Japanese food is world famous. It is commonly accepted that Japan has one of the world’s great food cultures, on par with the likes of Italy and France. You can go to most any place in the world and find sushi, Kobe beef, and many other Japanese delicacies. But there are many other great Japanese foods to be discovered! Do you already know these 10?
Nikujaga is exactly what its name means in Japanese; meat and potatoes. It is a suprisingly western style meal. Potatoes, carrots, and onions are cut and boiled until soft and served with meat as a stew. My wife ads katakuriko (corn starch) to thicken it up a bit.
Nikujaga was created by the Japanese imperial navy in the late 1800’s, imitating the British Royal Navy’s own potato and meat stew.
Nabe is Japanese style hotpot or stews that are served in a large pot and kept boiling at your table while you eat. Trust me, there is nothing quite so good as some hot nabe on a cold cold winter day. I could put any number of nabe on this list, but this spot has to go to the Motsunabe.
Motsunabe’s stew is usually soy based and flavored with several seasonings, vegetables, and finally beef intestine. Now that may not seem too delectable, but trust me, a good Motsunabe is to die for.
Motsunabe originates in Fukuoka and in the 1990’s some Motsunabe restaurants made it to Tokyo, where it became a huge sensation. It remains very popular also today.
Taiyaki is a Japanese sweet. It is a fish shaped pancake or waffle that is filled with azuki (sweet red bean paste). But if you don’t like azuki (what is wrong with you?), you can choose from many other fillings. The most common substitute for azuki is custard cream. I have even seen some filled with cheese, sausage, or gyoza (potsticker) filling!
Taiyaki can be found almost anywhere in Japan, and you have to eat it when it is still piping hot. Taiyaki are like French fries, they just aren’t any good cold.
Hayashi rice is a very interesting Japanese dish, and one of my personal favorites. Like Nikujaga, Hayashi Rice is heavily influenced by western cuisine. Hayashi rice is meat, mushrooms, and sometimes onions boiled in a thick, rich demi-glace sauce, then served over rice.
Hayashi rice originates in Ikuno, Hyogo prefecture, which is a former mining town. A French engineer came to work at the mine and made the dish from his own personal stash of red wine plus local ingredients, and the dish became a hit!
Hayashi rice is a very common household meal, and every housewife in Japan has her own variation of the recipe. My mother-in-law, for example, adds a healthy amount of ketchup to make the sauce even richer.
Omu-rice is, once again, what the name implies; a rice omelet. Now, Omu-rice is not prepared the same way we often prepare omelets in the west. In Japan, rice is mixed with fried chicken, sausage or beef, ketchup, and any other vegetables one wants to add, then covered or wrapped in a thin fried egg. Finally, it is topped off with a good dollop of ketchup.
Omu-rice is especially popular with children, most restaurants will offer it on their kids’ menus. But Omu-rice is not strictly palatable to children. I love it too! You can get it in nearly any variation. Omu-rice is infinitely adjustable to one’s own tastes.
You might have noticed something about the dishes listed above; most of the foods are heavily influenced by western cuisine. So, you might be thinking, “That’s not really Japanese food.” Well, in answer to that I would ask you, are nachos Mexican food? Actually no, nachos were created in America. They are heavily influenced by Mexican food, but they are entirely American.
I think that cuisine is at its finest when it is taking a non-native dish and adapting it to the palate of its own people, in the process creating a new food entirely.
But take heart, this list will have a few more traditional Japanese foods.
Oyakodon can be translated to parent and child bowl, this name goes to show that Japanese actually have a strong sense of dark humor, being that Oyakodon is roasted chicken and fried egg over rice.
Oyakodon is a very delicious dish and is very common. Most Japanese restaurants serve this dish. It’s rich, tasty, and very very delectable.
Now, natto is not an incredibly popular dish. It is actually quite divisive. Most foreigners who come to Japan are quite shocked by this dish. Natto are soy beans that are fermented. It is often eaten for breakfast. To be completely honest with you, I hate natto. “So, why?” You might ask, “Are you putting them on this list?”
Well, natto may be smelly, disgusting, slimy, and utterly detestable, but it is incredibly healthy. One serving of natto provides a good portion of your daily recommended vitamins and nutrients. Japanese people tout natto as a type of superfood. I have heard that it helps bones, cardiovascular health, and even that eating natto every day will help foreigners speak better Japanese.
Somen is another traditional Japanese meal. Somen are very thin white noodles that are boiled, cooled, and lightly dipped in a sauce called tsuyu. Somen are most commonly eaten cold, and ginger or wasabi are often added to the tsuyu to add a little more flavor.
Somen is a little bland, and the first time I had it I didn’t like it. But, on hot summer days, with a good helping of wasabi somen is a very simple meal that tastes delicious.
Oh, Melonpan… What can I say about it? The first time I tried it, I felt the heavens open, heard choirs of angels singing, and I was taken up to a delicious heaven.
Melonpan means melon bread in Japanese. Don’t let the name fool you, though: melon bread is not melon flavored. Melon bread is sweetened bread wrapped in a cookie. Yeah, it is amazing! The name comes from the fact that the cookie covering on the bread is sliced before baking, so as the bread rises as it cooks it takes on the look of a cantaloupe.
This might be a surprise. But for any Americans who have visited or lived in Japan, the taste of milk here is so different and more delicious than what we have in the States. Japanese milk is much richer and creamier that American milk. Even the cheap Japanese milk is better than the pricey American milk. I don’t know what makes Japanese milk so much more delicious than American milk, but the taste is noticibly different.
What are you still waiting for? Come to Japan to try all of these (mostly) delicious dishes! Or if you can’t make it all the way here, at least, try your hand at some of the recipes here and here and here.