15 Must-Try Japanese Dishes Everyone Gotta Try Once

Photo Credits: ishida & Unagi Akimoto
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Ready to embark on a culinary adventure through Japan?

From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene landscapes of Kyoto, Japanese cuisine offers an array of flavors and textures.

Dive into this guide to discover 15 must-try dishes that showcase the rich culinary heritage of Japan.

1. Sushi (Tokyo)

Photo Credits: sushi aoyagi

Tokyo is a sushi paradise, leveraging its access to the fresh catches of the former Tsukiji and now Toyosu fish markets. Whether it’s delicate nigiri or innovative rolls, Tokyo offers an unrivaled sushi experience, reflecting the city’s deep connection with this artful cuisine.

2. Ramen (Sapporo, Tokyo, Fukuoka)

Photo Credits: Menya Nanabe

Ramen, a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine, showcases its regional diversity with distinct styles from Sapporo, Tokyo, and Fukuoka. 

Sapporo is celebrated for its hearty miso ramen, which offers a warming blend of flavors ideal for the cold climate. 

Tokyo brings its culinary prowess with tsukemen, where noodles are enjoyed dipped into a rich broth, and the classic shoyu ramen, a soy sauce-based variety that’s a staple in the city. 

Meanwhile, the Hakata district of Fukuoka is renowned for its tonkotsu ramen, characterized by a rich broth made from pork bones, capturing the essence of this regional specialty.

3. Okonomiyaki (Osaka, Hiroshima)

Photo Credits: CHIBO

Okonomiyaki, a must-try Japanese dish, comes in two distinct styles from Osaka and Hiroshima. In Osaka, the ingredients for okonomiyaki are mixed together into a flavorful batter, creating a savory pancake that is a beloved staple of the city. 

Meanwhile, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki sets itself apart by layering the ingredients, which results in a unique texture and taste profile, offering a delightful variation from its Osaka counterpart.

4. Takoyaki (Osaka)

Photo Credits: Aiduya

Originating from Osaka, these delightful balls of batter filled with octopus are a must-try. Crispy on the outside and gooey inside, takoyaki are drizzled with mayonnaise and a special sauce for extra flavor.

5. Yakitori (Kyoto)

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Kyoto has perfected the art of yakitori, grilled chicken skewers, which are seasoned and cooked over charcoal. This simple yet delicious dish is a testament to the minimalist, yet flavorful approach of Kyoto’s cuisine.

6. Tonkatsu (Tokyo/Asakusa)

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Born in Tokyo or Asakusa, tonkatsu, a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet, is crunchy on the outside with a juicy, tender inside. Served with cabbage and savory sauce, it’s a satisfying meal.

7. Kobe Beef (Hyogo Prefecture)

Photo Credits: ishida

The world-renowned Kobe beef, known for its intense marbling and supreme tenderness, hails from Hyogo Prefecture. This luxurious meat is a culinary treasure, offering a melt-in-your-mouth experience.

8. Fugu (Pufferfish) (Shimonoseki)

Photo Credits: shunpanro

Shimonoseki is famed for fugu, a delicacy that requires chefs to be licensed due to its potential toxicity. This dish is both a daring choice and a unique Japanese culinary experience.

9. Ise Udon (Ise, Mie Prefecture)

Photo Credits: fukusuke

Ise is famous for its thick, chewy udon noodles. These noodles are typically enjoyed in a simple broth, emphasizing the quality and texture of the locally-grown wheat.

10. Nagoya Chicken Wings (Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture)

Photo Credits: furaibo

In Nagoya, chicken wings are transformed into a local specialty, coated in a sweet and savory glaze made from soy sauce, sake, and mirin. They’re a popular snack, loved for their crispy exterior and juicy interior.

11. Akita Kiritanpo (Akita Prefecture)

Photo Credits: Kiritanpo-ya

This unique dish from Akita features cylindrical rice cakes, grilled and then served in a savory broth with various toppings, embodying the rustic flavors of northern Japan.

12. Okinawa Soba (Okinawa Prefecture)

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Distinct from mainland soba, Okinawa soba consists of thick, flat wheat noodles served in a meaty broth with tender pork belly, combining local ingredients for a hearty dish.

13. Kaiseki (Kyoto)

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Kaiseki is a refined, multi-course meal that highlights seasonal and local ingredients, presented beautifully to reflect both taste and aesthetics, primarily found in the cultural city of Kyoto.

14. Sukiyaki

Photo Credits: Ningyocho Imahan

Sukiyaki involves thinly sliced beef and vegetables cooked in a sweet-savory broth right at the table. This dish is a social feast, often enjoyed in a communal setting.

15. Unagi

Photo Credits: Unagi Akimoto

Unagi, or grilled eel, is a summer favorite across Japan. Served over rice with a glaze of sweet soy-based sauce, it offers a rich, smoky flavor that’s deeply satisfying.

Exploring these dishes in their regions of origin not only gives you a taste of authentic Japanese cuisine but also a glimpse into the cultural significance of each area’s culinary practices.