The quality of ingredients, preparation, presentation and service in Japan are world class. Tokyo has more top rated gourmet restaurants than any other city in the World. Japanese food is considered one of the World's great cuisines.
That's not to say that Japanese people are eating gourmet food all the time. There are also everyday foods served at affordable restaurants, festivals, truck stops and ski hills that are equally delicious and interesting.
The following 101 varieties of Japanese food are all well known in Japan.
1. Maki-zushi (巻寿司)Maki zushi is rolled sushi that is usually wrapped in nori (seaweed). Maki sushi includes some of the most popular sushi varieties such as kappa maki (cucumber), tekka maki (tuna), negitoro maki(tuna, scallion), tsunamayo maki(tuna and mayo) and kanpyō maki (tuna and carrots).
2. Soba (そば)Thin buckwheat noodles served cold with wasabi or hot with toppings such as tempura, duck, mochi or mountain vegetables.
3. SomenSomen are very thin wheat noodles that are usually served cold with a light dipping sauce called tsuyu. Chilled somen are a popular summer dish.
4. Takoyaki (たこ焼き)Takoyaki are Japanese octopus dumplings from Osaka. They are prepared with a light batter and a single piece of octopus in the center and deep-fried. Takoyaki are usually topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed (aonori) and fish shavings(katsuobushi). Takoyaki can be prepared at home and are a crowd-pleasing snack at festivals.
5. Onigiri (おにぎり)Onigiri are Japanese rice balls made from white rice formed into triangles and filled with toppings such as tuna, salmon or umeboshi (pickled plum) and wrapped in nori. Onigiri are commonly sold in Japanese convenience stores and are an inexpensive snack.
6. MochiMochi are Japanese rice cakes that can be toasted and eaten with nori or sugar and kinako (soybean flour). Mochi are also a common topping for foods such as noodles or pizza and are an ingredient in many Japanese desserts such as dango and ozenzai (red bean soup with mochi).
Mochi can be made the old fashioned way by pounding glutinous rice with a large wooden hammer. Mochi making (mochitsuki) is a popular event during Japanese New Year celebrations.
7. UdonUdon is a thick Japanese wheat noodle. Udon is usually served hot in a mild broth with toppings such as mochi, tempura or deep fried tofu. However, there are many ways to eat Udon and it is prepared in dozens of ways including cold dishes such as Zaru udon (cold udon with nori dipped in a light sauce and wasabi). Udon can be challenging to eat because they tend to splash as you eat them. In Japan it is polite to loudly slurp soup noodles so don't be shy to make a little noise.
8. ChāhanChahan is the Japanese word for fried rice. Fried rice is a popular dish in Japan and has a slightly lighter taste than Chinese fried rice.
9. Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)Okonomiyaki is often translated to English as Japanese Pancake but I think this is a bit of a misnomer since okonomiyaki are not sweet or anything like pancakes. Okonomiyaki are from Osaka but has regional varieties such as Hiroshima okonomiyaki and is popular all over Japan.
Okonomiyaki batter is made of flour, eggs and shredded cabbage. Other ingredients are up to the chief. Okonomi (お好み) means "what you want" in Japanese and okonomiyaki are traditionally cooked at home to use up left overs. Okonomiyaki can be prepared with any mix of vegetables, meat, seafood and cheese. Once cooked okonomiyaki are topped with okonomiyaki sauce, fish flakes (katsuobushi), seaweed flakes (aonori), mayonnaise and pickled ginger (beni shoga) to taste.
10. Curry rice (kare raisu カレーライス)Curry was bought to Japan by British traders in the Meiji-era. It was an instant hit. Over the years was adapted to Japanese tastes. Japanese Curry is brown, mild and almost resembles gravy. It usually contains a few vegetables such as carrots, onions and potatoes. Sometimes it is served with pork katsu (breaded fried pork).
Curry Rice is extraordinarily popular in Japan and is commonly found in working class restaurants all over the country such as truck stops and family restaurants.
11. Nigiri-sushi(握り寿司)Nigiri-sushi means "hand made" sushi in Japanese. Nigiri-sushi is made with the hands to form the rice into a rectangular box and attach a piece of fish to the top. Popular toppings are tuna, tako (octopus), egg, unagi (eel), scallop and salmon.
12. Yakitori (焼き鳥)Yakitori (literally grilled chicken) are small pieces of skewered chicken and vegetables cooked on a bbq grill. There seems to be a variety of yakitori for every part of the chicken such as meat, liver, gizzard, skin, tail, cartilage, wing and small intestines. Yakitori is salty and Yakitori restaurants tend to be drinking spots.
13. Ikura (イクラ)Ikura (salmon eggs) are a popular type of seafood in Japan commonly served on rice, as sushi or in onigiri.
14. SashimiSashimi is high quality fresh seafood served raw and thinly sliced. In Japan, presentation of sashimi is very important and even supermarket sashimi may have a appealing layout.
15. Yakiniku (焼き肉)Yakiniku (literally: grilled meat) is a Japanese style BBQ where raw meat and vegetables are grilled by dinners over hot coals in the center of the dinning table. Yakiniku restaurants are good places to go with friends and drink some beer. Yakiniku restaurants tend to get insanely smokey and you will smell like grilled meat by the time you are finished your meal.
16. Okinawa sobaOkinawa soba are a thick wheat noodle prepared in a oily soup similar to ramen. Usual toppings are pork, scallion (similar to green onions), kamaboko fish cakes and pickled ginger.
17. OdenOden is a Japanese dish of various boiled foods. Ingredients such as daikon (radish), eggs, konnyaku, fish cakes, carrot and chicken are stewed in a light soy flavored soup to make Oden. Oden is commonly eaten in winter and like many Japanese foods tends to be associated with drinking. Some famous oden restaurants in Tokyo claim they have not completely replaced their broth for over 60 years ... so you might be lucky and get a 60 year old carrot with your oden.
18. Mentaiko (明太子)Mentaiko is roe of pollock which is marinated and served in onigiri or sometimes alone. It has a strong distinctive flavor and many Japanese people do not like it while others love it. Artificial Mentaiko flavored snacks are also common such as Mentaiko potato chips.
19. Ochazuke(お茶漬け)Ochazuke is a hot dish of green tea poured over rice with toppings such as japanese pickles (tsukemono), nori (seaweed), umeboshi (pickled plum), sesame seeds, salmon, shiokara (pickled seafood) and wasabi.
Ochazuke is popular in winter and as a way to use up left over rice.
20. Melon-pan (メロンパン)Melon pan are a sweet bread shaped like a half melon. They are not usually melon flavored but just sweet. In recent years many varieties have shown up in Japanese convenience stores with chocolate chips, maple syrup etc..
21. Anpan(あんパン)Is a traditional Japanese sweet dating back to the Meiji era. It is a bun filled with sweet red bean paste.
22. Omu-raisu (オムライス)A very common Japanese dish of fried rice with an omelette on top. It has dozens of varieties and is sometimes topped with Japanese curry or ketchup. It is popular with Japanese kids.
23. Chanpurū(ちゃんぷるー)Okinawan stir fry of goya (bitter melon), onion, tofu, ham and egg. Goya tends to dominate the taste of this dish as its very bitter. Goya is supposed to be healthy for certain conditions and has been used in Chinese medicine since ancient times.
24. Champon (ちゃんぽん)Nagasaki noodle dish similar to certain Chinese dishes (Fujian cuisine). It is oily like ramen and has many ingredients including pork, seafood, vegetables and lard.
25. Hayashi rice(ハヤシライス)Hayashi rice is considered a western style dish despite its Japanese name. It consists of demi-glace sauce, beef, carrots and mushrooms on rice.
26. Katsu-sandoA breaded pork sandwich with a sweet sauce similar to Worcester sauce.
27. TemakiIce cream cone shaped handed rolled sushi. Ingredients are wrapped in nori and should be consumed soon after preparation before the nori absorbs water and becomes soggy. Temaki are usually eaten with hands because they are hard to pick up with chopsticks. It is perfectly polite in Japan to eat most sushi with your hands including maki and nigiri sushi.
28. Tonkatsu (とんかつ)Tonkatsu is a popular Japanese dish of breaded deep-fried pork often served on a bed of shredded cabbage and a sweet sauce simply called sosu (ソース). Tonkatsu restaurants offer different cuts of pork on the menu with fatty and lean variations.
29. ChirashiA bowl of sushi rice with ingredients such as raw and cooked seafood, egg, ikura and dried shitake mixed in. The ingredients vary widely and are up to chef. Chirashi is traditionally eaten on the Hina-matsuri (girls festival) every March.
30. Miso soupMiso soup is made with a simple soup stock called dashi (seaweed and fish shaving soup stock). A small amount of miso paste is added to the broth. The miso does not dissolve and remains suspended in the soup. Toppings such as konbu (seaweed), negi (onion) and tofu are sometimes added. Miso soup is sipped directly from the bowl without a spoon, chopsticks can be used to eat the toppings.
31. Kushikatsu(串カツ)Japanese breaded deep-fried kabobs with varieties such as chicken, pork, seafood and vegetables. Often served with a sweet tonkatsu sauce.
32. Shabu-shabuShabu-shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish. A hotpot is placed in the center of the table with a broth (dashi) and dinners cook thin slices of pork and beef with long cooking chopsticks. Vegetables, seafood and tofu may also be served. A dipping sauce such as goma sauce (sesame ) is served. Shabu-shabu is most popular in winter and is associated with drinking.
33. ZoniZoni is a Japanese New Years food. It is a soup containing mochi rice cakes and a variety of dried vegetables. Zoni is thought to have originated with the Samurai who would prepare Zoni on the battle field. All the ingredients are portable and easy to store. Zoni is high in calories due to the mochi rice cakes and perfect for a Samurai in battle. Today, fresh ingredients such as fresh vegetables, chicken, fish or meatballs are often added.
34. Karaage (唐揚げ)Japanese fried chicken. Small pieces of soy-flavored chicken breaded in a mix of soy sauce, ginger and garlic and deep fried.
35. Agedashi dofu (揚げ出し豆腐)Deep fried blocks of tofu served in a soup of dashi, soy sauce and mirin and topped with negi (onions).
36. EdamamePods of baby soybeans with salt. Goes well with beer.
37. Tamago kake gohanA inexpensive, cheap dish of a raw egg on rice with soy sauce. Sometimes eaten by grabbing the rice in small squares of nori.
38. Chawan mushiChawan mushi is a Japanese egg custard that often contains shitake mushrooms and a single ginko nut. It is rich tasting and normally served in a small container as an appetizer. It is one of the few dishes in Japan that is traditionally eaten with a spoon.
39. Korokke (croquette)Korokke is the Japanese version of the French Croquette. Chopped meat, seafood and vegetables are mixed in with mash potatoes or a white sauce, breaded and deep-fried. Served with tonkatsu sauce.
40. UnadonGrilled eel coated with a sweet sauce on top of rice. Grilled eel tends to be love-it or hate-it. There is a big difference between fresh eel and not-so-fresh eel. I did not like eel until I had it in Hokkaido in an expensive restaurant. Quality eel has a wonderful flavor.
41. UmeboshiUmeboshi are pickled Japanese apricot known for their extremely sour taste. They are usually eaten with rice and a single umeboshi is often placed in the center of an obento (Japanese lunch box). Umeboshi are also a common flavor of onigiri (rice ball).
42. RamenRamen are Japanese noodles with an oily soup that has a meat or fish broth flavored with soy sauce, salt or miso. There are hundreds of kinds of Ramen and most regions of Japan have distinct varieties of Ramen. Ramen are high in salt, oil and carbohydrates and are not something you should eat everyday. Popular toppings for ramen are thin sliced pork, egg, nori and green onion.
43. Himono (干物)Himono (dried thing) is dried fish that is sometimes dried naturally in the sun. Himono is prepared by baking and is popular for breakfast or dinner.
44. Tsukemono (漬物)Tsukemono are Japanese pickles that come in many colorful varieties with names such as Beni shoga (ginger pickle), Bettarazuke (Japanese radish pickle), Gari (young sweet ginger pickle) and Nasu Karashizuke (pickled eggplant). Tsukemono are served as a side dish or topping.
45. TaiyakiTaiyaki are fish shaped Japanese sweets filed with red bean paste or custard and served hot. They are a popular food at festivals.
46. SunomonoSunomono means "vinegar thing". Sunomono are vegetables or seafood marinated in rice vinegar. Common varieties are crab, cucumber and wakame.
47. OhitashiBoiled greens such as spinach served chilled with a garnish (often sesame seeds).
48. MotoyakiSeafood topped with mayonnaise and baked in an oyster shell.
49. OsechiOsechi are foods prepared to celebrate New Years Day in Japan. Examples of osechi are zoni (mochi soup), daidai (japanese bitter orange) and datemaki(sweet omelette with fish paste). Foods served on New Years often have symbolic meanings and are thought to bring good fortunes in the coming year.
50. Oyakodon (親子丼)Oyakodon means "parent and child rice bowl" in Japanese and consists of fried chicken and egg on rice.
51. Hiyayakko (冷奴)Cold tofu with toppings such as shaved yuzu rind, ginger, fish shavings(katsuobushi) and myoga.
52. Tempura (天ぷら)Tempura is Japanese deep fried meat, seafood and vegetables. Tempura is prepared with a light wheat flour batter and fried in vegetable oil such as canola. Tempura is usually served with a light dip called tentsuyu sauce (equal parts of dashi, mirin, and soy sauce).
53. Ankimo (アンキモ)Steamed monkfish liver. A Japanese delicacy.
54. YakizakanaIn season flame-grilled whole fish.
55. HigashiSmall Japanese traditional candies that come in a variety of shapes. They can be made from pure sugar or flour. The sugar used is a traditional Japanese fine grained sugar. Flours used are rice, azuki or soybean flour. Higashi have a very starchy taste and are often served as part of Japanese tea ceremonies.
56. Gyūdon (牛丼)Gyudon is a Japanese beef bowl dish. It consists of fried thinly sliced beef and onions in a sweet sauce on a bowl of rice. Sometimes toppings are added such as a raw egg or ginger pickles (beni shoga). Popular Gyudon fast food restaurants such as Yoshinoya are a great place to try this tasty snack.
57. KushiyakiSkewers of meat and vegetables (like yakitori but not chicken). Examples include deep-fried tofu, enoki mushrooms, green peppers and asparagus rapped in bacon.
58. Hanabira mochiHanabira mochi (flower petal mochi) are a traditional Japanese dessert (wagashi) of mochi filled with a special sweet filling. Hanabira mochi are traditionally eaten at events at the beginning of the year such as the first tea ceremony of the year.
59. Imagawayaki (今川焼き)Imagawayaki are a round Japanese sweet bread filled with azuki bean paste. They are popular at festivals.
60. TecchiriTecchiri is a Osaka hot pot dish with fugu (blowfish) and vegetables.
61. Manju (饅頭)Manju is another type of Japanese sweet bread filled with red bean paste.
62. Sukiyaki (すき焼き)Sukiyaki is a Japanese hot pot dish of thinly sliced beef, onions and tofu cooked in a sweet soup (soy sauce, sugar, and mirin). Other ingredients such as green leafy vegetables and udon noodles are sometimes added. Sukiyaki is eaten with rice and raw egg is used as a dipping sauce. Like all Japanese hot pot dishes sukiyaki is more popular in winter.
63. AnmitsuAnmitsu is a Japanese dessert made with small cubes of agar jelly (a translucent low calorie jelly made of algae or seaweed), red bean paste and a variety of canned fruits such as pineapple, cherries and peaches. Often ice cream is added.
64. Kinpira goboStir-fried burdock (gobo) and carrots braised in sweetened soy sauce.
65. KakigoriKakigori is the Japanese word for shaved ice. It seems more popular in Japan than in the US and is often served at convenience stores in summer, at the beach or festivals.
66. Hanbāgu (ハンバーグ)For some reason Salisbury steak (breaded hamburger with onions, egg and bread crumbs) covered with gravy is incredibly popular in Japan. It is easier to find Hanbāgu at restaurants in Japan than a Hamburger.
67. OshirukoA dessert soup made with crushed sweet red beans with mochi, chestnuts or flour dumplings. Usually served hot.
68. Gyoza (ギョーザ)Chinese meat dumplings. The Japanese variation is more garlicky with a thinner wrapper than the Chinese version.
69. KakuniThick cubes of fatty pork belly simmered at a low temperature for a long time in a sweat sauce.
70. Nikujaga (肉じゃが)Japanese stew with sliced beef, potatoes, carrots and onion in a sweet soy sauce.
71. Chankonabe (ちゃんこ鍋)A Japanese stew specifically formulated to help Sumo wrestlers gain weight. Ingredients include large quantities of round fish sausages, chicken with skin left on, tofu, beef, Japanese radish (daikon) and bok choy. Chankonabe is served in large quantities with beer.
72. Sakuraniku (桜肉)Sakuraniku is raw horse meat eaten much like sashimi. It is easy to find in Japanese pubs (izakaya) and restaurants.
73. SōkiSōki are Okinawan pork spare ribs with cartilage still attached.
74. TekkadonRaw tuna on rice with garnishes such as ōba.
75. Imoni (芋煮)A thick potato and meat soup from Tōhoku (the northern part of the main island of Japan). Imoni is an outdoor food and is cooked over a fire. Imoni is traditionally eaten in Autumn and there is a popular Imoni festival every September in Yamagata prefecture.
76. Dango (団子)Dango are Japanese dumplings made of Mochiko (similar to mochi) that are grilled and served on a stick with a salty/sweet sauce.
77. Curry bread (karē pan)A deep-fried bread with Japanese curry inside.
78. Uiro (外郎)Sweet Japanese steamed cake made of rice flour and sugar. Chewy and a little similar to mochi.
79. Zōsui (雑炊)Japanese rice portage made by putting cooked rice in a soup. Often prepared after nabe to use up the soup.
80. Kiritanpo (きりたんぽ)Cooked rice that is mashed, formed around skewers and toasted.
81. SumashijiruA simple soup with a clear broth and seafood.
82. TonjiruA more substantial version of miso soup with pork, tofu, gobo, konyaku, seaweed, spring onions, Japanese radish and carrot.
83. Amanatto (甘納豆)A traditional Japanese sweet of various beans such as azuki beans covered in sugar.
84. Ebi furaiBreaded deep-fried prawn that are popular in Japanese obento (lunch box) and as a topping for noodles.
85. Shiokara (塩辛)Japanese fermented seafoods. Not particularly popular even amongst Japanese people but delicious once you acquire the taste for it. The most common type is Ika no shiokara (fermented squid).
86. Rice Congee (Okayu, お粥)Japanese rice portage. Recommended food when you are sick.
87. KarasumiDried, salted mullet roe popular in Nagasaki.
88. Chikuwa (竹輪)Tube shaped fish dumplings eaten cold as a snack or deep-fried as a side dish. Chikawa are hollow but are sometimes filled with cheese.
89. Yakisoba-panBread with fried soba noodles.
90. TeriyakiTeriyaki is meat or fish marinated in a thick sweet sauce. Teriyaki sauce is a mix of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar or honey simmered until the desired thickness is achieved.
91. FuguFugu is a poisonous pufferfish served as sashimi, sushi, fried or in a stew. Fugu is a popular delicacy in Japan and tends to be expensive. Fugu chefs must be specially certified to prepare fugu. It takes about three years of study to pass the fugu test and most applicants fail. These precautions make eating fugu at a restaurant in Japan relatively safe. There are dozens of incidents of fugu poisoning each year in Japan but these usually involve fishermen eating their catches and other non-professional preparations of fugu. Fugu poisoning is often fatal.
Eating Fugu may make your mouth slightly numb from the effects of trace amounts of the fugu poison. This is a desired effect and good fugu should make your mouth tingle a little. Fugu sashimi is often arranged in a pattern of the chrysanthemum flower which is a symbol of death in Japan.
92. SekihanSekihan is sticky steamed rice with azuki beans. Usually a mixture of sesame and salt is sprinkled on top. Sekihan is served on special occasions such as weddings, birthdays and holidays.
93. SenbeiSenbei are Japanese rice crackers that come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours. Senbei can be salty, sweet or spicy and are flavoured with traditional ingredients such as soy sauce and nori.
94. YubaYuba (tofu skin) has a rubbery texture similar to mozzarella cheese. Yuba is eaten fresh with a tangy dipping sauce, deep-fried or as an ingredient in various dishes. Nikko is famous for its yuba.
95. KoyadofuKoyadofu is a spongy version of Tofu that is bought dried in packets and re-hydrated.
96. Japanese potato saladJapanese potato salad is made with potatoes, Japanese mayonnaise, cucumber, corn and carrots. Unlike the American variety it contains no vinegar. Potato salad is very popular in Japan and often found in obento (lunch box).
97. Hijiki (ヒジキ)Hijiki is a brown sea vegetable that is dried and prepared with sake, soy sauce and sugar. Hijiki is high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium and traditionally thought to be a healthy food. However, some governments around the world have tested hijiki and found it contains high levels of arsenic and have issued warnings about it.
98. Motsunabe (もつ鍋)Motsunabe is a beef or pork entrails hot pot. Motsunabe is a Fukuoka dish but was featured on many Japanese television programs in the 1990s and became quite popular all over Japan. Since then, the popularity of motsunabe has waned especially after mad cow disease scares in the 2000s.
99. Shirako (白子)Shirako is the sperm filled testicles of the anglerfish. It is a common delicacy in Japan served in sushi or fried at Japanese pubs (izakaya).
100. Kaki furaiJapanese deep-fried oysters.
101. Nattō (なっとう)Fermented soybeans popular in Japan as a breakfast food and snack and as an ingredient in many foods. Nattō is usually eaten on rice with a soy-sauce based sauce and hot mustard. Nattō has a slimy consistency and a strong smell and taste. It is another kind of Japanese food that is either love-it or hate-it.