Food in Japan: So much more than sushi

Before my trip to Japan, I was particularly excited about a special topic: FOOD! I already had a first impression of what to expect from the numerous books that I have read, but also from various films and animes. Because yes, Japanese food is so much more than sushi. I had already tried ramen in Düsseldorf and I had eaten Japanese several times in Vietnam, but I was full of anticipation of being able to try Japanese food in Japan.

Eating out in Japan: One restaurant follows the other

Shortly after arriving, we noticed that food is very important in Japan *jippy*. One restaurant follows another. Even the smallest space seems to be used gastronomically. To our great surprise, however, it seems as if vegetarian and vegan food has not yet caught on in Japan as it has in many European cities, for example. Although I am mostly vegetarian at home, preferably even vegan, when I travel I am relatively open to dishes from other cultures and countries. A country's cuisine can tell so much history while providing an insight into the culture. I want to get involved with the country and the people abroad, get to know them and try to understand them. And understanding, like love, often goes through the stomach.

Japanese Food Culture: More Than Just Gyoza

Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised how many meat dishes are offered in Japan. Gyoza is offered on every corner (Gyoza are small dumplings filled with minced pork). Somehow I always had the idea that Japanese cuisine consists mainly of fish, rice and vegetables. It's not that less fish than meat is offered, but meat also seems to play a very dominant role in Japanese gastronomy, which I personally, as a vegetarian, found a bit unfortunate, but I was also happy to learn a bit more about Japanese food culture and to learn history. This may be due to the fact that the consumption of meat was forbidden in large parts of Japan for several centuries due to Buddhist teachings. Nowadays, the ban has long since passed, but I had the impression that the high level of meat consumption in Japan today was a kind of after-effect.

The traditional Japanese cuisine

Traditional Japanese cuisine tries to emphasize the natural and original taste of the ingredients used instead of changing it, as is often the case in Western cuisine. As a rule, therefore, particular importance is attached to the quality of the ingredients. And you can taste it too! But back to the topic. I really tried my hand at every opportunity I got. One or the other shape and color of the food in Japan may seem strange to some, but optically almost everything really “appealed” to me. I'm relatively receptive to the language of Essen. As is well known, the eye also eats and that's why I personally think that the food in Japan is arranged in a particularly "kawaii" way.

It already starts with that Bento (Oh, how often did I wish for a bento like this when I was a child) and turns into veritable little works of art like rice balls with seaweed faces or Matcha ice cream with gold chips. There are really no limits to creativity. In the big cities of Japan, most restaurants present the dishes from the menu in pictures or in the popular, lovingly handcrafted plastic models. Oh yes, and while we're at it, that's exactly what I appreciate about the service in Japan: the attention to detail! Just like the room layouts, every dish, no matter how simple, seems to have been carefully thought through. Here are my personal favorite foods from Japan:

1. Takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls)

I already knew Takoyaki from various books and manga. There was hardly a food I would have liked to try more than takoyaki. are takoyaki hot octopus balls and one of the most popular street food snacks from Japan. The balls originally come from Osaka, more precisely from Kansai, and have been very popular throughout Japan for many years. They are often sold at train stations, schools, festivals and amusement parks.

Takoyaki Japanese Octo

Although they are considered a Japanese street food snack, the portions are quite large with at least 8 pieces and were at least a whole lunch for me because they also fill you up for a relatively long time. There are now also modified forms of Takoyaki without octopus. The Japanese associate takoyaki with conviviality, joy and warmth. This is mainly due to the fact that the balls are served very hot and warm from the inside in winter. A lot of Japanese people seem to be just as passionate about food as I am. One more reason why I immediately fell in love with the country.

"If you're true to yourself and live your life boldly, maybe one day you'll meet that person who just wants to have takoyaki with you."

Natsuki Takaya

2. Okonomiyaki: The Japanese pancake

I will definitely never forget our Okonomiyaki experience. It was the last night in Fujiyoshida when we decided to try an okonomiyaki restaurant. The "Airaguma Rasukaru", a human-sized raccoon figure in front of the restaurant, literally enchanted us, so we just went into the restaurant. We were obviously the only foreigners and didn't really know how an okonomiyaki restaurant worked.

Traditionally, okonomiyaki is prepared at the table on a teppan, i.e. a hot iron plate. Traditionally, shoes are removed before entering the restaurant. You sit down at the low table and choose okonomiyaki according to your personal taste. The basic ingredients are usually water, cabbage, flour, egg and dashi, but there are hardly any limits to creativity. The special thing about okonomiyaki is that you can fry the mixture yourself at the table. Of course, it's a lot of fun in a group of friends. Visiting an okonomiyaki restaurant is an exciting experience, especially for children.

3. Taiyaki: Sweet fish waffles with filling

Did someone just say waffles? Even if the term "fish waffle" may seem a bit strange at first, I can assure you that Taiyaki is just really delicious fish-shaped waffles and no fish had to suffer for it. Taiyaki can be found on almost every corner in Japan. Whether filled with anko (red bean paste) or with a pumpkin filling, the waffles taste especially good warm.

4. Soba: noodles made from buckwheat

A real culinary must-have is soba noodles. Buckwheat noodles are usually served in a hot broth or chilled in a zaru (bamboo basket). In Japan there are numerous restaurants that only offer soba dishes. Soba noodles have a firm place in everyday Japanese life. They are very popular because of their particularly characteristic taste and the many vitamins, such as vitamin B1 and B2. Soba noodles are gluten-free, healthy and very easy to prepare. It is said that buckwheat noodles can even clean vital organs from the inside. Whether in a hot soup in winter or with a refreshing sauce in summer: Soba noodles always work!

5. Tempura dishes

Fortunately, there is no way around tempura! I've tried tempura before in Germany and quickly found that the right preparation and use of fresh ingredients is crucial for the taste. Since in Japan, fresh and untreated ingredients are very popular and very important, I can only recommend everyone to try tempura in Japan. There are even restaurants that only offer tempura in all possible variations.

Basically, tempura is an airy batter made of eggs, flour and water.

Ready-made tempura mixes are also available. There are usually no limits to creativity when it comes to tempura. Whether it's fish, seafood, algae leaves or vegetables wrapped in batter, you'll quickly find your personal favorite, depending on your taste. I especially like the vegetarian version, but feel free to try it out 🙂

6. Kaiseki: A light meal made with quality, exquisite ingredients

If you like culinary art, you will love Kaiseki. Kaiseki is a light meal consisting of a small menu, usually served at a Japanese tea ceremony. Particularly high-quality and exquisite ingredients are used, which are artistically arranged. Kaiseki is definitely a beautiful eye-catcher. Since I love a large selection when it comes to food and prefer small, creative and lovingly prepared portions, my heart beats faster at Kaiseki, especially when I found out while writing this article that we actually do in Karlsruhe have a Kaiseki restaurant that I would like to pay a visit to in the near future.

7. Curry Rice: The secret national dish

"Don't worry, eat curry!", as Sailor Moon's Bunny once said. You really can't avoid curry in Japan. It is even unofficially called "the secret national dish". Curry rice is so popular in the land of the setting sun. And you can really find curry restaurants every few meters. However, if you expect classic curry with rice, as you know it from an Indian or Thai restaurant, you will be surprised, at least as far as the look is concerned. In Japan it is customary to arrange half rice and half curry preparation on the plate. That looks pretty funny if you're not used to it. It's best to just try it, because when it comes to taste, there seems to be no limit to curry rice. But beware: Excessive consumption of curry rice can lead to a kind of addictive behavior. Just kidding, but try it yourself when you get a chance.

As you can see, in addition to that, Japan already has fascinating culture, also really has a lot to offer in culinary terms And of course this is only a small part of it. I hope I was able to provide you with one or the other gastronomic inspiration and I would be happy to hear your thoughts and opinions on it. But maybe you also have one or the other absolute must-have dish that I somehow overlooked on my trip.

For example, I deliberately avoided meat dishes. If you still want to know where and how you can eat vegetarian and vegan in Japan, then I can show you the wonderful articles by Wanderfrau recommend. Check her out, in my opinion she has one of the most extensive and detailed German-language Japan blogs I know.

So now Itadakimasu, Arigatou Gozaimasu and see you soon!