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Ramen, sushi and mochi: 12 things we can’t wait to eat again in Japan

Deciding what to eat in Japan is no easy feat. From steamy bowls of ramen, to sushi (almost) too perfect to eat, to kawaii (cute) sweet mochi treats, this Asian country is a feast for the eyes (and the stomach). Japan finally reopened its borders with visa-free entry in late 2022, making it possible to explore this brilliant destination once more.

We love Japan for its contrasts. The way it mixes tradition with the ultra-modern, stunning landscapes against buzzing cities, and fast Japanese food against slow seasonal eating. To get you in the mood for Japan 2023 travel, we’ve rounded up 12 things we can’t wait to eat in Japan again.

Sushi

When it comes to what to eat in Japan, sushi has to be top of the list. But sushi isn’t just one dish. It actually refers to a range of Japanese dishes made with vinegared sushi rice – such as nigiri, temaki, hosomaki, uramaki and sashimi. In Japan, sushi is almost always made with raw fish, with maguro (tuna), shake (salmon), saba (mackerel), hamachi (yellowtail), and unagi (freshwater eel) being the most popular.

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Tempura

What’s not to love about tempura? The Japanese apparently learnt this technique from Portuguese traders and sailors, making it what it is today. Tempura in Japan is usually deep-fried seafood or vegetables, coated in an effortlessly light batter that gives a crisp, fluffy texture. It’s cooked rapidly and often served with a sauce.

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Gyoza

Everyone loves dumplings, no matter what they are called. Japan has gyozas, which actually originated in China. Like Chinese dumplings, Japanese dumplings are parcels of ground meat and vegetables wrapped in a thin dough. Usually they come pan-fried, but you get them simply steamed too.

Ramen

There’s nothing like slipping into a late-night ramen bar for a steaming bowl of soul-warming ramen. This is a favourite Japanese comfort food always comprised of four parts: the broth, tare or salty seasoning, the noodles, and toppings. There are four main types to try – shoyu, miso, shio, and tonkotsu. While the toppings and noodles seem important, it’s the slow-cooked broth that makes the difference.

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Japanese Curry

The British introduced curry to Japan during the Meiji period, but it only became wildly popular in the late 1960s. Now it’s considered a national dish in Japan and you can find it served over rice, with udon noodles or in pastries. Expect a simple curry with carrot, onion, potato and different types of meat. Our favourite is katsu curry – with a breaded chicken or pork cutlet.

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Okonomiyaki

The Osaka-style version of okonomiyaki has been exported across the globe as “Japanese pizza”, but this sweet-savoury dish is more like a pancake. Pieces of pork belly, prawns, squid or seafood is added to a batter of flour, eggs, dashi and cabbage. It’s cooked on a grill, flipped and then topped with sweet-savoury brown sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, dried nori and bonito fish flakes that dance from the heat.

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Onigiri

What to eat in Japan when you’re in a hurry? Onigiri! These are seasoned rice balls usually triangular or cylindrical in shape, and always wrapped in nori paper. Some are stuffed with chicken, fish, vegetables, pork or egg. Some are just seasoned with sauce, beans or furikake. This popular snack is available everywhere – you can find specialist shops, or simply pop into any convenience store or supermarket.

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Yakitori

A cold beer and yakitori skewers are the perfect pairing at any izakaya (Japanese pub). Essentially Japan’s answer to charcoal chicken, the Japanese use nearly every part of the chicken (think skin, thighs, liver, innards) chopped and placed on skewers that are seasoned either with shio (salt) or tare (a sweet soy sauce-based glaze). Cooked over charcoal and perfectly seasoned, it’s an addictive Japanese food.

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Takoyaki

This street food snack is popular in Osaka. Takoyaki are little octopus balls made from a batter that includes flour, chopped octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onions. Like okonomiyaki, it’s then topped with a sweet and savoury sauce, Japanese mayo and bonito fish flakes.

Udon

Udon refers to the type of noodle and, along with ramen and soba, they are among the most popular Japanese noodles. They are thick and chewy, made of wheat flour and usually served hot in winter or cold in summer. Udon is often topped with things like scallions or green onions and tempura, and the broth changes from region to region.

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Soba

What makes soba different to udon? Soba are thin noodles made from buckwheat flour. Expect to eat them hot as a noodle soup or could with tsuyu, a dipping sauce of dashi, mirin, sweet soy, wasabi and sesame seeds.

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Mochi

This Japanese sweet is made of rice – specifically mochigome, short-grain glutinous rice. Using a heavy wooden mallet, the rice is pounded into a paste and moulded into cute shapes. Traditionally it’s eaten at Japanese New Year to attract good fortune, but you can actually find it all year round. Look for special flavours, such as daifuku – which is filled with a sweet paste made from red Azuki beans and sometimes a strawberry, or sakuramochi during spring, which is wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leaf.

GET INSPIRED BY: Classic Japan 

Want to know what else there is to eat in Japan? Take a look at our finger-licking guide to Japanese street food and start planning your Japan travel…

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