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The 8 Best Japanese Foods

Updated: May 28, 2022

Japan has some amazing food. Here are 8 of the best, which if you haven't tried, you really should!

  1. 寿司 - sushi (すし)What’s sushi? Raw fish? Not necessarily. Sushi is vinegar-seasoned rice. In fact the word sushi comes from SU meaning vinegar and MESHI meaning rice, but shortened to SHI. It literally means “vinegar rice.” That said, you can, people often do, add toppings. These can be seaweed, cucumber, cooked egg, avocado, and yes, a variety of cooked and uncooked seafood, including lots of raw fish!

  2. 刺身 - sashimi (さしみ)This is raw fish! It’s sliced into thin pieces and enjoyed with soy sauce and wasabi. 刺す means to stab, pierce, and prick. And 身means body, main part, or meat (as opposed to the bone, skin, etc). So, it seems to refer to the process of preparing the sashimi with a sharp chef’s knife to get just the very best meat of the fish, and none of the skin or bones.

  3. カツ丼(かつどん)This is a dish that has breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet on rice. Katsu refers to the cutlet. Don comes from donburi, which means meat or fish served over rice. Don can also mean the same thing.

  4. カレーライス or Curry and rice. Japanese curry is less spicy and tends to be sweeter than Indian curries. Nowadays there are many varieties of curry and rice served in Japan, some mild and some extremely spicy! There are entire restaurant chains that specialize only in curry and rice made with an astounding variety of ingredients, seafood curries, vegetarian curries, fruit curries, and my favorite Katsu-Karē, which is pork cutlet on curry and rice - yum!

  5. うどん. Think white noodles made from wheat flour in a soup base made from dashi, or Japanese fish bullion. It can also be prepared a variety of ways depending on the type of toppings, including the most popular, inariage (which is fried and seasoned tofu) and kakiage (which is fried and seasoned veggie tempura).

  6. そば. Thin, buckwheat noodles served in either hot dashi base soup or in chilled dashi based dipping sauce. This variety is called zaru soba, ornigiri strainer soba, and it’s often served on top of a bamboo strainer.

  7. おにぎりAlso called omusubi, nigirimeshi, or simply rice balls, is a Japanese food made from white rice and formed into triangles, balls, or cylinders, and often wrapped in seaweed. The main difference between onigiri and sushi is the fact that onigiri is made with plain white rice, while sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar, salt, and usually a little sugar.

  8. 焼き鳥 (やきとり)Japanese chicken shish-kabob. The chef usually takes small chunks of chicken and skewers them with kushi which are small skewers made from metal, bamboo, or similar materials and then cooks them over an open charcoal fire. This is often a favorite at Japanese summer festivals because it’s tasty and it’s easy to eat while standing.

Hungry for more? Head over to Step 2A Lesson 9 on to get more familiar these 8 Japanese dishes, and how to understand them when you hear or read them. The Step 2A Japanese course helps beginners understand more of the everyday Japanese they hear and read.


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