The more luxurious places often offer a western breakfast or a traditional Japanese breakfast with miso soup (grilled fish, pickles and rice). At the cheaper places, you can only get a Japanese meal. Western breakfast, if available, often consists of thick slices of white bread, eggs, and salad.

 

Did you know? – Every region has its own culinary traditions. That is why local dishes are so tasty and they vary a lot!

 

Dinner in Japan

Dinner is the most important meal of the day, usually served from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. The big cities are the only option for those who want to eat later than 9 p.m. With a traditional Japanese meal, the dishes are often served at the same time. It often consists of small side dishes so that you are not immediately full. Eating fruit after a meal is very normal. Consider melon, orange, cherry or pear.

 

Image of: Bowl of Japanese ramen noodles
The Japanese ramen noodles are really something special. We could eat this every day!

 

Authentic Japanese Food

Just like in China, you can eat with chopsticks, which is called “hashi” in Japan. This is something the Japanese took over from the Chinese who already used it in the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC). The only difference with the chopsticks from China is that the chopsticks are in front of the plate in Japan, and next to the plate in China.

 

For those who are not that great at using chopsticks, you can also get a knife and fork. There might also be some local restaurants in your own city where you can practice with chopsticks before your trip to Japan.

 

Some examples of traditional Japanese food

We will not list all the dishes but the best known are sushi,

  • Miso soup; soup consisting of tofu, niboshi (dried sardines), katsuobushi (a tuna-like fish) and wasabi. This is eaten during the entire meal.
  • Sashimi; raw fish, including sea bass, tuna or salmon, which are cut into slices of about 1 cm thick. It looks a bit like sushi. It is usually eaten just before or as the first dish.
  • Tempura; a delicious vegetarian dish consisting of small pieces of vegetables that are laid in dough and fried.
  • Sukiyaki; One of the famous meat dishes in Japan. Sukiyaki is a meat dish and, in addition to all kinds of vegetables, consists of wafer-thin slices of steak and tofu.
  • Shabu-shabu; another well-known meat dish with thin slices of steak and vegetables. It looks like Sukiyaki. During the cooking, you hear a soft sound that they describe in Japan as shabu-shabu.
  • Wagyu; this is also called Kobe beef. It is supplied by a few Japanese cow breeds. It is a dish that does not fit into everyone’s budget. This is because the cattle used for this meat receive very special treatment.

 

Etiquette

Upon arrival, you will be greeted with Irasshaimase (welcome). Use your fingers to indicate how many places you need. If you sit you get an Oshibori, a warm damp towel (sometimes a cold one in the summer).

 

NEVER place your chopsticks upright in the rice. This is a signal of death. If you eat from a shared plate, turn the sticks over and use the other side. Also, never put your chopsticks crossed on the rack when you’re done. If you eat soup (or noodles), slurping is normal.

 

If you want to say it was tasty you can say; gochisō-sama deshita.

 

Image: Close-up of Okonomiyaki on a plate
Close-up of Okonomiyaki on a plate

 

Typical Japanese Drinks

The Japanese are enthusiastic drinkers. It is not unusual to see drunken people swinging through the street, but on the whole, this rarely leads to violence.

 

Something that is quite normal in Japan is the Jido hambaiki, a kind of vending machine, where you can get a wide range of cans, both hot and cold. Soft drinks from machines cost around ¥110 ($1). Hot drinks are indicated with a red line below the display.

 

Image of: Man pouring sake into a small cup
You can drink sake with many types of meals

 

Sake and Tea in Japan

The most famous drink in Japan is without a doubt sake, a rice wine that is drunk both hot and cold. In addition, just like in the rest of Asia, a lot of tea is consumed, particularly green tea. You also have different types of beer, the most famous of which are Asashi, Kirin, and Sapporo. Fortunately, you also have supermarkets where you can buy things other than the above.

 

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