Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, is now immensely popular throughout the world. People everywhere love the focus on quality ingredients and the tendency for food from Japan to be healthy and nourishing. Traditionally, rice and miso soup are the common staples served with every meal, along with side dishes of pickled vegetables, fish, and vegetable broth. Meat such as beef, pork, and chicken are popular but it’s fascinating to note that until the modernisation of Japan in the 1880s meat was considered taboo and was therefore not part of the national cuisine.
In this post we take you on a food tour of some of the most popular dishes you’ll find in Japan, and we recommend La Belle Assiette chefs who can satisfy your inevitable Japanese food cravings!
In Japan, sushi is seen as a typical food for special occasions, but it is also common to enjoy it as a quick lunch at the popular conveyor belt sushi restaurants, or from convenience stores. With endless varieties of nigiri (rice balls typically with fish, shellfish, octopus, or fried egg on top), to gunkan (cups made from rice and dried seaweed and filled with ingredients like sea urchin or fish roe), to norimaki (rice with seafood or vegetables such as avocado, rolled in dried seaweed), Japan is sushi heaven.
Dig into a classic sushi feast by chef Yuki Gomi who grew up close to Mount Fuji and loves to prepare simple and authentic Japanese food.
Often enjoyed along with rice (donburi) or soba (tensoba), tempura is battered and deep-fried seafood and vegetables. Interestingly, tempura was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese during the sixteenth century, and today is a much-loved dish served at both fast food restaurants and Michelin-starred establishments.
Enjoy prawn tempura with spicy chilli mayo and togarashi powder in Alex Sarrion’s Izakaya menu.
Often enjoyed with a cold beer by salarymen after a long day at work, yakitori is grilled skewered chicken, but the term can also be understood to mean skewered food in general. The skewers are cooked over charcoal and seasoned with salt or a tare sauce.
Try delicious yakitori with vermicelli salad in the Shinjuku menu by Tadashi Tsujimoto.
Shabu-shabu is an onomatopoetic word for the sound associated with thin slices of meat bubbling away in a boiling broth. In restaurants, diners cook their own shabu-shabu meat in a big hot pot placed in the middle of the table.
Enjoy beef tataki, another popular way of preparing meat, where it is sliced thinly and lightly seared, in Oriol Rudol’s Japanese menu.
Apart from rice, noodles such as soba, udon, and ramen are a staple in Japanese cuisine. Soba are thin noodles made from buckwheat flour, either served chilled with a dipping sauce, or in a broth. Udon are thicker and made from wheat, often served in a noodle soup. Ramen are thin and crinkly noodles which give their name to the popular soup dish which is commonly topped with egg, pork, spring onions and dried seaweed.
Try duck salad with soba noodles flavoured with ginger and coriander in Philippe Roth’s Japanese-French fusion menu.
Another dish which is commonly prepared by diners themselves in restaurants is okonomiyaki, a thick savory pancake filled with whatever ingredients you like. The raw ingredients are served to your table where there is usually a hot plate for you to cook on, making for a fun and tasty meal!
End your meal on a high with a tofu cheesecake from the Tokyo Mon Amour menu by Tadashi Tsujimoto.
If you’re now craving Japanese food (we don’t blame you!), why don’t you check out some of the chefs above? Or have a look on La Belle Assiette for a menu that suits your tastes.
Previous ‘Food Travel Diaries’:
Illustrations by Laura Haapio-Kirk.