1. Kaiseki 懐石 or kaiseki-ryōri 懐石料理
Kaiseki (懐石) or kaiseki-ryōri (懐石料理) is a traditional multi-course Japanese set meal.
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course gourmet Japanese set meal that made with seasonal ingredient. The fineness of the texture, quality and the sophisticated food arrangement was simply a delicacy.
Kaiseki can be found in restaurants or as a hotel package when you stay in a Ryokan. Many traditional ryokan offers both Kaiseki breakfast and dinner as hotel room combination package just so that you can experience the most out of the traditional Japanese Ryokan stay.
2. Shabu Shabu しゃぶしゃぶ
Shabu-shabu is Japanese hot pot, traditionally cooked with some fresh vegetables and thinly slices of meats boiled in water. Swishing the ingredients in a hot pot of water was the typical "shabu-shabu" way to enjoy the hot pot.
This is a dish that not to be missed during winter especially when it is snowing.
There are all sort of shabu-shabu in Japan such as Shabu-shabu with chicken meat, thinly sliced pork, wagyu beef, hida beef, Hokkaido crabs etc.
3. Yakitori 焼き鳥
If you find the restaurant signboard of yakitori-ya 焼き鳥屋, then you have reached a yakitori (Skewers chicken) restaurant! Alternatively you can also expect Izakaya 居酒屋 (Japanese pub) serves Yakitori in their menu.
Yakitori is the type of cuisine with skewered meats and or vegetables on bamboo sticks - grilled with charcoal. You may find some very authentic yakitori-ya 焼き鳥屋 with limited tables and seats while the chefs busy cooking at the counter. Just to highlight that most yakitori-ya 焼き鳥屋 & Izakaya 居酒屋 allow smoking while dining in. If you are really not a big fan of these environment (charcoal smoke and cigarette smoke), perhaps you need to take note and think twice before going in.
Please note that many of the yakitori-ya 焼き鳥屋 & Izakaya 居酒屋 are charging cover charge/ seats charge - ranging from ¥350 - 1000 (please check out the latest rate) depends on which area and restaurant. You may also consider to make a reservation before going as it is likely to have queues in some popular places.
I can understand that it is important to make profit with such a small restaurant in a high rental country. Imagine there are five groups of people go to your restaurant but ordered A$10 worth of food per person (may not be hungry) and perhaps dine in for one hour on average (while many people are queuing outside the restaurant)- it is hard to make money and ensure your business is sustainable.
Some travelers are not into paying for cover charge, in that case you may refer to this article and make an informed decision.
4. Ramen ラーメン
Ramen is very common and conveniently available from anywhere in Japan. It is a type of noodle that cooked with broth (miso/ soy etc) or with dipping sauce.
The most common ramen I found are the white miso ramen and red miso ramen. To be honest, I haven't found any bowl of horrible ramen in Japan as the Japanese are so good with cooking it.
5. Tsukemen つけ麵
Tsukemen (dipping noodle) consists of a plate of cold ramen to be dipped into the broth before eating. Usually it goes along with some cha siu (Pork slices/ Pork Cubes), egg, seaweed, bamboo, spring onion , corn etc, in the broth or on the side.
I'd tried tsukmen in different restaurants but found all tsukemen was cooked differently. For example, some with thicker broth based with all ingredients inside the broth while cold firmed ramen on the side. Some other restaurants cooked the broth individually while cold noodle and other ingredients on the side.
Since different restaurants cook tsukemen with their own recipes, there are inconsistency in taste. As for me, I found one that really yummy with thick broth and they made their own noodle in the restaurant. In saying so, some visitors commented in tripadvisor mentioned that it was too salty to them. If you don't try it, you will never know which is your favorite!
6. OSushi お寿司- Sushi 寿司& Sashimi 刺身
Japanese Sushi, (すし, 寿司, 鮨) tastes the best when you eat it fresh in Japan. With the fresh ingredients in Japan along with the skillful Sushi chefs who make sushi on a daily basis, I have never had any sushi that didn't taste good.
7. Yakisoba 焼きそば
Yakisoba is a typical stir-fry soba (buckwheat noddle) dish in Japan, commonly fried with shredded cabbages, onion, carrot, thinly sliced meat and fish flakes. The special sauce that makes the stir-fry noodle different from other stir-fry is the Worcestershire sauce. It tastes a little sweet and sour - some love it and some can find it weird.
8. Okonomiyaki お好み焼き
Okonomiyaki （お好み焼き） is a MUST TRY dish especially when you visit Osaka 大坂 or Hiroshima 広島. It is a savory dish that commonly described as the Japanese savory pancake or Japanese Pizza. Okonomiyaki is made of the okonomiyaki flour mixture, dashi, eggs, shredded cabbages, fish flakes, spring onion, meat such as thinly sliced pork belly, beef etc and completed with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and fish flakes topping. As for the Hiroshima style, it comes with yakisoba noodle and fried eggs in addition to the normal okonomiyaki.
9. Udon うどん
Udon is a very common dish in Japan especially in most of the train track's stalls or in any restaurants. Many of the restaurants provide optional ingredients to add to the Udon noodle soup, such as beef, pork, onsen eggs, tempura vegetables, bean curd, deep fried prawns etc.
If you have a chance, try it during winter in a standing stall (no seats) or while waiting for your next trains in the subway stalls. The experience was really amazing and refreshing in winter.
10. Teppanyaki 鉄板焼き
If you are bored of the food that prepared in the kitchen and serve on your table, Teppanyaki can be your next option when you visit Japan. Teppanyaki is a type of Japanese cooking that the chefs are preparing the food on the iron griddle - right in front of you. It was extremely incredible to watch them performing the culinary art of cooking, turning the fresh ingredients into delicious yummy food. The end results of the teppanyaki, you may find some photos below for your reference. D.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s!
11. Soba 蕎麦
Soba - Japanese buckwheat noodle is definitely one of my favorite dish in Japan. There are cold soba with dipping sauce and the soba soaked in a bowl of hot soup version. My personal preference is cold soba noodle with dipping sauce and order some topping such as tempura prawn to go along with it.
Tips: Try to put a little bit wasabi into the broth/ soup to have a little bit of the kick of wasabi flavor.
12. Donburi (丼)
Donburi (丼) is a Japanese rice dish on a bowl, usually comes with sweet or deep friend topping such as tempura prawn, vegetables, pork, beef, eels etc. For examples:
Katsudon (カツ丼) - Deep fried Pork on rice
Tendon/ Tempura Donburi (天丼/天ぷら丼) - Deep fried tempura prawn and vegetables on rice
Gyudon (牛丼) - Beef on rice
Butadon (豚丼) - Pork (simmered with sweet sauce) on rice
Unadon/ Unagi Donburi (鰻丼/ウナギ鰻丼) - Grilled eels on rice
You may find donburi in most of the restaurants all over Japan.
13. Japanese Curry カレー
Japanese curry is relatively different from the south east asia's curry, it is slightly sweeter.
14. Bento 弁当
As long as you are walking around Japan, be it in the railway station, department store or restaurants, you can easily find Japanese lunch box Bento 弁当 everywhere.
Don't be surprised if you were to be given a set of cold bento, it is rather common for that since the dishes they prepared are good to be served hot or cold.
15. Japanese BBQ 焼き
When you visit a seafood restaurant, often time you may find the Japanese BBQ 焼き on the menu. The dish usually is served with ingredients on your table with portable grill set for you to experience - DIY (Do it yourself). If you are unsure if your seafood is cooked, you can shout politely to the staff "sumimasen" すみません (means: excuse me, please.) to get their assistance on that. The experience was rather fun and amusing to experience it fresh off the grill.
16. Set Meal 定食/ セット
Japanese set menu generally comes with seasonal prickles, cold side dish, miso soup and the main course - all is served on a Japanese tray. It is rather enjoyable to eat a variety of dishes with a set meal.
There are so much delicious Japanese meals I've tried in Japan, please note that I may try to add more dishes to the post from time to time.
Japan is easily at the top of my travel list despite I have been there multiple times. I will update some travel information and tips from time to time.