in

16 Common Japanese Foods To Eat

Learn about Japanese cuisine with these traditional dishes.

Japanese food is unique and features a lot of seafood. As an island, the country focuses on creating dishes that utilize the fresh seafood at its disposal as often as possible.

Mix of Japanese food on restaurant table

But seafood isn’t the only thing you’ll see in popular Japanese food. 

The flavors of Japanese cuisine resemble other Asian cuisines but are uniquely Japanese.

Popular Japanese Foods

Whether you’ve never tried traditional Japanese cuisine or are interested in trying some you haven’t had before, check out the most popular Japanese foods below.

Sushi 

You may not have heard of all the most popular Japanese foods, but there’s no way you haven’t heard of sushi.

While this dish was made famous in Japan and is the sushi capital of the world, people worldwide enjoy this meal. 

One of the best things about sushi is that there’s a large variety of sushi rolls you can enjoy.

Each piece of sushi uses sushi rice, which is rice and a rice vinegar mix, and then different seafood and other ingredients, like veggies, fish, and seaweed, rolled together. 

Favored sushi rolls use shrimp, crab, salmon, and tuna. In Japan, people love dipping the pieces into soy sauce, wasabi, or both.


Miso Soup 

If you’ve ever eaten at a Japanese restaurant, you’ve likely had or at least seen miso soup on the menu.

This delicious and light soup is the perfect appetizer or side dish served at most traditional Japanese meals. 

People make miso soup using miso paste and fish stock. Miso paste is essentially a fermented soybean paste that gives the soup its name and unique flavor.

This stock and paste broth are warm and light enough to enjoy before a larger meal. 

Miso soup usually has onions and pieces of tofu in it, but you can find some recipes or chefs that add additional veggies and seaweed. 


Ramen

Another famous Japanese dish that’s recently risen in popularity in the western world is ramen.

The dish is simple at its core, but it’s great because you can customize it to fit your preferences with different broths, proteins, veggies, and other toppings. 

Ramen is a large bowl of noodles in miso soup or a soy sauce mixture. Traditional ramen uses pork, green onions, eggs, and seaweed.

It’s super tasty and will keep you full for a long time with all the protein. 

Even though pork is common meat used in ramen, you can make it with beef, chicken, or a vegetarian option.

Some people add extra soy sauce, and people usually eat the dish with chopsticks. If you can’t handle chopsticks, a fork will do fine.


Onigiri

One of the most popular Japanese snacks out there is onigiri.

What is onigiri, you ask? Onigiri is a rice ball that people can prepare in various ways. You can fill them with vegetables, protein, or both. Some people wrap the balls in seaweed. 

You can find some onigiri, simple rice mixed with soy, or another sauce. Then, you have more complex onigiri that includes veggies, chicken, pork, seafood, and eggs.

If you’re in Japan, you’ll find shops that only sell dozens of kinds.

Even though they’re widely considered snacks in Japan, they’re a great quick meal if you don’t have time to sit down and eat a full meal but need something delicious in your stomach. 


Yakitori

Yakitori is essentially a Japanese meat skewer.

The term “tori” in the name literally translates to “bird,” so initially, people only made these skewers with chicken or another poultry option. 

Nowadays, yakitori isn’t just for chicken. Many people make them with different veggies or protein sources like beef or pork. Some even choose to use seafood like shrimp or pieces of tuna. 

This Japanese food is always grilled on a stick and served with a delicious teriyaki sauce. It’s commonly eaten in Japan as fast food or after a night out on the town.

Whether you want to make them for friends or are going to be walking around Japan, you need to try yakitori at least once.


Shabu Shabu

If you’ve heard of the hot pot before, then shabu shabu is Japan’s version of it. Shabu shabu is tasty and a fun experience if you can order it at a Japanese restaurant. 

Shabu shabu comes with meats and seafood, veggies, noodles, and tofu. For the meats, you can use almost anything but the softer the meat, the better it will cook and taste when you’re ready to eat. 

You’ll choose your piece of meat and then submerge it into the pot with a consomme or hot water to allow it to cook.

The best part about shabu shabu is that you can cook your meat however long you prefer. Once you’re done cooking it, you can dip it into soy or sesame sauce!


Yakiniku

Japanese barbeque is called yakiniku. It’s a style of cooking where you cut the meat and veggies into small pieces before grilling them over a wood flame.

Contemporary yakiniku has origins in Korea and is similar to Korean barbeque. 

Yakiniku is one of the most popular meals in Japan because the flavors are divine, and it’s not too difficult to make. If you love meat, then you’ll love this Japanese dish.

The idea behind yakiniku is to draw out the meat’s natural flavors. Therefore, the meats aren’t seasoned or marinated before grilling.

If chefs add seasonings, it’s usually a tiny amount of salt and maybe lemon juice. A dipping sauce is often used after the cooking process. 


Teppanyaki 

You probably think of hibachi when you think of a Japanese cooking style. While that’s a cooking style, teppanyaki is a much more popular Japanese style of cooking.

This style rose in popularity following WWII, and it’s where you’ll use an iron skillet to prepare the food.

Teppanyaki is essentially two styles. “Teppan” is the metal plate where you cook food, and “yaki” translates to broiled, pan-fried, or grilled.

Most people in Japan use this cooking style to prepare beef, steak, shrimp, and other meats. 

Like hibachi, you can have fried rice, noodles, and veggies with teppanyaki. All and all, teppanyaki makes for a delicious and filling meal.


Gyoza

Gyoza, also known as potstickers, is a widely popular Japanese food.

There are three options to choose from when ordering or making gyoza, depending on how you cook them. 

Yakigyoza is fried, age gyoza is deep-fried, and suigyoza is boiled. Each one is delicious and how you prefer to eat or cook them comes down to preference.

Chefs fill these potstickers with a variety of fillings that include meats and veggies. 

Some of the most standard fillings are pork, cabbage, chives, chicken, and beef. The wrappers are very thin and less doughy than Chinese dumplings.

You can enjoy them with soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil, sesame oil, or another Japanese sauce. 


Okonomiyaki 

If you ask people what okonomiyaki reminds them of, they’ll most likely tell you it’s something like a pancake.

Okonomiyaki gets this reference a lot because of how chefs press it into a skillet to cook. 

Unlike pancakes, this dish is traditionally a savory one, not sweet. Classic okonomiyaki is made with eggs, yams, and flour. The base is the same across almost all recipes, but you can customize it. 

Some of the most common add-ons to okonomiyaki include beef, squid, shrimp, green onions, cheese, and sometimes mochi.

In some Japanese restaurants, you might be able to order tableside okonomiyaki, where the chef prepares it right in front of you!


Sashimi

Many people use sushi and sashimi interchangeably, but they’re different enough to consider separate dishes in Japan and at traditional Japanese restaurants.

Sashimi is fresh and raw fish that you serve with wasabi and soy sauce. 

Unlike sushi, sashimi isn’t rolled with rice, veggies, or seaweed. You use chopsticks to pick up your piece of seafood before lightly dipping it into your sauce and eating it.

Back in the day, the sashimi was traditionally presented so that you could identify what kind of fish you were enjoying with your meal.

Now, you can eat it as a meal on its own or as an appetizer to a larger meal.


Udon

If you’ve ever eaten noodles at a Japanese restaurant, then you’ve most likely had udon.

Udon is a type of noodle that’s thick and made with wheat flour. You can add this food to almost any meal as a side dish or the base. 

Usually, people serve udon with dashi stock, mirin, and soy sauce. Some people choose to add toppings like green onions. 

Something unique about udon is that you can eat it whether hot or cold. Most people prefer it hot, but it’s common to eat it cold.

When you need something delicious but quick, it’s a great meal and is very popular amongst students and workforce professionals. 


Tonkatsu 

This fantastic Japanese food originated during the Meiji Era in the late 19th century.

The dish’s inspiration is from Europe, where they would bread and fry various meats. 

Tonkatsu is a delicious pork cutlet dish that you need to try. To make the dish, you’ll bread your pork chop and then deep-fry it in hot oil until it’s golden brown. 

Most people choose to use panko to bread their pork chops, but you can use other bread crumbs too.

The Japanese traditionally serve tonkatsu with rice and cabbage. You can choose a filet or loin for the pork when preparing the dish.


Soba 

Soba is another popular Japanese dish. Soba, or soba noodles, are noodles that are made with buckwheat flour.

The brownish color of the noodles comes from buckwheat flour, so don’t be alarmed. 

These noodles are cheap and delicious, making them a popular fast food option in Japan. Unlike thick udon noodles, soba noodles are skinny. You can also eat them hot or cold. 

Some people enjoy them with a mentsuyu sauce or as a side dish to another popular Japanese food. You can find shops in Japan that exclusively serve soba.

You don’t have to travel to Japan to enjoy soba, though. You can buy them in many grocery stores.  


Kare Raisu (curry rice)

Rice is super famous in Japan, but kare raisu, curry rice, is one you need to try.

The dish is simple, yet the flavor tastes like you’re eating something complex that took hours to make. 

Kare raisu is just white rice with curry seasoning. It’s a little different, though, from the Thai or Indian curry you may be thinking of.

Japanese curry uses onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, and protein sources. Most people use chicken or pork, but you can use beef and duck too. 

You can eat the rice on its own or create a Japanese curry dish. The best part is adjusting the heat from mild, medium, and hot to suit your preference.


Yakisoba

Yakisoba is a version of soba noodles that is considered a dish all on its own in Japan.

It’s almost impossible to go to Japan during the summer and not find stands serving yakisoba. 

This food is a fried noodle dish. Chefs stir-fry or barbeque the noodles with other ingredients like cabbage, carrots, other veggies, and pork together to create a fantastic dish. 

While yakisoba is a version of soba noodles, the main difference is that this dish uses a type of soba noodle that doesn’t have any buckwheat flour.


Popular Japanese Foods

  1. Sushi
  2. Miso Soup
  3. Ramen
  4. Onigiri
  5. Yakitori
  6. Shabu Shabu
  7. Yakiniku
  8. Teppanyaki 
  9. Gyoza
  10. Okonomiyaki 
  11. Sashimi
  12. Udon
  13. Tonkantsu 
  14. Soba 
  15. Kare Raisu (curry rice)
  16. Yakisoba

Final Thoughts

There you have it, sixteen of the most popular Japanese foods out there.

Some are more well-known than others, like sushi, but lesser-known foods that are popular there are worth trying next time you’re at a Japanese restaurant or in Japan. 

If you want to learn more about Japanese cuisine, check out one of Japan’s delicacies, yellowtail sushi.

This page may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we'll earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. You should also try basashi. Thin slices of raw horse meat served with dipping sauces. Surprisingly good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.