Japan is an elusive, paradoxical island nation, and truly one of a kind. Over the years, Japan has managed to intrigue the entire globe, by embracing modern advancements, while retaining tradition. This is not only limited to technology, but also cuisine.
With Japan opening its doors to the world in the 19th century, a lot has changed. Simple, home style, seasonal ingredients and have been modified in looks to match modern day standards, while retaining its traditional appeal. This has made Japanese cuisine unique – its traditional and modern mix-n-match combination has a dish for every type of foodie, whether it is sweet, sour, spicy or even pungent.
Here’s a list of 10 dishes and food you MUST HAVE!
Japan’s gift to the world, this delicate explosion on the taste buds is a must try. Fresh ingredients and amazing knife skills make this dish every foodie’s dream. The dish has many variants, but the most popular one is raw fish, tucked in a roll of sticky vinegar rice, rolled onto seaweed. This delectable dish also comes in the form of rectangle shaped logs, with prime cuts of beef and fish as well.
A very different form of steak, Wagyu has now become popular in the West as well. It’s also a healthier option, as it contains higher levels of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. While some of the fat is retained on the steak, it only adds to the melt-in-the mouth feel of this decadent and delicate meat. Compared to other steaks, wagyu might have a higher level of fat, but it is definitely healthier.
Another Japanese favorite, tempura has caught the eye of the world. This, along with sushi, may be Japan’s culinary export, but it has its origins in Portugal! Portuguese missionaries had arrived in Nagasaki in the 16th century, and brought their technique of deep frying, that caught on and stayed with the Japanese! Soon, it was a nation-wide hit, and now, tempura is one of Japan’s integral food dishes. Tempura is unique because, the technique is such that it results in oil less morsels of tasty, crispy food. Be it kisu fish, or scallops or asparagus, tempura manages to elevate any ingredient and make it not only tasty, but also healthy.
Books, and movies have been made over this beautiful dish. Ramen is the only noodle dish to have this fan following all over the world. Ramen traditionally, is noodles with seasonal vegetables and meat, in a salty, fat based broth. Not only is it healthy, but it is tasty as well! The various combinations that ramen comes in will leave anyone wanting for more! Ramen is made using wheat, and the broth is usually meat or fish based, with additional sauces like soy, or miso to give it that tasty kick. Sirircha or miso to the simple bacon and egg, there’s a combination for everyone!
Yakitori is grilled meat that is dark and full of flavor. This dish is a popular summertime snack and a picnic favorite in Japan. The most favored variation of this dish is grilled chicken skewers. While a street food variations prefer a sauce from soy, mirin and rice wine, yakitori in gourmet style is sprinkled with salt. Skin, liver and breast meat are prized bits of meat while making yakitori, while the most accompanied side is a smear of wasabi. Other delicacies include, sparrow and quail, or just kidneys!
Taiyaki is one of Japan’s most famous and loved pastries. A pastry that is like a waffle, stuffed with either chocolate, or bean paste, taiyaki is a sweet treat. Taiyaki is shaped in the form of a fish! The story goes, that the fish shape stuck to the pastry after it was introduced to the poor people who couldn’t afford the pricey tai fish. A rarer, yet pricey version of taiyaki is one stuffed with sweet potato!
Noodles made from buckwheat, soba noodles is a dish loved in Japan. Soba noodles are either served hot, in a broth, or chilled with a sauce. Soba noodles are famous in train stations, where it an inexpensive fast food option. The unique factor about soba noodles, is that it is an easy make during both summers and winters! Cold soba dishes are mostly tossed with a sauce, mostly dashi sauce or mirin. Hot soba dishes are made in a both, which is then served with fresh onion and shichimi togarashi, a mixed chili powder. Popular variants of the dish are – kake soba, tororo soba sansei soba and kitsune soba.
These are savory pancakes that have a variety of ingredients – from cheese to pork, shrimp and even octopus! Okonomiyaki actually means ‘as you like it!’ and the variety that the dish has truly resonated with the name. The dish is usually grilled and prepared on the diner’s table itself! Some places let you do it yourself, however you wish, but it is the one made by the professionals that you should really taste.
Onigiri are rice balls that are the most popular fast food in Japan. Onigiri is versatile in the fact that they can be served up with a variety of combinations such as spicy cod, pickled vegetables, grilled beef and even matsutake mushrooms! They have become so popular that they are available in every departmental store in Japan! Mayonnaise is the most popular side to compliment this dish!
- Sanuki udon
Chewy yet silky, sanuki udon noodles are immensely popular in Japan. Slurrpy and slick, these noodles are as satisfying as it gets! It is a delectable combination itself – firm as pasta, yet pliant like rice cakes. Sanuki udon is best served with tempura or dashi.
Japanese cuisine has been adapting to the times, but what makes it truly special is its unique use of seasonal ingredients and vegetables in a way that brings in the taste as well as the nutrition in it. Side dishes such as pickled vegetables, fish and broth are freshly made which enriches not only the dish but also elevates its taste. Meat was not commonly used before, but the modernization of Japan brought in variations and dishes such as tonkatsu.
Japanese cuisine made a mark on the global culinary map, when in 2011 Japan had the most number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world. It has maintained the title since then!
India too, has many Japanese restaurants that serve some amazing, authentic style Japanese dishes! Here is a list!
- NCR – Izakaya, Sushiya, Kyoto and Tamura
- Mumbai – Sushi and More, Wasabi by Marimoto, Umame, Ruka, Shiro
- Bangalore – Harima
Nihon no tabemono wa subarashīdesu!
Japanese food is amazing!