Our 10 best traditional food of Japan

Japanese food is hands down one of the best in the world.

But don't just take our word for it: in December 2013, the Japanese cuisine (called Washoku), was added to UNESCO's list of intangible heritage list. Which other cuisines do you know are UNESCO listed?!!

We've been to Japan several times during our travels in Asia, and each time we fall more and more in love with its culinary prizes. So, get ready for some serious foodporn as we present you our 10 favourite traditional food of Japan.

Sushi and sashimi

When you first think of Japanese cuisine, sushi is probably the first thing that comes to mind.

Sushi is raw fish, sliced into small pieces and served on rice. When it's served without the rice it's called sashimi. It also raised eyebrows with sushi virgin Sebastien…

“RAW FISH? Are you CRAZY?!!”

Despite Sebastien's initial reaction, he quickly fell in love with it and now can't get enough of it.

Sushi one of our favourite 10 traditional food of Japan
Sebastien quickly grew fond of sushi and sashimi and now can't get enough of it

Are you also a sushi fan? If so, don't miss the annual International Sushi Day on 8 June, where lovers of this raw fish goodness around the world unite online and, er, eat sushi together! Read more about our sushi discoveries and surprises in Tokyo.

Sushi one of 10 best traditional food of Japan
Stefan about to tuck into a plate of freshly made sushi in Tokyo

Ramen: the National dish

Ramen is wholesome, extremely tasty Japanese goodness! It is a meat or vegetable based broth served with noodles and topped with a boiled egg, ginger and/or vegetables, depending on the recipe. The longer the broth cooks, the tastier.

Our recipe for chicken ramen takes 3 hours to prepare the broth, but the more dedicated will take days, as shown in the Hollywood film “The Ramen Girl”.

Hardcore ramen fans will want to check out the Ramen Museum in Yokohama where you get to try out different kinds of ramen and even buy ramen souvenirs to bring back home. Otherwise, ramen bars are everywhere, and a bowl of this freshly made heavenly goodness is less then $10. One bowl never really seems to be enough though…

Ramen one of our favourite 10 traditional food of Japan
“Yes they're both for me! What of it?” – A hungry Stefan getting ready to go face down into his TWO bowls of chicken and beef ramen

Tempura: Portuguese influence in Japan

Tempura is a popular Japanese snack or side dish to complement any meal. It is seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried.

The idea of deep frying food in oil is thought to have originated from the Portuguese missionaries in Nagasaki in the mid 1500s. But the Japanese made it their own creating a unique batter without breadcrumbs and less grease then other frying methods.

The International Day celebrating Tempura is 7th January. You can follow the activities of fellow tempura geeks via the popular hashtag #nationaltempuraday.

Tempura one of our favourite traditional food of Japan
Will you be celebrating International Tempura Day with us on 7th January?

Gyoza: Japanese dumplings

Dumplings became a common theme throughout our travels in Asia whether it was Russian vareniki, Mongolian buuz, Nepalese momos or Cantonese dim sum.

Gyoza are Japanese dumplings. They are ear shaped, pan fried and wrapped in a thin dough. The filling usually consists of ground pork, chives, cabbage, ginger, lots of garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. They are served with a dipping sauce made from soya sauce and rice vinegar.

They originated from the Chinese jiaozi but the Japanese gyoza is slightly smaller, has a stronger garlic flavour and the dough is thinner, making them more crispy.

Gyoza Japanese dumplings one of 10 favourite traditional food of Japan
Stefan tucking into a plate of freshly made gyoza in Kyoto

Okonomiyaki: the Japanese pizza

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake containing layers of ingredients, usually cabbage, pork and sometimes thick udon noodles. It is then topped with a sauce similar to Worcestershire, but thicker and sweeter along with Japanese mayonnaise. Okonomi means what you like and yaki means grilled.

As well as being delicious, okonomiyaki is a great way to stir up a bit of controversy with locals from Osaka and Hiroshima. Each claims it makes the better / more authentic okonomiyaki than the other.

Okonomiyaki Japanese pizza one of 10 best traditional foods of Japan
Sebastien getting ready to go face down in this freshly made okonomiyaki in Hiroshima

Wagyu: Japanese beef

Meat aficionados, you're gonna love this!

Wagyu is prime cut Japanese beef. It's famous for its melt-in-your-mouth flavour caused by the rich marbled texture. The meat fat has a very low melting point so it can literally melt in your mouth. 

The most famous (and expensive) is kobe beef, but every province of Japan has its own unique wagyu specialty.

Wa means Japanese and gyu is cow. The wagyu cattle are a pure blood line and their upkeep, a closely guarded secret. But rumours include they are fed beer and massaged with sake!

Wagyu beef one of 10 traditional food of Japan
Trying wagyu beef at the Shangri-La's Andaman restaurant during our travels in Tokyo

Yaki udon: our favourite noodle dish

Yaki udon is one of many delicious wok based foodgasms from Japan. It's like the Japanese version of the Pad Thai of Thailand.

Yaki means pan fried and udon describes the type of noodles used. The udon noodles are thick and chewy, made from wheat flour. Another type of dish is yaki soba using the thinner soba noodles made from buckwheat flour.

Our recipe for yaki udon is very simple. Once the ingredients are ready, it's simply a matter of throwing them in the wok in the right order (herbs, vegetables, noodles then the sauce/toppings).

Oh and when in Japan, feel free to slurp as loudly as you want when eating noodles – it's considered good manners and a sign you're enjoying your meal!

Yaki udon noodles best traditional food of Japan
Stefan about to engage in a serious slurp-athon

Mochi: delicious Japanese treats

Mochi is a paste made from pounding glutinous rice. And the Japanese do magical things with it.

Our favourite is the daifuku sweet treats. These are mochi prizes with a sweetened red bean paste filling:

daifuku mochi one of our fav desserts and traditional food of Japan
Close up of our daifuku green tea flavoured mochi based treats in Kyoto

The Nishiki market in Kyoto is a paradise for mochi lovers with many shops selling a variety of daifuku treats. They spoke directly to Stefan's sweet tooth. Particularly the green tea flavoured ones:

daifuku mochi Stef favourite traditional food of Japan
Stefan's mochi mochi moment of madness in Kyoto's Nishiki market

Matcha matcha matcha…

Matcha is finely ground green tea powder, used to make some delicious treats. It is the key ingredient for daifuku treats and also Japanese green tea cake.

Matcha green tea cake one of our fav 10 traditional food of Japan
Matcha green tea cake – one of our favourite desserts ever!

Anything flavoured with matcha is bound to be delicious, particularly matcha ice lollies, which are unbeatable.

Matcha green tea flavour ice lolly best traditional food of Japan
Matcha ice lolly mania selfie in Kyoto

Sake: the National beverage

What better way to compliment all these Japanese dishes? If it's good enough for the prized wagyu cows to be massaged with, then it's good enough for us!

Sake is Japanese rice wine with a high alcohol content of around 15-20%. It can be served chilled or hot, in a small porcelain bottle (called a tokkuri) and sipped from a small porcelain cup called a sakazuki.

But be warned: if you reject an offer of sake, you are insulting the person by implying they are beneath you!

So drink up and kanpai! (cheers! in Japanese). Especially on World Sake Day every 1st October.

Sake one of our fav traditional drinks and food of Japan
It's 9:30am in the morning. That's right – it's SAKE TIME!

FOOD TOUR IN TOKYO

To find out more about Japanese food in Tokyo, a food tour is an excellent way of doing this.

We did a tour with Arigato Food Tours who we highly recommend. They will show you some of the best Izakayas (Japanese gastropubs) around Ginza, Yurakucho and Shinbashi. Tours cost $120 per person. They also offer a variety of cooking classes, which are definitely worth checking out.

Izakaya in Japan good for trying traditional Japanese food
Sebastien lost in a maze of izakayas in Tokyo's Shinbashi neighbourhood during our food tour

Travel recommendations to Japan

Train saving tips: Depending on how many trains you plan to take in Japan, it may be worth investing in a 7 days JR Pass ($250), which allows you unlimited travel throughout the country for 7 consecutive days. But you must buy it from an agent before you go.

We personally used Japan Rail Pass. They offered the best prices and would definitely recommend them.

Tour operator: We travelled independently to Japan but we're often asked if we can recommend a good tour company. We've partnered up with Out Asia travel who offer luxury private tours and tailored itineraries to Japan. These guys are locals, passionate travellers and have a real insight of Japanese culture. They are offering our readers an exclusive 5% discount for bookings of 7 days or more when you quote NOMADIC5 in your enquiry.

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Travel insurance: Whether you go diving, hiking or just lay on the beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it's all done online.

Flights: To fly to Japan and within, we recommend Skyscanner. Their website is very easy to use and they always offer the best prices. You can even search for the cheapest flights for any given month.

Hotels: Japan has a huge diversity of accommodation options. It is not the cheapest country to travel in but we found that quality is consistent with the price you pay. When we plan a holiday, we use Tripadvisor to research about the best places to stay and activities to do. We also use Booking.com to find the best deals and to book accommodation online.

INSPIRED?

OUR FAVOURITE TRAVEL TIPS

⭐️ TRAVEL INSURANCE — We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.

⭐️ SAFETY & SECURITY — All travelers can sometimes encounter danger when traveling. CloseCircle is your “virtual body guard” mobile app which provides security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have a 24/7 emergency response team monitoring their users who will contact you immediately if the SOS swipe button is activated. Support can include anything from practical advice, to free evacuation from areas with extreme weather or security risks. You can read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe whilst traveling.

⭐️ ONLINE ANONYMITY — A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must in many countries: it allows you to surf anonymously and maintain your privacy whilst traveling. You'll particularly need it in countries where dating apps are blocked by the government. We recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and cost effective service which we used and loved during our travels.

⭐️ HOTELS or APARTMENTS — When we plan a trip, we always look for the best hotel deals. We love Booking.com because not only do they have a comprehensive listing of accommodation options, they also offer the best prices. Added bonus: they provide 24/7 support and free cancellation for most listings.

⭐️ SIGHTSEEING and ADVENTURES — When we travel somewhere, we like to seek out the best experiences, whether it is cooking with locals in Bangkok, hiking on a glacier in Patagonia, or going on a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka. Our favorite place to look is GetYourGuide because they have over 30,000 highly rated activities, a user-friendly booking process with free cancellation and a 24 hour customer support.

This article contains affiliate links. If you click on them, we may receive compensation which keeps our website alive and helps us bring you to more destinations.

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Our 10 favourite traditional food of Japan

76 thoughts on “Our 10 best traditional food of Japan”

  1. I prefer yakisoba to yakiudon myself. It is a thinner noodle, more similar to chow mein.

    Also, for wagyu, the popular beef bowls are called “gyudon” (“don” is short for “donburi”, which is the bowl). If you haven’t tried those, I highly recommend them. Excellent and filling fast food.

  2. This blog is really great!! I appreciate you introducing Japanese real cuisines as Japanese, thank you. I hope you enjoyed in Japan. 🙂

  3. Oooooooh. I had Pasta tonight – which is pretty awesome too….but Japanese food IS my favourite food ever and I so finally need to get my butt over there so I can try everything on this list. I’m ashamed as a half-Portuguese not to have known that Tempura is something we brought over there…….fantastic!! Although I prefer Sushi and Sashimi…and Ramen….and Gyoza…..*salivating*

  4. Japanese food is amazing!! I loved everything I had there, especially the ramen and sushi! Another one of my favorites was the katsu curry. And the matcha flavored stuff–yum! Too many great options–this list just made me hungry!

  5. I want alllllllll this food in my face now… especially the wagyu, sashimi and anything matcha, and ramen… too hard, I want it all! I am obsessed with Asian cuisine, Japanese in particular. I haven’t been to Japan in many years, but it was there I learned the term Omakase “Please decide for me.” or in Australia “Chef’s Choice”. Haven’t looked back, and even more, get to experience some of the most amazing foods everywhere I go. Delicious post! Craving raw fish at 5am.

    • Of course – it’s pretty much a staple served with almost every meal. Totally agree about it being comfort food 🙂

  6. I’m a huge Japanese food fan, but a few of these I’ve never heard of. And even though I love tempura, I had no idea the Portuguese are credited with being the first to deep fry food! (I now have a deeper respect for the Portuguese.) My current Japanese food quest is to learn to love uni. So far … not so much!

  7. Haven’t been to Japan yet, but flew Japan Airlines a few weeks ago. It was kind of funny as there was not even a single dish without meat which was quite difficult for me. It was a long haul fight. Most of the food you showed here looks amazing and there are vegetarian gyozas as well and they taste soo good! Would love to try out matcha ice cream. Guess, one day, Japan will be calling.

  8. I love Japanese food! As I was in Japan, my favorite was probably the Tempura. Really, I loved all of the soups that they had. Now, you made me hungry 🙂

  9. I so look forward to your food photos. You’re always having so much fun! Great job, Sebastien, for trying the sushi. It’s a little weird at first, but soon it becomes the best thing ever. All of these dishes look amazing. I can’t wait to go Japan and try them all!

  10. Oh I loved this post so much & it made me so hungry! I’ve had every single one of these items in Boston and New York (well, except for Wagyu because I don’t eat meat), and I hope to get to Japan some day to try the real thing. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I never realized there was an intangible list for UNESCO World Heritage Sights. Interesting. I love pretty much all these foods and you’ve done a great job of describing and featuring them. 😉

  12. Oh, how I loooove Japanese cuisine! I have never eaten anything there I wouldn’t like. Even the natto beans so famous for being disgusting to outsiders were to my taste. Have you tried them too?
    So interesting to find out about national cuisines being added to UNESCO heritage list, I didn’t know they did that. Where can you check the list?

  13. Well, you had me at your cover photo and kept my attention through the whole article — this is one of the most entertaining food posts I’ve ever read!

    As to your list, I really want to try Japanese okonomiyaki. Sounds delicious! And the wagyu/kobe beef — I’ve had both — much to my foodie husband’s chagrin. He’s still waiting. True story, I was at a group dinner and the kobe dish came out. They guy next to me popped a bite in his mouth and kept right on talking. OHHHHH…. he missed the deliciousness. I’m still horrified.

  14. I thought I knew everything about Japanese cuisine! But I don’t know about Japanese pizza and cake! They should bring me back to Japan. Besides, it’s been 30 years!!! About time!!!

  15. Hey boys! You got an awesome list here. I freaking love Japanese pizza and sushi. If you want to eat it super cheap, wait till the end of the day at around 5pm and the supermarkets will sell it at a cut price. Still the same great taste – just needs to be swiped off the shelves 🙂

  16. I’ve been looking to get to Japan in the next two years. I can’t wait to try all their traditional food! I’m seriously drooling over your photos! I can’t wait to try their ramen, sushi/sashimi and beef!

  17. Rape case Permian gay comb brought to court

    January 30th, 2016

    Perm press reports on the completion of the criminal investigation into the ill-homosexual rape in birch.

    On the night of 30 on December 31, 2015, three young men abused Andrew N. He was to spend the night at the couples, to which the visit was a trio of rapists, aged 18 to 19 years. One of them knew that Andrew – gay.

    “Indeed, Andrew is not a traditional sexual orientation, but does not advertise it, because of his preferences known to few – say the” news of Perm. “- One of the suspects in the rape learned a long time ago by a mutual friend. Since then, when people kakim- somehow found themselves in the same company, started the conflict – a young man to be aggressive, and other participants to communicate always had to stand up for Andrew. This time there was no one to stand up … ”

    Young people all night mocked Andrew N. – forced to drink vodka, insulted, kicked the body, on the head, beat him, after he was bleeding from his mouth, pulled into the entrance to “not dirty apartment,” continued to beat. .. Later, they beat him into the anus of a comb.

    The criminal investigation is completed, it is sent to the court for consideration on the merits. Two young men charged with bodily injury of moderate severity. One – causing harm and sexual violence.

    The court will be held in late February in the closed mode. Currently, the three suspects are under travel restrictions.

    Gay.Ru

  18. Stephane and Sebastien, you are great guys, good luck to you in traveling and a lot of vivid impressions, I’m sorry that you’ve been Irkutsk. I have long dreamed also go round Asia and Europe and see people and their customs. Guys, where you take on the long days of travel, how to make the road, what money do you live?

    • Thanks Sergey! We started our trip after many years of saving and now turning our blog into an income earner to continue our travels.

      • Thank you, Stefan, you inspire other gays around the world to travel and not be afraid of harassment. We in the State for a long time does not change the situation regarding democracy and terpiposti gays. You and Sebastian are excellent and are very nice guys, I hope to meet you in my Irkutsk and Lake Baikal !!! I will very carefully monitor your trip!

  19. Hi guys! I live in Irkutsk, I have a house on the shore of Lake Baikal, every summer I rest on this magnificent lake and love him very much. I was in Ulan-Ude in the winter and met there the new year, it was great. You are in vatsapp or viber? I would have gladly shared a photo with you. The best you travel, love, and a long journey! You guys are great!

      • Stefan, I live in Irkutsk with my boyfriend, we were 34 years old, we are gay. When thinking in Irkutsk, inform, meet and introduce ourselves to you with great pleasure.

        • Lovely city – we stayed with s very sweet gay guy there who showed us round. How is it bring a gay couple in Irkutsk?

          • We in Russia are difficult to live gays. We do not advertise, do not show our feelings on the street, because the puritanical people in Russia and most of Putin accepted an absurd law against gay propaganda. because they allegedly want to protect gay people from both the disease. people do not understand that it is not a disease. in general it is difficult here, because society does not accept gays. In Moscow there are gay clubs and bars, but vserano gay in Moscow and Pitersburg fighting. Here we are with each other and want to travel to the places where gay Accepted not beaten, not oppress. But I and my boyfriend love each and optimistic, want to travel and go to a gay parade in the US and Spain in Sitges.

          • Awww thanks Sergey and sad to read. Moscow was our first stop in our travels in Asia as a gay couple and after what we read in the Western media, we were too scared to go to the gay clubs for fear of a mob raiding it. With hindsight we realise that was a silly way to think. You boys will love Sitges 🙂

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