If you walk down the streets of London these days, you'll find it impossible not to see a Japanese restaurant chain on most streets of the City. After the sushi wave that came through the U.S. in the 1990's, Britons have quickly realised that Japanese cuisine offered a very healthy option for eating on the go.
However what you can fin in London is hardly representative of the whole array that Japanese gastronomy has to offer.
If you're looking to discover the Land of the Rising Sun, starting with its food would be a good idea. Indeed the UNESCO has made traditional Japanese cuisine, also known as Washoku, an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, no less.
With unique dishes for each city and region of the country, eat your way through Japan is more than an expression, it's a fact.
This our list of the Japanese dishes you should absolutely try.
Noodles: a cornerstone of the Japanese diet.
While in Japan, it will be very hard not to eat noodles at least once a week, if not once a day.
Made from wheat, buckwheat, rice, potatoes or even jelly, you will find that Japanese noodles are all over the place and often constitute a replacement to steam rice.
Japanese's favourite: Ramen (ラーメン)
Japanese people love ramen so much that this food staple became a cultural icon in Japan during the 1980's. The dish even has its own museum in Yokohama.
Like many other dishes of the Japanese cuisine, ramen was imported from China in the mid 19th century.
Called initially Shina soba, literally, Chinese soba (soba meaning buckwheat), the dish was fully appropriated by the Islanders in the middle of the 20th century, shortly after World War II.
At that time instant noodles were introduced on the market and later declared the best Japanese invention of the 20th century.
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So what is ramen?
Ramen consists of wheat noodles served in a meat or fish-based broth and flavoured with miso (fermented rice and tofu paste) or soy sauce. Common topping includes slices of pork meat, dried seaweed, green onions or even hard-boiled eggs.
But the dish will vary depending on where you order it. It is impossible to say how many different types of ramen are out there as combinations are almost infinite.
But a few of them are more popular in Japan.
Sapporo, the principal city of the northern island of Hokkaido, is strongly associated with its miso ramen, a very hearty and warming dish, ideal for the harsh winters the region faces.
Tokyo, the national capital, has more than 160,000 restaurants. But if you're looking for the best ramen of the city, head to Ikebukuro, Ogikubo or Ebisu which are three areas well know for their ramen restaurants. In Tokyo, ramen will usually be thin and curly noodles served in a soy and chicken flavoured broth, typically topped up with spring onion, pork, dried seaweed, or spinach.
Yokohama is just next to Tokyo. The city that harbours the ramen Museum will have its own type of the said dish. Here it consists of thick noodles in a pork flavoured broth with toppings including chāshū (roasted pork), spring onions, hard or soft-boiled egg. Do not hesitate to ask how soft you want the noodles or how rich you prefer your broth as it is the custom in Yokohama.
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Soba means either buckwheat or buckwheat noodles in the Japanese language.
But yakisoba is made of wheat flour.
The dish consists of frying ramen style noodles with meat and vegetables, usually pork and cabbage, onions and carrots. It is commonly flavoured with a sauce very close to the oyster sauce.
Japanese people usually garnish it with aonori (seaweed powder), pickled ginger or fish flakes.
Typically eaten from a plate, you can also find yakisoba-filled-buns called yakisoba-pan. These are usually topped up with mayonnaise and shredded pickled ginger.
Yakisoba has long been a favourite of the U.S. troops based in Okinawa.
Thanks to the sushi wave that hit western countries about two decades ago, one of the biggest misconceptions that foreigners have about Japanese people is that they eat sushi every day.
That is not true.
While sushi has long been part of the Japanese cuisine and traditions, it remains today a special meal. Although you can find some Conveyor Belt Sushi places in Tokyo offering a-two-piece sushi plate for less than £1, some of the most expensive sushi restaurants of the capital set you back anywhere from £100 to £300 (per person).
But what exactly is sushi?
The dish as we know it today that first appeared during the Edo period, early 17th century. It consists of a rolled piece of vinegared rice (sushi-meshi) topped with a bit of raw fish (neta), though other seafood can also be used.
Sushis are usually served with a series of condiments such as soy sauce or wasabi (a paste made from Japanese horseradish which is said to have anti-microbial effects and reduce the risk of food poisoning).
Like many Japanese dishes, sushi has many variations.
The most famous and commonly found in western countries would be the makizushi (海苔巻き), merely know as maki in the U.K.
On top of the essential ingredients of sushi, rice and fish with the addition of vegetables such as cucumber or avocado. The whole thing is then rolled (maki in Japanese) with a dried seaweed sheet (nori). The cylindrical piece is then cut into equal bite-size portions that you can enjoy.
Futomaki, hosomaki, ehomaki and temaki are only a few other examples of maki variations.
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Also coming from China, gyozas are the Japanese version of the jiaozi Chinese dumplings.
The recipe of this tasty treat is thought to have been brought back from Mandchuria by Japanese soldiers after WWII.
Often using a thinner pastry than its Chinese version, gyozas are commonly filled with pork or beef meat or vegetables.
The cooking method of gyozas also depends on the region you'll order it. The most common way to cook them is by frying them obtain a crispy texture on the bottom side before adding water to the pan and covering it with a lid for the top of the dumpling to be thoroughly steamed.
You can also find them thoroughly steamed or even deep fried.
This dish first appeared in Japan during the 20th century, in Osaka. The first restaurant is known for serving the dish even trademarked the name.
This dish is made at the table by the diner. Each person picks the slices of meat, seafood or vegetable they want and cooks it by plunging them in boiling water. Once cooked, Japanese traditionally dip the food into sauces that like ponzu, sesame sauce or soy sauce. You will usually be served some spring onions or pickled carrots on the side to accompany your meal.
This dish is often shared amongst a group of friends and is the equivalent of Koren barbecue or French fondue.
These are especially popular with westerners. They are little-fried vegetables usually eaten with rice and vegetables.
How it's done?
This style of cooking was introduced to Japan by Portuguese and Spanish missionaries at the end of the 16th century. It usually consists of vegetables or seafood that is battered before being deep-fried in vegetable oil. The ingredients and the batter are typically kept at very low temperature while the oil is brought to nearly 180°C. The thermic shock produces delicious crunchy tempuras.
You can find many sorts of tempura and almost any every vegetable or seafood ingredient can be consumed this way.
Japanese lessons London can help you order authentic Japanese dishes - whether tempura or yakitori - when visiting the country.
Literally meaning grilled-bird, yakitori is among the favourite food of Japanese people.
Those traditional chicken skewers became part of everyday meals after WWII when a constant a cheap supply of chicken appeared. Long considered a delicacy, today they are enjoyed by everyone, especially the "salaryman" (white collar workers) who often have them along their beers after work.
Tare sauce, which is a sweet, thick soy sauce, is traditionally added after the meat has been grilled and gives it its rich flavours.
Unadon is the abbreviation of Unagi and Donburi literally meaning "eel bowl".
This dish is very straightforward but amazingly tasty. It consists of grilled eel covered with tare sauce the whole thing on top of steamed white rice.
Dating all the way back to the Edo period, the dish is thought to have been born around the first decade of the 19th century in Tokyo, but foodies and cuisine historians still dispute over the exact date and place of origin. Let that not trouble you, this dish is just delicious.
These are Japanese style savoury pancakes usually layered and containing many ingredients such as cabbage, pork, squid, octopus, cheese and of course the batter.
Okonomi, the first half of the name, translates into "how you like" and yaki means "grill". So do not be surprised if the waiter or the chef asks you what ingredients you would like in it when ordering one of those.
A speciality of Osaka, these octopus balls are usually seasoned with pickled ginger and green onions.
Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, takoyaki is a food delicacy that you should absolutely try.
Takoyaki is often eaten on the go, but you will find a lot of restaurants offering a full takoyaki menu for the ultimate takoyaki feast.
If you are in Osaka, do not forget to check the best takoyaki restaurants.
A lot more to taste
Because Japan has much more to offer than the dishes we just listed, we summed some of the best local delicacies you will find around the ten biggest cities of Japan.
|City||Region & Island||Dishes|
|Tokyo||Kanto, Honshu||Tokyo Ramen|
|Kobe||Kansai, Honshu||Kobe Beef|
|Saitama||Kanto, Honshu||Tofu Ramen|