With its stunning natural landscape and strong cultural identity, Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination. The East Asian island is also home to some deliciously fresh cuisine.
Unique and beguiling, Japan is a country of binaries. It straddles both the traditional and ultra-modern, and hosts buzzing cities alongside stunning natural landscapes. Its food is notoriously nutritious, with a diet based around super-fresh, seasonal products. We've picked ten dishes to seek out when visiting Japan.
Don’t leave Japan without trying…
Put simply, sushi is raw fish served on rice seasoned lightly with vinegar. It’s in the variety of flavours and textures – like tangy, creamy uni (sea urchin roe) and plump, juicy, ama-ebi (sweet shrimp) – that things get interesting. Despite sushi’s lofty image, it has a humble origin: street food.
Unagi is river eel grilled over charcoal and lacquered with a sweet barbecue sauce. According to folklore, unagi is the ideal antidote to the heat and humidity of Japan’s stultifying summers. It’s a delicacy evocative of old Japan and most restaurants that specialize in eel have a wonderfully traditional feel. Fresh, wild-caught unagi is available May through October.
Part dinner, part work of art, kaiseki is Japan’s haute cuisine. It originated centuries ago alongside the tea ceremony in Kyoto (and Kyoto remains the capital of kaiseki). There’s no menu, just a procession of small courses meticulously arranged on exquisite crockery. Only fresh ingredients are used and each dish is designed to evoke the current season.
Tonkatsu, breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet, dates to the late 19th Century when Japan threw open its doors to Western influence. But never mind the European origin: the ingredients and attention to detail are thoroughly Japanese. Tonkatsu – especially when it’s kuro-buta (Berkshire pork) from Kagoshima – is melt-in-your-mouth tender, served with a side of miso soup and a mountain of shredded cabbage.
A cold beer and a few skewers of yakitori – charcoal grilled chicken – is an evening ritual for many of Japan’s weekday warriors. Nearly every part of the chicken is on the menu, all grilled to perfection, seasoned with either shio (salt) or tare (a sweet soy sauce-based sauce) and served with a side of friendly banter.