Traditional Japanese Cuisine – Food and Drinks Everyone Should Try

Japanese cuisine has become lately much more popular and appreciated around the whole world. Many people visit Japan not just for their sights or high-tech robots but also for their traditional food and drinks.

If you ask someone what is traditional Japanese food, he would probably answer Sushi. Yes, it is true, but there are many more delicious dishes that one can taste.

There isn’t food without ingredients!

vitamin d
Vitamin D is contained mainly in fish.

Japan as an island country focuses on fishing for centuries and that’s why we can find lots of ingredients from sea in their dishes.

What’s more, fish is considered to be very healthy and rich on Vitamins and Minerals as it contains Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Calcium and Magnesium so it’s no wonder that it plays very important role in cooking.

Let’s take a look at several Japanese food ingredients and then we’ll focus on traditional but very popular dishes.

Which Rice and soy sauce?

This might be clear, but the first and one of the most used ingredient in Japanese kitchen is rice.

As it plays very important role in Japanese cuisine, it is not relevant, which rice you use for sushi or onigiri.

Someone will try to use Thai or Jasmine rice, but it won’t work when it comes to cooking. Japanese rice is totally different as it is scentless and is sticky enough to hold together which is very important for dishes like sushi.

There can’t be sushi without Soy Sauce and this is another ingredient. Probably the best soy sauce is called Kikkoman and originally comes from Japan. If you ever think about making sushi, always go for Kikkoman soy sauce as a dip.

traditional japanese rice
Rice – typical Japanese staple food.


Want to Sweeten a dish? Try Mirin!

Another essential condiment used in Japanese cuisine is Mirin, consisting of around 50% sugar.

It is a kind of rice wine which is very similar to Saké but with less alcohol in it. It is mostly used to sweeten dishes (but less than a sugar), give vegetables a shiny and tasty appearance and what’s more, reduce the smell of certain fish dishes.

traditional japanese ingredient mirin
Mirin – very sweet rice wine.


Use Potato starch to make meat sticky

While western countries use for thickening a sauce flour in Japan they go for Potato starch (kata kuri ko). It is also used when frying a meat to make the sauce stick to it. Or in deep frying to make the meat super crispy and it works better than flour.

japanese potato starch
Potato starch – common ingredient used in Asian cuisine.

These were just few of thousands of ingredients that Japanese use in their dishes but before we take a look at Japanese traditional food you should remember one thing.

In Japan and also in almost every country in Asia it is essential to eat with chopsticks! So whenever you travel to Japan or just to your local Japanese restaurant don’t expect to eat with cutlery but with wooden chopsticks.

Popular Japanese dishes worth trying

Ramen (ラーメン)

I bet that a lot of you have heard about Naruto and his favourite meal. Basicly it is a noodle soup with various toppings like sliced pork, dried seaweed and green onions. It consists of wheat noodles served in a meat or fish broth, sometimes flavored with soy sauce.

Ramen is one of the many popular dishes that were “imported” from China but has become completely Japanized over some time.

There are 4 types of ramen:

  • Shio (“salt”) – probably the oldest one, is bright and yellowish broth with plenty of salt
  • Tonkotsu (“pork bone”) – cloudy white coloured broth made from boiling pork bones
  • Shōyu (“soy sauce”) – clear brown broth , made of chicken and vegetable with plenty of soy sauce
  • Miso – broth that contains high amount of miso (=traditional Japanese seasoning) and is blended with oily chicken or sometimes fish broth)
traditional japanese food ramen
Example of ramen.


Tempura (天ぷら)

Tempura is a Japanese meal that consists of deep fried fish (mostly shrimps) and vegetables. What makes it special is the use of light batter and sesame oil.

The batter is prepared of cold water (someone uses sparkling water to keep the batter light) and baking soda, eggs, wheat flour, starch, and oil. Tempura batter is mixed in very small batches using cold water to give it fluffy texture.

Shrimps in tempura.


Onigiri (お握り)

Onigiri is traditional Japanese “sandwich“ from rice formed into all shapes you could just imagine. But the most common forms are triangles, squares or balls. Onigiri is often wrapped into nori (seaweed) and is filled with salty or sour ingredient.

traditional japanese food onigiri
Example of onigiri.

For example it can be salted salmon, kombu, tarako, katuobushi or any other ingredient that could work as a natural preservative.

What’s more, the only rice that can’t be used in Onigiri is sushi rice, otherwise, it would be called sushi rather than Onigiri!


Sushi (すし, 寿司)

Sushi is a popular Japanese dish that consists of cooked vinegared rice (鮨飯) and mostly seafood, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits like avocado. The word ”sushi” actually means vinegar rice.

Popular sushi types in Japan:

  • Ikura Gunkan – oval shaped sushi with pickled salmon and topped with salmon caviar
  • California Roll – inside-out sushi originally invented in USA, containing imitation of crabmeat, avocado and cucumber
  • Kappa Maki – kappa = cucumber and maki = roll, very simple but popular
  • Tekkamaki – sushi with tuna
  • Futomaki – very thick sushi often containing 4 or more ingredients
Popular types of sushi.


Peculiar Japanese Drinks

Hoppy (ホッピ)

Very popular beer-flavoured drink. Despite the fact that Hoppy is classified as non-alcoholic drink, it contains as low as 0.8% alcohol. You can drink it as it is or combine with special Japanese drink called Shōchū.

traditional japanese drink hoppy
Beer-flavoured non alcoholic beverage.


Shōchū (焼酎?)

Traditional Japanese distilled liquor that contains from 25% to 35% alcohol, which is definitely weaker than Vodka or Rum. It can be made from several base ingredients like Imo (Japanese sweet potato), barley, rice, buckwheat, and sugar cane.

tradional japanese liquor shochu

Shōchū can be enjoyed in different ways. You can mix it with Hoppy and make a drink with scent of Beer or otherwise add hot water in ratio 60:40 and make a warm tasty beverage.


Sakura Tea (桜茶)

Also known as Sakurayu or Cherry blossom tea is a Japanese popular drink consisting of pickled cherry blossoms and boiled water.

It is type of herb tea that has been enjoyed in most East Asian countries.

sakura tea
Simply but very tasty tea.

Sakura tea provides a very authentic flowery scent and flavour. Curious is that the tea is a little bit salty, which might be awkward and little bit unusual for people from Western countries. But it is definitely worth a try!


Genmaicha (玄米茶?)

Another type of tea but this time it is made of green tea and roasted brown rice. In the past, It was drunk by very poor Japanese who couldn’t afford a tea.

traditional japanese drink Genmaicha tea
Popular tea for not that wealthy people.


The rice served as a filler, for this reason it is also known as the “people’s tea.”

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