Japan is one of the top destinations in the world for food and it often surpasses France, Italy, Thailand and the USA, when it comes to its high-quality and delicious dishes. Regional delicacies are very popular throughout Japan and there are some foods here that you can only get in certain parts of the country.
If you want the best, you have to go to the source. Sure, you can get Kobe beef in Tokyo, but it’s fresher in Kobe. You can sip on snake wine in Tokyo, too, but sampling habeshu from the locals in Okinawa is a more authentic experience. Here’s a look at the top 10 local foods from Japan. If you want fresh and tasty, these are the foods you need to try.
1. Ikura in Hokkaido
The cold waters of Hokkaido mean that the seafood is of extremely high quality. Salmon wasn’t always a popular food in Japan, but now it is eaten almost as much as tuna and the taste of salmon roe has definitely something to do with it. The popping texture in your mouth as you bite down releases a salty explosion. Ikura is great served in sushi or simply on top of a bowl of rice.
Address: 1 Minami 3 Jo Higashi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo 060-0053, Hokkaido
2. Beef in Yamagata
Japan is one of the world’s top producers of beef, but here, the smaller wagyu species is what is raised as opposed to Angus, which is common in Canada and the USA. Wagyu beef is raised with the utmost care and Japan is known for its strict grading system, which focuses on shimofuri, or the marbling of fat in the meat. Japanese beef is known for this distinctive style of white fat against red lean meat. This marbling means that you can eat the beef raw or barely cooked and it will literally melt in your mouth.
Kobe beef is what everyone in the west knows about, but Yamagata is known for beef that rivals and perhaps even surpasses Kobe beef. Try some sukiyaki, shabu shabu or yakiniku made with Yamagata beef. Yonezawa beef from Yamagata prefecture is one of the three super high-end classes of beef along, with Kobe and Matsusaka.
Address: 3-2-18 Ekimae, Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture
3. Takoyaki in Osaka
Dotonbori in Osaka is lined with stands selling takoyaki - the essential Japanese junk food to try in Japan. It’s famous in the Kansai region and known as one of the top foods in Osaka. The tasty balls of dough have a chewy piece of octopus, deep inside.
Acchichi Honpo Dotonbori
Address: 7-19 Souemoncho, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0084, Japan
Website: Acchichi Honpo Dotonbori
4. Basashi in Kumamoto
This one is for the more adventurous eaters. Horsemeat is a delicacy in Japan and the best place to get fresh, raw horsemeat, from horses actually raised in Japan, is Kumamoto in Kyushu. Horsemeat is healthier than beef or pork and it tastes great dipped in garlic, horseradish and soy sauce.
Address: 1-12-1 Shimotori, Chuo-ku | Koen Bldg. 2F, Kumamoto 860-0807
5. Fugu in Shimonoseki
Fugu, more commonly known as blowfish or pufferfish is an adventurous delicacy in Japan that requires the utmost care in its preparation as it can be poisonous if made the wrong way. It is said that chefs must train for 7-10 years in order to be qualified to sell fugu and Shimonoseki is the fugu capital of Japan. This is where the majority of this illustrious and deadly delicacy comes from. If you want to have the best fugu experience you must visit Shimonoseki. Get a full course meal with sashimi, karaage, nabe and even fuguzake alcohol.
Fugu Cuisine Shinoda
Address: 7-9 Imauracho, Shimonoseki 750-0064, Yamaguchi Prefecture
6. Wasp larvae in Gifu
If you head into a supermarket in Gifu you will find wasp larvae and pupae, still in the cone. This bizarre and delicious delicacy is very expensive, at about 10,000 yen (90 USD) per kilogram. It’s so expensive because it takes a lot of work to get. Wasp hunters bait wasps with a rotting squid and then follow them back to the nest, deep in the forest.
Wasp larvae and other insects are commonly eaten in central Japan, in places like Nagano and Gifu. These locations are farther inland and that’s why insect-eating caught on. Not having access to seafood as easily meant that in the early days of Japan, insect-eating was a popular alternative.
Address: 2709-74 Oicho, Ena 509-7201, Gifu Prefecture
7. Goya chanpuru in Okinawa
A dish like this proves how different Okinawa is from the rest of Japan. This dish consists of bitter melon, tofu, egg, and even spam, stir-fried to perfection. It is one of the most famous dishes in all of Okinawa.
Address: 3-3 Kumoji, Naha 900-0015, Okinawa Prefecture
8. Hakata ramen in Kyushu
Ever since the Chinese first brought ramen to Japan, the dish has morphed into hundreds of different varieties. There are soups with a salt base, miso base or soy sauce base. In Kyushu, the must-try ramen is Hakata ramen, which is a ramen made with a thick pork broth that takes hours to get perfect. It’s topped with thick slices of pork and you can get the best Hakata ramen in Fukuoka, Kyushu.
Address: 3 Chome-1-6 Hakataekihigashi, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture 812-0013
9. Monjayaki in Tokyo
This food is as fun to make as it is to eat and it goes great with beer. This fried batter dish originated in the Tsukishima district of Tokyo, and this is where you can find plenty of restaurants specializing in the dish.
Tsukishima Monjyayaki Street
Address: Tsukishima, Chuo, Tokyo
10. Wanko Soba in Tohoku
In the Tohoku region of Japan, you will find a type of soba that you need to try, if you are very hungry. Wanko soba is almost like a competition to see how much you can eat. You will keep getting served tiny bowls of soba noodles until you say stop.
Address: 1-12-13 Nakanohashidori, Morioka, Iwate Prefecture
So many flavors to try in Japan
There are so many delicious foods you can try when you visit Japan. The country has a plethora of regional delicacies and certain foods just taste better from the source. Try one of these foods the next time you travel across the beautiful nation of Japan.
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