One of the most important parts of traveling in Japan is tasting local street food! Once you learn to accept the local food, you learn to accept the uniqueness of the place. I have been living in Japan for 2 years now and I am in absolute love with the place. Accepting and liking the Japanese cuisine is hands-down the major contributor to this. Here are some dishes which helped me relish the flavors of Japan.
#1 The Most Popular Street Food in Japan – Ramen
Ramen is definitely one of the most loved Japanese street food in Japan. Originally a Chinese dish, it is adopted quite well in Japan. This wheat noodle soup is oishi (delicious) and inexpensive at the same time. Ramen is differentiated based on the soup. The common ones are Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (salt), Miso , and Tonkotsu (pork stalk). You also get to pick the type of noodles you prefer. The noodles are differentiated based on their thickness and firmness.
Now comes the best part, the toppings! Each bowl has at least 3-4 toppings amongst chashu (pork slices), menma (salty bamboo shoots), moyashi (bean sprouts), kamaboko (fish cake), tamago (boiled egg), corn, butter, spring onion, etc. I usually look for the chef’s recommendations and have not been disappointed even once. My favorite still remains tonkotsu ramen and Hokkaido miso butter ramen.
Ramen shops are clustered around the train station and its basements and almost at every corner around the station. Ramen is a fast food so you are meant to eat quickly and leave 😛 It is not a place for relaxed conversations or dates. At busier locations, you’d find only standing ramen places. Although the tourists’ flood to Ippudo or Ichiran for the novelty of it, the locals prefer the regular outlets. These ramen shops are the ones who use a vending machine for placing an order. If you loved your ramen, you can finish all your soup as a compliment to the chef (Be aware, ramen soup usually contains a lot of salt!). The most important thing! It is fully acceptable to make a slurping sound your noodles while eating 🙂
#2 Soba – Traditional Japanese FAST Food, Eat While You Wait for Your Train
These buckwheat noodles are enjoyed hot as well as cold. Soba dishes are served with a soup or with a dip. Mori soba, boiled cold noodles, eaten with soya-based dips. However, kake soba is dipped in hot soup, usually dashi (fish stalk). There are different varieties which can be enjoyed hot as well as cold. Amongst these my favorites are tororo soba, kitsune (topped with deep fried tofu) soba, and tanuki (topped with tempura bits) soba.
Soba is simple, light and fresh street food and it’s popular as it can be handy and eaten quickly when you are a little hungry. Soba stalls can often be found on the platforms at train stations!
#3 Sushi – Where to find inexpensive, but fresh and tasty Sushi
Sushi is not food, it’s an experience 🙂 Vinegar rice topped with varied seafood make the most popular Japanese dish. The topping is usually raw fish but grilled eel, boiled prawns, or tofu is available too. There are different types of sushi and you must try at least one of each! Nigirizushi (seafood on rice), gunkan (small rice and seaweed cup topped with seafood), temakizushi (seaweed roll filled with rice and seafood) and inarizushi (wrapped with deep fried tofu) are amongst the popular ones. (“sushi” becomes “zushi” when it precedes some word, so don’t get confused)
There is no average price for Sushi, as you can have super expensive Sushi at exclusive restaurants, and you can find inexpensive street food type Sushi everywhere in major towns in Japan.
Sushi-Ro is the most popular sushi chain where locals enjoy their sushi dinner. Sushi places in Ginza and around ports are fresh. Tourists are drawn to Genki sushi , the famous conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo. These chains are pretty affordable with around $1 per plate usually.
#4 Tempura and Karaage
Now is the time of fried snack! Karaage – fried chicken, and tempura – fried everything else 😛 Both are very common street food in Japan, although Tempura could be enjoyed in more expensive traditional restaurants. The best about Japanese fried snacks is you cannot feel too much oil in there, unlike the fried snacks in the west. These are crispy, delicious and with almost negligible oil.
Both, kara-age and tempura, are enjoyed with alcohol or for munching during hunger pangs. Izakaya (Japanese style pub) often serves karage with mayonnaise (weird, right? :P), and trust me, it’s tastes like heaven! Karage is also served in a set with miso soup and rice for lunch meals (one of my favorite cheap thrills :P). Tempura is served with tentsuyu sauce that it is a mix of consomme, sweet sake, soy sauce, ginger, radish and spices. You will not regret ordering these for you!
Along with these, there are onigiri, okonomiyaki, curry, yakitori, udon, and much more you can enjoy. Japanese cuisine (和食, washoku) offers an abundance of gastronomical delights with a boundless variety of regional and seasonal dishes as well as international cuisine. A foodie will not return disappointed from Japan!