What Are the Most Popular Foods in Japan?

Ready your chopsticks.

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Photo by: sittig fahr-becker / EyeEm

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There’s no question, Japan is a food lover’s paradise. Some of the best foods in the world can be found here from prime cuts of A-5 Wagyu to the perfect piece of fatty tuna.

Recently, several super-trendy Japanese foods have hit it big in the U.S., including jiggly Japanese cheesecake, kakigōri, okonomiyaki and ultra-fluffy pancakes.

But the most-popular dishes are time-honored and practically ubiquitious. There are more than any list could reasonably cite, but here are just a few of the most-popular ones to try in the Land of the Rising Sun, whether at a restaurant in Tokyo, or beyond.

Ramen

Though ramen in America has only recently become known as more than instant-reheat dehydrated fare, the Japanese have long treated ramen as slurpable art. In fact, Tokyo has numerous Michelin-starred slurp shops to fulfill all your soup cravings. Sample tonkotsu shio, shoyu and other styles – many of Japan’s regions have their own distinct style of ramen, so you can try a different kind each place you visit.

Kit Kat Bars

Break off a piece of this: The beloved candy bar has become one of Japan’s most-beloved snacks, and the market there goes way beyond the basics. In addition to classic chocolate, Japan has flavors like Shinshu Apple, Purple Sweet Potato, Momiji Manju and Wasabi. In Tokyo, there are several Kit Kat Chocolatory stores to find a huge variety of unique flavors to take home.

Sushi

Forget notions of California rolls: Japan has the highest-quality sashimi and sushi in the world. Though Japan benefits from ultra-fresh fish sourced at competitive fish markets and auctions, good sushi is rarely just about the fish. Because sushi is so seemingly simple, the integrity of each component is critically important. Sushi masters season and warm rice, use fresh wasabi, prepare their own soy sauce and, of course, procure the best fish. But in Japan, sashimi is excellent many places, including at high-end omakase restaurants and even 7-Eleven.

Pocky

Created in Japan in the 1960s, this chocolate-covered biscuit stick is a hugely popular snack throughout Asia. Today, you can find Pocky in a number of different flavors, including coconut, grape and limited-edition flavors like Tokyo Amazake, a traditional sweet sake. Use strawberry in this cake.

Onigiri

Found in 7-Elevens, Family Marts and Lawsons around Japan, this triangular rice ball wrapped in nori is traditionally stuffed with pickled and salted items like plum blossoms and salmon, but creative chefs have adapted it to hold many types with fillings, like fried pork or mayonnaise-slathered shrimp.

Yakitori

Yakitori are charcoal-grilled meat skewers. Some versions are as simple as they sound, but they’re still among the tastiest things to eat in Japan. Popular combinations include chicken with leek; salted pork; meatballs; chicken hearts; and kidneys.

Tempura

Fried foods are a global comfort dish, but tempura is practically an art form in Japan. Lightly coated and expertly fried pieces of Hokkaido corn and fresh shrimp are a must-try. It can be found in high-end restaurants, family-run izakayas and convenient stores. Tempura is best eaten fresh with salt sprinkled on top and a side of tentsuyu, a dashi-mirin dipping sauce.

Curry

Curry is often associated with Indian food, but in Japan, it’s an extremely popular dish consisting of vegetables, curry powder and pork or beef. Unlike Indian curry, Japanese curry is not spicy, and has a thicker texture. It is often served with rice and sometimes tonkatsu (fried pork) on top.

Gyoza

Pot stickers, dumplings — call them what you will, gyoza are typically filled with pork, garlic, chives, onions, cabbage and ginger. They can be steamed or pan-fried and are served with a dipping sauce of soy and vinegar, adding to the addictive umami taste. There’s even a town outside of Tokyo devoted to it.

Tonkatsu

Fried, breaded pork cutlets, called tonkatsu, are a favorite Japanese pub food, typically served with salad and rice, and ideal with beer.

Karaage

Japanese fried chicken is one of the must-try dishes while eating at an izakaya, a Japanese pub. Served with a slice of lemon, these lightly battered and perfectly fried bites pair with beer or sake.

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