Whether you’ve been to Japan for dozens of trips or you’re a first-timer, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard amazing things about food in Japan. From traditional Japanese food dishes like raw sashimi to steaming hot pots and sizzling Japanese barbeque, Japan is known for its high quality and diverse cuisine that focuses on inherent flavors and textures of particular ingredients.
In fact, food is so important in Japan that “washoku” (traditional Japanese cuisine) has been registered by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage since the end of 2013! But for new foodies, where to start? Don’t get overwhelmed! We’re here to help with the best Japanese food to try.
Instead of wondering about what to eat in Japan, this is your perfect guide to Japanese food from regional specialties to traditional favorites! Dive in to discover your newest favorite Japanese food below.
40 Must Try Foods in Japan
Conveniently listed in alphabetical order, here are the top 40 foods in Japan you need to try on your next trip to Japan!
- Japanese Curry
- Kaiseki Ryori
- Miso Soup
- Shabu Shabu
- Shojin Ryori
To kickstart your tastebuds with Japanese cuisine, the humble bento box is a great place to begin if you enjoy trying different delicious morsels of food. Bento boxes are lunch boxes in Japan that are generally divided up into different compartments, each with different bits and pieces to eat. Perfect for on-the-go scenarios, generally a bento will include some protein and rice, plus a range of side dishes like pickles and salads. You can easily purchase them at convenience stores, larger train stations, or department store food courts.
Try making your own bento in one of byFood's Bento Cooking Classes!
Donburi is the overarching word in Japanese for “rice bowl.” You can order a range of donburi rice bowls with different toppings, depending on your preference. “Katsu donburi” or simply “katsudon” is one of my favorite donburi bowls in Japan, featuring rice covered with a slab of panko-crumbed and deep-fried pork cutlet surrounded by a soft, soy sauce-flavored omelet with sauteed onions. Oyakodon is a popular variant simmered with chicken and eggs, meaning "mother and child". It’s a delicious and easy lunch when you’re out for a day being a tourist.
Fugu is the Japanese word for pufferfish! If you’re game enough to step up to the plate, Japan is one of the best places in the world to enjoy this deadly but delicious fish. Many specialty restaurants in Japan have qualified chefs who can prepare the fugu in various ways such as deep-fried or freshly sliced and served as sashimi.
Originally introduced to Japan from China, gyoza is the word for dumplings in Japanese. Typically filled with a mix of meat or veggies and the right seasonings, these bite-sized dumplings are crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Cooked to perfection on a sizzling hot plate, gyoza goes perfectly with a cold glass of Japanese beer or a steaming bowl of ramen.
Learn how to make gyoza yourself in a Gyoza Cooking Class!
Translating to mean “beef bowl,” gyudon is a rice bowl topped with juicy strips of thinly sliced beef and onions simmered in a sweet soy sauce flavor. With scallions, pink pickled ginger and an oozy onsen-style soft-boiled egg on top, it’s a hearty, homey and affordable meal in Japan you can find sold at many Japanese fast food chain stores. Just order from a vending machine and sit down alongside salarymen having a quick bite to eat after a long day at the office.
Join this Japanese Beef Bowl Experience to create your perfect gyudon.
6. Japanese Curry
The concept of curry was introduced to Japan in the Meiji era. Since then, Japanese curry has evolved into its own special dish with a local twist. With a gently spiced flavor and gravy-like texture, Japanese curry consists of a fluffy bed of rice doused in a generous serving of deep brown Japanese curry roux. Sometimes served with potatoes, carrots, and meat in the curry, it pairs well with a side of pickled ginger to cut through the rich curry flavor.
You can buy instant Japanese curry roux and easily make it yourself at home, too.
7. Kaiseki Ryori
Kaiseki Ryori or kaiseki cuisine is an opulent banquet-style meal in Japan. If you’ve got some cash to splash, it’s a wonderful experience featuring a series of individual Japanese dishes served up throughout the meal. Served with beauty and an essence of tranquility, each dish focuses on a different cooking technique such as frying, simmering, raw and more. Often set in a tatami room or a luxury restaurant venue, menus are carefully designed by the chef and the ingredients of a kaiseki meal are usually influenced by seasonal and local ingredients.
With “kaisen” meaning “seafood” and “don” referring to “bowl”, a kaisendon is a rice bowl in Japan that’s topped with fresh, raw seafood. Best enjoyed at bustling seafood markets, these rice bowls can have a mix of seafood sashimi slices placed delicately on top of the bowl, or you can order ones that focus more on one ingredient such as salmon or fatty tuna.
Karaage is Japan’s fried chicken! With a moreish seasoned batter to encase the succulent chicken, it crisps up perfectly in a deep fryer while keeping the chicken inside moist and juicy. A delicious snack at any time of day or night to munch on (best with a frothy Japanese beer), karaage is an accessible and tantalizing food for everyone!
Matcha is Japanese green tea, typically founded in tea houses and whisked up to be served during a Japanese tea ceremony. While being a cultural drink, you’ll also find many matcha-flavored sweets throughout Japan such as mochi, ice creams, cookies, and more! No longer bitter when balanced with sugar, it can be divisive or delicious, depending on the tendency of your tastebuds.
The best way to enjoy match is by attending a Japanese Tea Ceremony.
11. Miso Soup
Made using fermented soybeans, warm miso soup is a common accompaniment to most meals in Japan. Somewhere between a clear and cloudy broth, miso soup will sometimes also have pieces of tofu, scallions or other additions floating around in it. Some ramen dishes will feature a miso-heavy soup broth as well, and red miso is particularly famous in the city of Nagoya with their rich slathering of miso on all sorts of dishes.
With both sweet and savory types you can try, mochi is the blanket word for “Japanese pounded rice cakes.” There are many types of such sweets including plump, sweet red bean-filled daifuku mochi pieces, triangular yatsuhashi style mochi from Kyoto, or kinako mochi sprinkled with pale brown powdered soybean dust.
Unsweetened mochi can be eaten with soy sauce and nori seaweed, or softened in miso soup. It’s a versatile but essential Japanese food you should try if you like its stretchy and chewy texture.
Make your own squishy treats in a Mochi Making Class.
Monjayaki is the more liquidy cousin to okonomiyaki, the traditional savory cabbage pancakes that hail from the Osaka-Kansai region. With a similar but runnier batter, monjayaki is a mix of cabbage, meat and other finely cut ingredients sizzled on a teppanyaki hotplate. These savory pancakes have a different, finer texture to regular okonomiyaki slabs.
“Nabe” is a simmering Japanese hotpot. It’s a fun group activity where a communal hotpot stands in the middle of the table, bubbling with a rich broth brimming with your favorite ingredients. The broth becomes richer over time as more ingredients get added, and you can continue to top up the simmering ingredients as you go. Soy sauce, miso and other milky style broth flavors make nabe different every time.
Not for the faint of heart, natto is a healthy and nutritious Japanese food that can be divisive for its sticky, stretchy texture. Almost nutty in essence, natto is actually made from soybeans fermented with a special bacteria which gives its signature stringy characteristic. Natto is commonly eaten for breakfast in Japan with rice and sometimes a raw egg. Its taste and smell is certainly acquired, but certainly something unique and full of protein to start your day in Japan.
Simmered in a light soy sauce broth, oden is a seasonal Japanese dish that consists of a range of fish cakes and meatballs. Eaten as a light, umami-rich broth with your favorite type of fish cakes, it’s warming yet bright. You will often find oden available at festivals or convenience stores in a sort of Japanese bain marie, with all the different items warming in their soup. You can choose what you like, pour yourself some soup, and pay per piece.
One of the most important dishes from Osaka, okonomiyaki are Japanese savory pancakes. Incredibly moreish and fun to sizzle on a hotplate at a cook-it-yourself restaurant, okonomiyaki is generally made from a batter of eggs, cabbage, bamboo shoots, tempura pieces, scallions, pickled ginger, and your choice of protein.
Mixed with flour and grilled in large circles, you can cut them like pizza slices once they’re flipped and cooked through. Best topped with mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, more scallions and katsuobushi bonito flakes, okonomiyaki are a must-eat in Japan.
Okonomiyaki is an easy recipe perfect for beginners to Japanese cooking. Learn how to make one yourself in an Okinomiyaki Cooking Class.
Omurice is a warming meal that appeals to all ages. Meaning “omelet rice,” omurice is a bed of tomato-sauce-based fried rice wrapped in a soft, eggy omelet. Add more tomato sauce or a drizzle of demi-glace over the top and voila! It’s ready to be enjoyed by the whole family, and normally eaten with a spoon.
A perfect snack for travelers on-the-go, onigiri are rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed. Easily bought individually apiece from a specialty onigiri shopfront or at a 7-Eleven convenience store, you can unwrap one neatly parcelled piece and enjoy the rice filled with all kinds of fillings like salmon, konbu seaweed, tuna mayo, teriyaki chicken and more.
Originally hailing from China, ramen is now a signature and favored dish in Japan for its versatility and ample ingredients, ramen is ideal to feed a hungry salaryman or weary traveler. The broader term for noodle soup, "ramen" usually consists of a broth, noodles and carefully designed toppings. The main topping ingredients can change as well as the broth to complement each other, often depending on the restaurant’s specialty.
Typical flavors include soy sauce, miso, or tonkotsu (pork bone broth), and a sliver of rich chashu barbeque pork never goes astray. Whether its in a tiny 5 seater restaurant or a cup noodle, ramen is a must-eat in Japan anywhere you go!
The best way to try a variety of ramen is on a Ramen Tour!
Japan is known for serving up some of the best raw fish in the world, so you have to try sashimi if you’re a keen seafood eater! Sashimi is the word for raw fish, covering many types from salmon and tuna to mackerel and kingfish. Freshly sliced, sashimi in Japan is always prepared to a high standard and just melts in the mouth. Perfect when enjoyed as juicy slices on their own or enhanced with a lick of soy sauce or a dab of wasabi.
22. Shabu Shabu
Named after the onomatopoeic phrase in Japanese for the swooshing sound of liquids splashing, “shabu shabu” is a special type of Japanese hotpot. It’s a fun group activity, where a hotpot stands in the middle of the table over a burner filled with a delicious broth. Using chopsticks to dip their ingredients, diners add different thinly sliced meats and vegetables to the broth and cook as they go. The soup gets richer as more ingredients are added, and best of all, you can pick and choose to eat what you like!
23. Shojin Ryori
Fully vegan, “shojin ryori” is Buddhist cuisine eaten by Buddhist monks in Japan. Best enjoyed as part of a humbling temple experience, Shojin Ryori is often served as a set banquet with many small dishes to try. Including different pickles, vegetables and other plant-based ingredients, shojin ryori is textural, spiritual and seasonal.
Soba is a type of Japanese noodles made from buckwheat. With a dense texture and a gray-ish color, soba noodles are delicious either when they're served up in a rich, warm broth at winter time or cold and dipped in soy sauce in summer. They’re especially satisfying when made freshly and quickly cooked. Note that soba are also full of antioxidants and health benefits.
Try making these healthy noodles from scratch in a Soba Cooking Class.
Boiled in a signature broth that's rich and sweetened, sukiyaki is a special type of hotpot with thin strips of meat and vegetables. Even better when made with high-quality wagyu beef, the strips are simmered in the broth till lightly cooked, then dipped in beaten raw egg before being eaten! The coating of tamago (egg) gives a rich texture.
Available in many delicious formats, sushi is one of Japan’s signature foods! From rolled maki sushi to hand-pressed nigiri sushi, these are just some types of sushi you'll find made from freshly sliced fish and seafood, served beautifully in bite-sized pieces with rice. Whether they're skilfully sliced before your eyes by a personal chef during a sushi omakase dining experience, or picked up plate by plate at a 100 yen sushi train, you have to try sushi in Japan, especially if you love fish and seafood.
For those who don’t eat seafood, there are lots of vegetarian or non-seafood meat sushi options like egg, cucumber, avocado, or beef options.
Famous street food from the Osaka and Kansai region, takoyaki is a must-eat in Japan for anyone with an adventurous palette! They’re individual balls made from a rich batter that's sizzled over special rounded griddles. Each is filled with tempura pieces, scallions, pickled ginger and pieces of tako, which is the Japanese word for octopus! Oily, morish, and molten on the inside, takoyaki balls are best enjoyed with a generous squirt of mayonnaise and a rich brown sauce made from soy sauce and worcestershire. Not to forget the wiggling katsuobushi dried bonito flakes sprinkled over the top, dancing in the heat!
A “teishoku” is a classic set meal in Japan, usually including a main protein and several side dishes served together on one tray. It’s based on the traditional meal of “ichiju-sansai” meaning “one soup, three sides,” which includes rice, miso soup, and three sides (such as various pickles). Nowaways, teishoku is a convenient meal set served at restaurants and cafeterias around Japan.
A treat for the whole family, tempura is Japan’s answer to all things deep-fried. Tempura batter in Japan is famous for being somehow so light yet perfectly crispy, and can encase all of your favorite ingredients from meat to seafood to veggies. Iconic tempura pieces include pumpkin and prawns, best enjoyed both at upscale restaurants and casual lunch joints as part of set menus or single tempura rice bowls.
Try a variety of tempura in a premium dining experience.
You’ll find tofu everywhere in Japan. Characteristically textural and made from fermented soybeans, tofu is made into all shapes and forms. Firm or silken tofu are common in many dishes, and used in both savory and sweet dishes from tofu doughnuts to little pieces swirling in your miso soup. Other tofu focused dishes include fried tofu made into pockets to form inari sushi, or deep-fried pieces simmered in a soy sauce broth with scallions, which is called agedashidofu.
Breaded with light panko crumbs and fried till golden perfection, tonkatsu is the word for deep-fried pork cutlet. You can enjoy slices of freshly fried tonkatsu dipped in rich tonkatsu sauce accompanied by a pile of finely slice cabbage and pink pickled ginger, or have it simmered with sumptuous chicken pieces in a delicious eggy broth over rice in an “katsudodon” rice bowl.
Tsukemen are plain noodles that you dip into a separate dipping sauce, and all sorts of Japanese noodles can be used in this dish. Often enjoyed cold, tsukemen makes for a filling meal in summer. Dipped in a special side broth with scallions and ginger or wasabi, it can be fresh or spicy, depending on the soup.
Tsukemono is the Japanese word for condiments, referring to pickles and other additions to a meal that are served on the side. Common tsukemono you might receive with a Japanese meal includes pickled cabbage, kimchi, or daikon radish. Sometimes with bright colors and crunchy textures, tsukemono always make for a nice accompaniment to any meal by adding a freshness and cleansing element.
Typically thick and slippery, udon noodles are iconic in Japan. They’re versatile too, enjoyed in a light soy sauce broth with fried tofu slices in kitsune udon, or replacing rice in Japanese curry to create Curry Udon. Udon noodles are popular and accessible, served in many fast food chains or sometimes as a filling side dish to a main meal. Different regions throughout Japan specialize in different thicknesses of udon, as well.
Udon is a fun noodle to make (often involving stepping on the bag of dough to knead it) and Udon Cooking Classes are great for families.
As you may know from the hit TV show Friends, unagi is the Japanese word for “eel,” and if you’re game enough to try it, unagi is truly delicious! Either in perfectly cooked slivers over a piece of nigiri sushi or simmered in a sweet soy sauce served over rice, unagi has a rich flavor that’s done well in Japan.
Japan has a lot of traditions, and sweets are one certainly of them. Wagashi are traditional Japanese-style sweets that are usually made using plant-based ingredients, meaning they’re ideal for vegans and vegetarians. In beautiful colors plus seasonal shapes and flavors, there are many types to try such as soft mochi pieces and dry candied higashi, as well as as other regional specialties.
An edible work of art, Wagashi Making Classes are a creative way to enjoy these traditional Japanese sweets.
Want to know what to eat in Japan if you don’t like fish? Available in different grades of incredible quality, wagyu is top-shelf Japanese beef. Including Matsusaka and Kobe beef, there are a few prefectures in Japan that are known for their high-quality wagyu or regional Japanese beef that you should try if you’re a serious meat eater. If you love juicy meat, it's definitely worth the price tag when perfectly seared on a teppanyaki grill.
Enjoy mouthwatering Japanese beef in a Wagyu Premium Dining experience.
Meaning “grilled meat,” yakiniku is a kind of blanket term for Japanese barbeque. Either sizzled on a teppanyaki hotplate or on a grill over hot coals, this is a great activity meal, especially for groups. You can cook and chat while you grill away, alternating meat and vegetables to have a lot of variety throughout the meal, eating as you go.
Grilled on a teppanyaki hotplate, yakisoba means “grilled noodles.” They’re usually mixed with a generous splash of brown yakisoba sauce and thinly sliced meat like pork or chicken plus veggies such as carrot, bean sprouts and cabbage. This flavoring is rich and savory, where its sweet soy sauce and worcestershire sauce deeply caramelizes on the grill. Great at festival street food stalls or teppanyaki restaurants.
Can you guess the food from the name? Literally translating to “grilled chicken,” yakitori are Japan’s famous grilled chicken skewers. Best enjoyed at an izakaya bar or as a snack while wandering through a festival, you can enjoy a range of different meats perfectly cooked over a charcoal grill. Classic flavor options include shio (salt) or tare (sauce).
Enjoy a large variety of yakitori on a Yakitori Food Tour for the full izakaya experience!
Not just what to eat in Japan in general, what about local specialties? The 47 different prefectures and regions of Japan pride themselves on making high-quality local ingredients, products and dishes due to the diverse and bountiful landscape of each areas throughout the country. From regional noodles, sweets, rice, sake and more, each city and prefecture has some famous local cuisine you should try. For a snapshot of local cuisine, here are a few dishes you should look for.
Ever bustling and brightly lit with neon, Tokyo is Japan’s mega-metropolis with every type of food imaginable available almost on-tap. For what to eat in Japan’s capital city, you can try some street food at the outdoor market in Ueno’s Ameya Yokocho, taste a range of colorful sweets in the modern Harajuku district, or sample some of the best fish you’ll ever eat at Toyosu Market.
If you’ve got some cash to splash, go all-in on an omakase dining experience or book in for night at a Michelin-starred restaurant. You could also try and bring home some of the famous Tokyo Banana as a souvenir omiyage sweet for your friends or family.
The cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto is full of tradition and regional flavors throughout its local cuisine, among which locally made soba and mackerel sushi are highly prized. The phrase Kyo-Ryori refers to the 5 styles of traditional cuisine, including kaiseki ryori (banquet style cuisine), shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine) and Obanzai (Kyoto-style home cooking).
At a local tea house or nearby one of the many temples and shrines, taste local matcha sweets and Yatsuhashi cinnamon-flavored mochi. You should try yuba (tofu skin) and tsukemono (pickled vegetables) are famous products in Kyoto.
Check out our blog on What to Eat in Kyoto for more information.
The lively “kitchen of Japan,” Osaka is a bustling foodie hub where all-you-can-eat restaurants and late night bars burst with delicious local cuisine day and night. Other than the famous Kansai region cuisine of okonomiyaki and takoyaki, Osaka is also famous for its kushikatsu. These are different morsels of meat and veggies skewered, crumbed and deep-fried. Order individual skewers by the piece and enjoy with a glass of sake, or instead grill up some tastier than it sounds offal pieces in some Horumon barbeque.
Don't miss any of the best eats in Osaka, use our What to Eat in Osaka blog as your guide!
The northernmost island of Hokkaido is famous for its high-quality produce of meat, fish, dairy and fruit. Some famous dishes include Jinguisukan mutton barbeque, richly flavored Soup Curry, and miso butter Hokkaido Ramen as local specialites. There are also a number of famous sweet shops in Hokkaido as well that make delicate sweets from local, seasonal ingredients and high-quality milk products. For something different, the cuisine of the Indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido is a warming soup for the cold winters up north.
Don't miss any of the best foods in Hokkaido; read our Top 10 Food's to Try in Hokkaido for more information.
With a mix of yatai street food stalls and Michelin-starred restaurants, there are a lot of delicious local food options in Fukuoka. As a large port city to the southwest of Japan, the region is famous for its zingy mentaiko (cod roe) and juicy saba (mackerel). Local dishes you should try include the famously creamy tonkotsu based Hakata Ramen, Mizutaki hotpot with its milky broth, or an over-filled pork offal Motsunabe hotpot.
Explore beyond the yatai with the What to Eat in Fukuoka blog post.
The southernmost island of Japan, Okinawa is a tropical paradise with its own climate and plenty of local specialties. To name a few, taste the locals' take on ramen, Okinawa soba, best topped with juicy chunks of rafute, which are deliciously braised pork belly cubes. For something a bit fresher, try goya champuru, which is a bitter melon stir-fried with other veggies, or the fusion dish of taco Rice, a dish influenced by the US.
Be sure to check our What to Eat in Okinawa post before island hopping!
Local food in the industrial hub of Nagoya is called “Nagoya-meshi” and it always packs a punch. Citizens of Nagoya are mad about miso, and put it in everything from their local Miso Nikomi Udon dishes to their deep-fried katsu pieces. Also with influence from other cultures as a historical trade center, you should try the spicy Taiwan Ramen and Chinese-influenced Ankake Spaghetti, or the local specialty of Kishimen flat udon noodles.
Passing through Nagoya? Then don't miss any of the local speciality- check our What to Eat in Nagoya guide for more info.
The capital city of Miyagi, Sendai is famous for its spectacular Tanabata festival. In the culinary sense, Sendai is best known for its local seafood, roasted beef tongue and green mashed edamame soybeans. You should also try the local kamaboko fish cakes and the oysters from Matsushima Bay.
Make sure to try all the food on the What to Eat in Miyagi blog!
Now a thriving region, Hiroshima is the home to high-quality local oysters, lemons and water eels. If you’re visiting the area, taste the local style okonomiyaki which is better known as Hiroshima-yaki, or grab a bowl of spicy tsukemen. Make sure to eat Onomichi Ramen if you’re visiting the local seaside town of its namesake, or snack on traditional Momiji Manju sweets in the shape of autumn leaves on Miyajima Island.
Try all the local specialties listed on the What to Eat in Hiroshima post.
Located in the southern prefecture of Kyushu, Miyazaki is famous for it’s local Miyazaki beef. It’s also known for growing juicy “hyuganatsu” citrus fruits and deliciously fleshy mangos in its tropical climate. You should try the local favorite dish of fried chicken and mustardy mayonnaise “Chicken Nanban” or the local “Kamaage udon” noodles, which are characteristically thick.
Read our What to Eat in Miyazaki post for more details.
The wintery prefecture famous for skiing is also known for its comfort food cuisine! Ramen made with warming miso, steamed oyaki buns, and raw horse meat sashimi are local favorites. Nagano also has a decent amount of craft beer, and thanks to its large population of tourist-frequenting ski resorts, a good selection of western cuisine as well.
Make sure to grab a hot oyaki bun and the other local treats listed in our What to Eat in Nagano post.
Lucy's Favorite Japanese Food
I’d have to say my favorite type of Japanese food is Japanese street food, or delicious morsels designed to share. Whether it be some local shop fronts selling sweets in an unassuming backstreet or shotengai (shopping street), a bustling local produce or seafood market with lots of fishy taste testers and condiments, or heaving street food stalls doing a roaring trade at a festival, I love it all!
My favorite Japanese street food is takoyaki. They’re fun to watch getting made, and they are always worth the wait. Crunchy on the outside but oozing with molten batter on the inside, these octopus balls are one of the most unique foods in the country. I’d recommend them as a top dish to try for adventurous eaters wondering what to eat in Japan on their next trip! You should also give sake a try, especially as different regions sell local brews which can be really special.
Make food one of the key parts of your next trip to Japan and try all of these traditional and region dishes with tips from our comprehensive list! From delicate pieces of sushi to all types of noodle dishes, sizzling grilled snacks, and desserts, there are so many delicious Japanese foods to try. Packed full of flavor, you’ll certainly find your favorite food in the land of the rising sun, from savory to sweet!