There is so much more to Japanese cuisine than just noodles and sushi. If you are an adventurous eater you will find many unusual dishes to sample while visiting Japan. Japanese culture is very different from western cultures, including their cuisine. For example, raw horse meat is popular in Japan and slurping your noodles quite loudly is an indication that the food is delicious and you are enjoying it very much. A lot of rice is consumed in Japan and it is not uncommon for families to include rice in every meal, including breakfast, and rice cookers are much more commonplace especially in Japan tour in Japanese households than ovens.
A nice specimen of Yubari melon, a type of muskmelon can sell for up to $3,000 U.S. These melons are physically perfect without any scars or dark smudges like their American counterparts. Most restaurants in Japan serve a stew (“nabe” in Japanese) and in the Ryogoku district in Tokyo, they serve Chankonabe which sumo wrestlers eat to fatten up.
Seafood is very popular in Japan and the largest fish market in Tokyo is Tsukiji. Although the IWC has banned whale hunting, the Japanese still hunt whales under the pretext of research and the harvested meat ends up in supermarkets and restaurants all over the world. Contrary to popular belief that whale meat is a delicacy in Japan, most Japanese dislike whale meat.
Sushi actually refers to rice and “nigiri” is a bite-sized ball of rice seasoned with vinegar and topped with a piece of raw seafood. There are many different types of sushi available in Japan including:
– Maki sushi (sushi rolls)
– Gunkan-maki sushi (small boats of nori seaweed and rice with various toppings)
– Chrashi-sushi (a “pizza” style bed of rice topped with various ingredients)
– Ta-maki (nori cones filled with rice, seafood, and vegetable ingredients)
– Inari-sushi (vegetarian deep-fried tofu pouches containing vegetables and rice)
Sashimi is raw seafood like tuna, sea bream, salmon, bonito, scallop, shrimp, and the octopus ate on its own without rice and dipped in soy sauce. Other foods such as horse, deer, tofu skin, and beef are also served sashimi-style.
Tempura is a light batter used to deep-fry small pieces of seafood and vegetables. It is commonly served as a side dish or as a topping for donburi (rice bowls) or noodles. Some of the more popular ingredients are mushrooms, prawns, aubergine, sweet potato, squid, okra, lotus root, bell peppers, and Japanese pumpkin.
Yakitori can be found at special shops called yakitori-ya, izakaya (Japanese pubs) and at festivals and food stalls. They are bite-sized chicken pieces from all parts of the chicken, inside and out, thread onto skewers and char-grilled. Popular dishes include chicken meat from the back (wings), momo (thighs), tsukune (minced chicken) Horikawa (crispy skin), Reba (liver) and Negima (thigh meat and leek). Vegetable varieties include okra, aubergine, shiitake mushrooms, leeks, and cherry tomatoes.
Literally meaning “pork cutlets”, tonkatsu is made from thick slices of pork, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Other tonkatsu dishes are made with a variety of meats such as chicken, beef, ham, and minced meat. Tonkatsu teishoku is a set meal of katsu served with rice, shredded cabbage, pickles, and miso soup. Katsu-care is a Japanese style curry and katsu-don is a rice bowl topped with katsu, sliced onion, and eggs. A katsu-Sando (sandwich) is made with katsu and finely shredded cabbage with mustard.
Udon is Japanese for noodles made from wheat flour to form glutinous, thick white dough with a chewy texture. Served either in a broth or dipped in a sauce there are literally hundreds of variations served hot or cold such as kale-soba (served in a clear broth topped with green onion slices), zaru-soba (udon topped with nori seaweed), tanuki-soba (topped with fried tempura batter), curry udon, and kitsune-soba (topped with slices of fried tofu).
Another type of noodle is soba made from buckwheat with a nutty texture and a brownish-grey color served in the same way as udon.
Regarded as Japan’s most exquisite culinary achievement, Kaiseki ryori is only served in specialized restaurants such as ryokan and minshuku (traditional inns) and ryotei (traditional restaurants).