Visitors to Japan often have a short list of delicious foods they want to check out on arrival – but what about those oh-so-local foods that might not make it onto the hit list? Japan is famous for sushi and sashimi, but let’s take a look at some of the lesser known delicacies that you may want to seek out, or hide from when you are in Japan.
Also known as a curry doughnut, this is a must-try-food for anyone who loves doughnuts, curry, or weird combinations. This was on my hit-list before coming to Japan – a friend of a friend had accidentally bought one on a trip to Tokyo and got a rather nasty surprise when he bit into what he thought was going to be a sweet, sugary doughnut. But if you buy one intentionally, they’re not bad at all, and surprisingly they taste good cold as well as hot. Basically, it’s a doughnut filled with curry – what else do you need to know?
Raw slices of horse meat – the perfect way to make your average British ex-pat reach for the sick bag. Well, the average British ex-pat is a wimp, and I’m an enthusiastic carnivore, so I say, roll on meaty times! Basashi is not bad at all – it’s certainly not delicious, and if offered some thin slices of horse meat up against a big juicy steak of beef, I know which I’d prefer. But it’s a delicacy that you really should try, particularly if you’re down in Kumamoto where the dish is famous. You can get horse meat served in a variety of other ways, including… horse meat sashimi ice-cream? Umm… no thanks.
Translating as ‘white children’, this delicacy is… how should I put it… well, basically it’s fish sperm. Most foreigners will be familiar with salmon roe – fish eggs that look like neon orange tapioca – but the male version is little known in the west. Known in English as ‘milt’, shirako is basically the genitalia of a male fish that’s full of sperm. Yummy? No, not really. A little bit gross, actually. Pleased to have tried it but this one is now topping the list of things to avoid for the rest of my stay in the land of the rising sun!
The name translates as ‘what you want… fried’ which is a pretty good description of what it actually is! Okonomiyaki is basically a bunch of different ingredients, usually including noodles, that are fried together and then covered in batter to make a pancake. Many of the Okonomiyaki restaurants are DIY so you can cook it yourself, making sure to smother it both in mayonnaise and in special okonomiyaki sauce.
As you can probably guess from the name, this is not exactly my favourite food in the world. At all. Bought for the first time by mistake, I thought I’d ordered some juicy bits of fried chicken, and what arrived… oh my, what a shock. The initial crunch of the cartilage in your mouth is bad enough, but then the sickly, fatty flavour that just goes on and on as you chew and chew and it doesn’t seem to get any smaller in your mouth. It’s just nasty.
Does this really need an explanation? I mean, it’s a sandwich… filled with spaghetti. You can get these in supermarkets and some convenience stores. One sort has spaghetti and a kind of tomato sauce, and the other is macaroni pasta with a kind of egg mayonnaise, and of course other random stuff like bean sprouts. Yeah… not exactly my favourite sandwich filling! But cheap – very cheap. Particularly as no one really seems to like them so they are half price at the end of the day. 50 Yen for a nasty sandwich… sure, why not?
This stuff is pretty special. The smell is overpoweringly strong, the texture is slimy and dry at the same time, the taste is… well, why not try it and find out for yourself? But without a doubt, natto is the worst thing I’ve eaten in Japan!