Food In Japan: The Ultimate Guide, Eat Like A Local
Japanese food is famous for being not only delicious but also sophisticated. Gourmet discovery should be the must-not-miss part of any trip to Japan. We can simply find some popular local where-to-eat by typing “good restaurants near me” on google maps, and there will be so many choices that you will not be able to make the decision. Since any experience is worthy, you can randomly choose the nearest. But if you prefer having the prioritization, consider seeing the list below to optimize your culinary experience during your trip.
1. Washoku – Japanese meal at traditional style hostels
“Wa” means Japan. “Shoku” means “food”. A Japanese traditional meal is based on rice, miso soup, and several side dishes, which make a complete balance of taste and provide sufficient nutrients for the human body. In 2013, UNESCO recognized “washoku” as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Does it add up the reason to list “washoku” in your trip planner?
When you set up your trip, let’s try to register once to Ryokan – the Japanese-style accommodation including breakfast served. Soaking in an onsen bath, sleeping on the futon, and having the washoku – a traditional meal in the following morning, all of those allow you to feel totally “Japanese”. The Japanese rice grain, different from other Asian rice, is shorter and stickier. Miso soup with light and quite of fishy flavor is a reference to “umami” – can be understood as the quintessence taste in the Japanese language. Bright yellow slides of the soft rolled egg are not only delicious but also good-looking. Fish, the main dish, is grilled with just a little salt to keep the most natural and fresh taste. The sourness of vegetable pickles enhances the savor of other dishes and completes the meal. Despite small portions of food on small dishes and bowls, your stomach can be sufficiently satisfied after the meal. Not so full, but not hungry. It is how the Japanese build their health and keep themselves in good form.
Considering that you will later have the whole day rushing to busy streets to discover every other interesting thing, it is a good idea to leisurely start your day with the most basic but essential part of Japanese culture.
(I am going to receive the lives of animals and plants for my own life – words before eating our meal to express our appreciation to gifts from nature)
2. Depachika – Ultimate food tour underground.
Once you set foot on the floor, your senses are awakened: seducing aroma of freshly baked cakes, music from the loudspeaker, ice-cream shops’ staffs singing songs, sounds of frying pans at opened kitchens, and variety of food displayed at cases making you not able to be happier...
“Depachika” comes from the word “Depato” – department and “Chika” – basement. Japanese department store’s basement food halls are popular for their wide range of selection and the latest food trends. Thanks to that, it has become an avoidable destination that attracts not only tourists but also all types of Japanese target customers - shoppers from upper floors, housewives, or busy people who do not have much time for selecting food from different locations. You find below some categories of food to try at the food halls.
- Ready-to-take-away food: As the Depachika is always crowded, people have to make lines and wait for their ordered food. In case of not much time to waste, you can select the processed food at the ready-to-eat section where they are charged by weight. You can pick a bento box with toppings and or choose some toppings separately as your will. And you also have to agree that depachikas have more types of salad than any other stores.
- Sweet desserts: You can slowly enjoy test samples of the latest sweets trends from all kinds of famous Brands. Japanese stores are well-known for their generous food samples. My Japanese friend used to make a joke that when you felt hungry but had not yet received your salary, go to the food hall and eat the food samples...
- Alcohol & drink: A sake bottle would be an ideal gift for your acquaintances. You can taste this type of Japanese wine while listening to the explanation from nice shop staff (most of them know English), or get advice to choose a good bottle following your gout and within your budget.
- Cakes in special gift boxes: Japanese people value the way they give gifts. You will be amazed by rows of square sweet boxes wrapped in several kinds of nice textured paper but at a very agreeable price.
3. Three biggest Food streets where you must go and eat all the way out.
3.1 DOTONBORI STREET (OSAKA)
This center area of South Osaka is characterized by the Osaka Shochikuza theater, Glico advertisement board, and the outstanding Crab restaurant Kani Doraku. There are more than 100 big and small restaurants specializing in Osaka's signature flavor.
- Okonomiyaki means “frying as you want”. The Japanese pancake is made of a mixture of flour, egg, cabbage, and other kinds of ingredients “as you want”. Although Okonomiyaki shops appear all over Japan, each city has a different version. Therefore, even if you already eat okonomiyaki somewhere else, do not forget to try the authentic flavor of this “Osaka’s soul”.
- Kani Doraku restaurant is a symbol of the street with its outstanding giant figure of red crab climbing above the entrance. You are served succulent crab specialties here with a mid-range price, an average of 3000 yen per lunch (about 30 USD), 6000 yen per dinner (about 60 USD).
- Takoyaki museum: besides the red crab, visitors can also see another impressive giant figure of an Octopus swinging tentacles at the entrance of Dotonbori Konamon museum, where you can eat Osaka's crunchy outside – melting inside octopus balls and get to know the story behind this delicious food by exploring the 2 story museum.
3.2 TOGOSHI GINZA (TOKYO)
With nearly 400 stores and restaurants along a 1.3 km long street, Togoshi has long become one of the most popular destinations in Tokyo for shoppers and gourmets. Besides the finest restaurants with expensive dishes, you can still get much take-and-go food without hurting your wallet.
- Yakitori – grilled meat sticks: You can dine-in or take away various kinds of sticks (pork, beef, or chicken) coated by spicy and piquant sauces to eat outside the street. Some fresh drinks or beer will be good to pair with.
- Oden korokke: This specialty of Ginza is the combination of Japanese Fish balls stew (Oden) and Korokke (Croquette) originated from France. Instead of meat as in the original version, they mix the fish balls’ ingredients with potato paste and give birth to this new version of crunchy deep-fried balls.
3.3 YOKOHAMA CHINATOWN (YOKOHAMA)
Need a change of air? Why don’t you visit the biggest Chinatown in Yokohama – also the best place to have Chinese dishes? The top-rated food is Peking duck, steamed dumplings, Nikuman (big meat dumplings), …, or panda dumplings which are the favorite of kids and women.
4. Fish markets - where to eat the most delicious fish dishes
Surrounded by the sea, Japanese people can get fresh seafood as precious gifts from nature and make fishing one of their most important businesses. The fish markets are not simply where to sell and buy fish but also where you can find the best seafood restaurants. In Tsukiji Fish Market (Tokyo) – one of the biggest fish markets in Japan, the long queue in front of Sushi Dai and Daiwa from 5 am explains how high-quality the dishes of these restaurants are. You can also experience the rare fish auction (often giant tuna), although the number of entries are limited and you have to arrive at the market around 3 am or even earlier.
One of the most interesting parts is that you can choose your favorite fish and order the shop to cook and serve you at the place. Nothing can be more satisfying than observing the process of cutting fish into thin slices and arranging the sashimi steadily on a plate.
List of the biggest fish markets in Japan that you can refer to:
- Tsukiji Fish Market (Tokyo)
- Seafood Market Maizuru Port ToreTore center (Kyoto)
- Izumisano Fisheries Cooperative Open-Air Fish Market (Osaka)
- Omicho Market (Kanazawa)
- Toba Seafood Market (Mie)
- Tottori Karo port Seafood market (Tottori)
- Nijo Fish Market (Sapporo)
5. Drop by a random noodle shop. Why not?
Japanese love eating noodles. Some people even eat more than 3 times a week. Let's check with us the most popular noodle shops in Japan.
- Ramen shop: known as Ramen-ya or Ramen-ten. With more than 10.000 in Japan, Ramen can be considered as Japanese’s fit-all-occasion food. Because of its popularity, Ramen can be considered as one choice if someone wants to start running their business. Most ramen shops are small with limited seats. Under the Tokyo Station, Ramen Street consists of 8 Ramen shops that offer special menus such as crab ramen, prawn ramen. Customers buy tickets at the vending machine in front of these shops and dine-in after their orders are transferred to the staff.
- Udon shop: in comparison with ramen, udon, which is made of flour and water, is easier to digest therefore better for health (in a condition that you do not add too many toppings). Many shops nowadays are self-service. You enter the shop, pick a tray, tell the staff to give you the bowl of plain noodles in the desired size, go to the topping case and add some, take a drink and then get the bill at the cashier. Udon is also OK to eat without topping
- Taguchi Soba: You can find this type of Soba shop mostly under the station At Taguchi Soba, eaters buy tickets from the machine and eat their bowl in just 3-5 mins at the standing bar without a seat. . Considered Japanese “fast food”, it suits busy people who rush to work and attracts a lot of attention from foreign tourists.
What I mentioned above is just a part of Japanese cuisine, one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. The Japanese today integrate openly with the rest of humanity. On the one hand, they preserve the sophistication of local dishes. On the other hand, they are very creative in transforming imported and foreign dishes, thereby leading with new culinary trends in the world.