In this article we’ll introduce a list of 50 popular foods in Japan that you must try– even if you have to make them at home yourself! The list is divided into the following sections:
Soup-based dishes and hotpots
Home Cooking Style Dishes
Convenience Store Snacks
Soup-Based Dishes & Hotpots
1. Miso Soup
Miso Soup is made using miso paste made from fermented soybeans. It is popularly used in Japanese cuisine and can be found on menus everywhere from sushi restaurants to grocery stores. It's usually mixed with dashi, vegetables, tofu cubes, and sometimes noodles or meat to give it more flavor or texture. Miso soup is typically served hot with accompanying rice or noodle dishes to provide more sustenance. A classic miso soup recipe includes miso, dashi stock, wakamame seaweed, tofu, and green onion. Miso soup can be served as a side dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Oden is a popular home-cooked dish in Japan during the wintertime is a simple simmered recipe containing vegetables and nerimono – fish or meat that has been ground, seasoned, and kneaded into a cake. Throughout Japan you can find many regional variations of oden, but there are some common ingredients among all the dishes. Items such as tofu, daikon, konjac, and eggs can usually be found in oden, but depending on the region, the flavor of the soup and other ingredients can vary greatly.
3. Chanko Nabe
This is a popular hotpot meal traditionally eaten by sumo wrestlers to help them to gain weight and is rich in protein. The soup is usually made with dashi stock, or a chicken broth, and common ingredients include chicken meat, fish, pork belly, tofu, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, and long green onions. If you ever visit Tokyo’s Ryogoku area, you can find specialist chankonabe restaurants with some even staging live sumo performances!
This is a dish served with marbled beef and usually prepared in a cast iron pot. Thin slices of beef are simmered at the table along with ingredients such as tofu, long green onions, cabbage, and mushrooms, cooked together in a soy sauce broth. Traditionally in Japan the ingredients are then dipped in raw egg after cooking before being eaten, but if you are based outside Japan, it may be safer to skip this part!
This dish is similar to sukiyaki, but the meat is cooked in a kombu seaweed-based broth instead of soy sauce. Once cooked, the meat is dipped in side sauces such as ponzu and sesame sauce. Shabu shabu can be cooked in a donabe pot, and common ingredients along with beef or pork include tofu, cabbage, long green onion, and carrot.
6. Soba Noodles
In Japanese, soba means “buckwheat”, referring to the main ingredient used to make these noodles. Soba noodles are also traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year’s Eve in a dish called Toshikoshi Soba which consists of soba noodles served in a hot dashi soup with finely chopped spring onions.
Soba noodles contain high levels of protein and carbohydrates which make them taste delicious without any sauces or toppings. They can be eaten hot or cold depending on your preference and are generally served with a dipping sauce such as soy sauce or dashi broth.
Some popular variations of soba dishes include mori soba, (chilled soba noodles served with a dipping sauce), kake soba, (soba noodles served in a hot soup), and tempura soba, (soba noodles in soup or with dipping sauce served with several pieces of tempura).
You can read more about soba noodles here.
7. Ramen Noodles
As one of Japan’s most popular, affordable, and widely available dishes, you can find ramen restaurants in almost every town. Many ramen restaurants use a vending machine system to place and pay for orders. You choose what kind of ramen dish you want by pushing the corresponding button before making payment. Once the payment has been made you will receive a ticket which you should then hand to the staff inside who can place your order and show you to a seat.
Ramen noodles are often categorised according to their broth base, with the most popular kinds being shoyu ramen (soy-sauce based), miso ramen, shio ramen (salt-based), and tonkotsu ramen (broth made with pork bone). Popular ramen toppings include sliced pork, bamboo shoot, dried seaweed, boiled egg, green onion, bean sprouts, and fish cakes.
8. Udon Noodles
Udon noodles are a traditional Japanese dish made from wheat flour and water. They are said to have first been introduced to the Japanese island of Shikoku during the Heian period (794-1192) by a famous Buddhist priest called Kūkai and grew quickly in popularity as they are easy and inexpensive to make.
Today the small prefecture of Kagawa is considered the home of udon, although they are widely eaten throughout Japan with many cities having created their own variations of udon dishes. Some of the most popular variations of udon dishes include curry udon (udon mixed with Japanese curry sauce), kitsune udon, (dashi broth, topped with fried tofu), and kake udon, (hot broth topped with green onions).
9. Somen Noodles
Somen noodles are a type of Japanese noodles that are thin, white, and oval-shaped. They can either be served cold or hot and have a light texture.
Somen noodles are usually eaten cold in summer because they are light and refreshing, but they can also be served as an accompaniment to other dishes. During the summer months in Japan, you can also visit nagashi somen (flowing noodles) restaurants, these are seasonal restaurants where cold somen noodles are placed on bamboo flumes that diners catch with their chopsticks before eating.
Tsukemen is a Japanese ramen dish that consists of soup and noodles served separately. The soup is usually made with pork and vegetables and the noodles are usually served cold and then dipped in the soup. The main difference between ramen and tsukemen is that tsukemen noodles are boiled then chilled before being served.
Similar to Chinese style noodles, yakisoba is a stir fry style dish, usually served with slices of pork or seafood and vegetables such as cabbage, onions, and beansprouts, and seasoned with a sauce that resembles Worcestershire sauce. Yakisoba is a particularly popular street food at Japanese festivals where you’ll see vendors cooking them up on teppan iron plates. You can also find yakisoba pan in convenience stores; these are yakisoba noodles served in a hot dog bun.
Takoyaki is a popular and delicious Japanese street-food that originated in Japan’s Osaka region. Traditional takoyaki is essentially a ball-shaped dumpling filled with small pieces of tender octopus, but nowadays you can also make takoyaki using a variety of fillings to better suit your dietary requirements and tastes.
The octopus and other ingredients like green onion are cooked inside a flour-batter and topped with a Worcestershire-style sauce, Japanese mayo, and dried bonito flakes to finish.
Takoyaki can be found throughout Japan at convenience stores, food stands, and specialty takoyaki shops. It’s also a fun dish to make at home with friends and family!
Another cheap meal option (although perhaps not the healthiest) is kushikatsu, a dish originating in Osaka consisting of deep-fried skewers containing meats and vegetables. There are thousands of independent kushikatsu restaurants and stalls around Japan and it’s a perfect fast-food option or for sharing with friends.
14. Chicken Nanban
This succulent chicken dish originated in Miyazaki Prefecture and features crunchy fried chicken smothered in a creamy tartare sauce. Perfect for serving with potatoes or fries.
Karaage is Japanese fried chicken (typically made with boneless chicken thighs). It’s crispy, juicy, and delicious! The chicken is coated in a flour-based batter then deep-fried in oil. It’s a popular snack by itself at festivals, in convenience stores, and izakaya, or it is often served as part of a main meal in restaurants with rice, miso soup, and salad.
Yakitori is a kind of Japanese skewered chicken. Typically, the chicken is grilled on bamboo skewers over a charcoal grill and covered in a marinade made from soy sauce or seasoned with salt.
Yakitori often includes vegetables such as green onion or mushrooms, and various parts of the chicken can be used to make yakitori. For example, momo refers to the thigh meat, reba is liver, torikawa are fatty and crispy strips of chicken skin, and tebasaki are chicken wings.
Oyakodon is a kind of Japanese rice bowl known as donburi, which consists of rice covered in chicken, egg, and sliced green onion simmered together in a soy sauce-based soup. This classic Japanese comfort food can be found served in restaurants and homes around the country.
Tsukune are skewered chicken meatballs made from minced chicken, egg, and seasonings such as spices, garlic, and spring onions. Tsukune is a popular izakaya food and can also be found in yakitori restaurants.
This dish consists of breaded pork cutlets (usually fillet or loin) that have been deep fried and coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs to form a golden coating. Typically, tonkatsu is served on a bed of shredded cabbage and with rice. Tonkatsu originated in Tokyo during the late 19th century and is modelled on European style breaded and fried meat cutlets.
Shogayaki is a classic Japanese home-cooking recipe consisting of thin and tender slices of pork served in a sweet ginger sauce. There are many variations of this dish but generally the sauce is made from soy sauce, sake, mirin, and ginger.
If you love eating beef, then you must try eating yakiniku. The word "yakiniku" means "grilled meat” in Japanese. It's a type of barbecue that is popular in Japan, which influenced by Korean BBQ, where it originated from. Wagyu (Japanese beef) is usually quite expensive to buy in supermarkets, so yakiniku is a good opportunity to eat a lot of meat at a reasonable price with many yakiniku restaurants offering ‘all you can eat’ menus.
Some of the most popular cuts of beef at yakiniku include short ribs, beef tongue, roast (lean cuts from shoulder), skirt steak, and sirloin. You can find out more about yakiniku including how to make it at home here.
Gyudon is a Japanese dish consisting of a bowl of rice topped with beef and onion simmered in a mild, sweet sauce flavored with dashi, soy sauce and mirin. Sometimes it is also served with other toppings such as raw or soft poached eggs, cheese, or kimchi.
23. Kobe Beef
The secret behind the incredible tasting Kobe beef is due to strict breeding regulations and the particularly soft grass the cows graze on. Kobe beef comes from Japanese Tajima black cattle raised in Hyogo Prefecture, and is known for its flavor, tenderness, and fatty, marbled texture. Kobe beef is referred to as “Shimofuri” in Japanese, the official term for the marbled cuts that contain just enough fat to create that juicy taste that melts in the mouth.
According to the official Kobe Beef Association, Kobe beef was actually first eaten by an Englishman in Japan in the 1800s who bought it from some local farmers. At that time meat was not really eaten by Japanese people, but Kobe beef quickly became popular after that with foreign ships entering Kobe port.
24. Hamburger Steak (Hambagu)
Japanese hamburger steak is a popular dish served in cafes and at home consisting of a steak made from ground meat (usually a beef/pork mixture) which is typically served with rice and covered in a thick, sweet-tasting sauce made from soy sauce or a demi-glace sauce. The dish is topped with grated daikon (radish) or mushrooms.
25. Menchi Katsu
Menchi-katsu is a meat patty made from ground beef (or pork) covered in crispy golden panko breadcrumbs that has been deep-fried. It’s slightly smaller in size than a hamburger and is often sold as a street-food snack or in bento boxes. It’s usually served with Japanese Worcestershire sauce and grated cabbage.
26. Genghis Khan
Mutton or lamb is not commonly eaten in most of Japan – with one exception, in the northernmost island of Hokkaido where you’ll find a popular regional dish known locally as “Genghis Khan” (ジンギスカン). This Hokkaido local dish consists of grilling mutton or lamb and vegetables on a special grill that has a raised mound in the center. If you ever visit this part of Japan, it’s a must-try dish!
Sashimi is probably one of the foods most associated with Japan, so it goes without saying that it’s a must-try food! In fact, once you eat sashimi in Japan, it will be difficult to find anything as near as good in your home country. Sashimi consists of thin slices of raw fish often served with a dipping sauce and is a Japanese delicacy.
Known as ‘kaki’ in Japanese, Hiroshima is the largest oyster producing region in Japan, supplying around two-thirds of the country’s total quantity each year. There are five popular ways of eating oysters in Japan including fried in a tempura batter, grilled, raw with a citrus soy sauce called ponzu, steamed, and in an oyster and miso hotpot called “kaki-no-dotenabe.”
Freshwater eel, or unagi as it’s known in Japanese, is a popular dish that’s mostly eaten grilled and served with white rice. It’s a particularly well-known dish in the Tokyo and surrounding areas and is very popular during the summertime.
This Japanese blowfish is a local delicacy that must be prepared by specially trained chefs because it is highly poisonous if consumed incorrectly. Despite the potential dangers, it’s particularly popular during winter, where the white-fleshed fish is often an ingredient in nabe dishes (hotpot). It can also be eaten raw in sushi or as sashimi.
31. Katsuo No Tataki
Katsuo no tataki is a famous dish that originated in Kochi prefecture and consists of lightly seared bonito (traditionally cooked over a straw fire) served with ponzu dipping sauce, salt, raw garlic, ginger, and onions.
32. Hokkaido Kani (Crab)
Japan’s most northern island of Hokkaido is surrounded by cool waters making it the ideal environment for several kinds of crab including red king crab, blue king crab, horsehair crab, snow crab, and hanasaki crab. Crab tends to be eaten more during the wintertime in Hokkaido where you can find many restaurants offering crab buffets!
Chirashizushi consists of a bowl of vinegared sushi rice with a variety of ingredients scattered on top such as ikura, salmon, squid, shrimp, crab and noodle-like thin omelette strips (also called kinshi tamago).
Inarizushi is a simple dish consisting of sushi rice stuffed inside fried tofu pouches called aburaage. The tofu is cooked in a dashi broth seasoned with sugar, mirin, and soy sauce. It can be found in Japanese supermarkets and is also easy to make at home providing you can purchase the aburaage in your home country.
Nigiri is probably what most people think of when we picture traditional sushi. The sushi rice is shaped by hand and topped with raw fish or other ingredients. Popular examples of nigiri include tuna, salmon, and yellowtail.
Maki sushi is bit-sized tubular shaped sushi rolls containing rice and fillings, all held together by a sheet of nori seaweed. Popular fillings include raw fish like salmon and tuna, crab,and vegetables like avocado and cucumber.
Home Cooking Style Dishes
37. Japanese Curry
Japanese curry is one of Japan’s most popular dishes, more commonly eaten than sushi and found everywhere from school lunch menus to chain restaurants. Distinctive from its Asian counterparts for its mild yet slightly sweet taste, Japanese curry is bursting with umami flavor despite the lack of spice.
Curry blocks or roux as they are officially called, are one of the most popular types of Japanese curry that can be found on virtually every supermarket shelf in Japan. Curry roux comes in a range of spice levels varying from mild to extra hot and is very easy to make at home!
You can read more about Japanese curry here.
Gyoza are Japanese style dumplings which usually contain ground meat (such as pork) and vegetables. They are usually pan fried in water to create a delicious crispy base on the dumplings and served with gyoza dipping sauce, a sauce made from soy sauce and vinegar with a small amount of chili oil added to it.
Tempura is a Japanese dish that refers to seafood, meat, or vegetables that has been deep-fried in a light batter made from flour, egg, and water. Tempura is commonly served with a dipping sauce and can also form part of other dishes such as a topping for soba or udon noodles. The most popular kind of tempura is ebi – shrimp. Popular vegetable tempura variations include sweet potato, pumpkin, mushrooms, and bell peppers.
Omurice is a comforting and filling dish that consists of an omelet made with fried rice, usually topped with ketchup, and a common dish found on the menus of most Japanese cafes. Although it may appear to be a simple dish to prepare, it’s trickier to perfect than it looks, as the egg is not supposed to have any hint of brown color on it!
Okonomiyaki is a popular Japanese street food dish that originated in the Kansai region and is usually described as a savory pancake made from flour, eggs, and shredded cabbage. From there you can add whatever fillings you like, such as meat, seafood, cheese, and vegetables. Okonomiyaki is usally topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, dried bonito flakes, and aonori seaweed.
If you visit Japan, you’ll probably encounter two versions of okonomiyaki, Kansai-style, and Hiroshima-style. Whilst there is much debate as to which version is ‘better’, the difference between the two is that Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki also features a layer of noodles on top.
Nikujaga a combination of two words "niku" and "jagaimo", which mean meat and potatoes. This traditional and tasty Japanese dish is very easy to prepare. Aside from meat and potatoes you can add pretty much any ingredient you like such as onion, carrot, and chickpeas. Nikujaga typically uses thin slices of beef as the meat but make sure it has enough fat, otherwise the meat will dry out!
Doria is a rice gratin dish that comes in different variations. The most popular types of doria are meat doria, seafood doria, and curry doria. In a meat doria, vegetables and meat are typically sauteed in a white sauce or tomato sauce poured over steamed rice. The doria is then topped with cheese that melts whilst baking in a casserole dish in the oven toaster. It’s a very typical Japanese comfort food and a popular café menu item.
44. Taco Rice
This Japanese and Tex-Mex fusion dish is a popular and easy dish to cook at home which consists of taco fillings topped over white rice. This dish originated in Okinawa during the 1980s and sees white rice topped with ground beef, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and salsa.
45. Agedashi Tofu
Agedashi tofu is a popular Japanese dish on the menu of virtually every izakaya, consisting of deep-fried tofu served in a tasty umami broth and is often served as an appetizer or side dish. The tofu is dusted with potato starch and then deep-fried to create a crispy exterior whilst the inside remains soft. The tofu is then served in a sauce made from dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar, and garnished with toppings such as chopped green onions, ginger, or daikon.
Tamagoyaki is a Japanese style omelet and a classic Japanese home-cooking dish dating back to Japan’s Edo period. Many Japanese people eat tamagoyaki every day for breakfast, in lunch boxes or as side dishes in restaurants.
Tamagoyaki is an omelet consisting of layers of thinly rolled eggs, usually cut into pieces, rather than one big omelet. Unlike other egg dishes such as scrambled eggs or fried eggs, the flavor of tamagoyaki tastes good even when it’s served cold, which makes it a staple item in bento lunch boxes.
Convenience Store Snacks
Nikuman are Japanese steamed buns, usually filled with pork and other ingredients such as mushrooms and cabbage. Nikuman are a popular conbini (convenience store) snack, where you’ll find other variations on offer too such as pizza-man (pizza flavor bun) filled with cheese and tomato sauce and kare-man (curry flavor bun).
Onigiri are Japanese rice balls that are usually triangular or circular in shape. Filling and easy to make, they are a popular Japanese food and can be found in every convenience store in Japan. Onigiri are made from white rice and are often wrapped in nori seaweed and can contain different fillings such as umeboshi, salmon, and tuna mayo.
49. Fruit Sandwich
Another convenience store favorite item, fruit sandwiches can also often be found on the menus of a particular type of Japanese café known as the fruit parlor. Good quality fruit is expensive in Japan and is considered a luxury item, so is often exchanged as gifts and presented in fancy boxes. The fruit parlor is a type of café where you can enjoy a fruit-themed menu to include fruit sandwiches, parfaits, and cakes. Popular fruit sandwich fillings include strawberries with whipped cream, oranges, and kiwi.
50. Egg Mayo Sandwich
Known as tamago sando in Japanese, these simple sandwiches are a popular convenience store item for Japanese residents and tourists and are a great snack to eat on the go when you’re in a hurry. These sandwiches are made on soft white bread and filled with mashed up hard boiled eggs covered in Japanese mayo. In recent years, this simple snack has become so popular with international visitors to Japan it was even featured by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain who described it as “Unnatural, Inexplicable Deliciousness!”
How many of these 50 Japanese dishes have you tried, and which are your favorites?