Food / Japan

Japan’s Food Culture

Food is always an important subject for travellers to foreign countries. Every one wants to try out local cuisine and experiment with what each location has to offer. Albeit some being more adventurous than others (me being the latter on of the two), Japan has everything to offer when it comes to food. In this post I will attempt to cover the most important parts of Japanese Food Culture (even though there is enough material on this subject to write a whole book).

STREET FOOD

Like in most countries, Street Food has a lot of things to offer to an epicurean traveller.

Meat street vendor during a matsuri, in Kanazawa

Street food is wonderfully fresh as it is always cooked on the spot. Because there are no seats to use while eating, all foods are put on sticks of in paper cones. Meat, vegetables, French fries, desserts, you name it and street vendors have it. In Japan, most street vendors are usually seen near touristic areas with high traffic, or near temples and shrines. During matsuri, hundreds of specialized vendors pop-up and offer all kinds of goodies to their clients. If you’re cute enough, they might give you some free food too. My friends and I each got a bag of cotton candy and I got a sac of freshly baked pastries for wearing a yukata. Oh, the joys of being a foreigner in Japan!

IZAKAYA

Izakaya are often inaccurately described as being drinking establishments however, there is a lot more to them than simply drinking. While it is true that the word 居酒屋 means “alcohol seller”, Izakaya have a staggering about of food offered to patrons. In these places, often crowded with salarymen and office parties, you can order vegetable plates like edamame (soy beans), sushi and fried foods.

Bibimbap (korean dish) in an izakaya, Japan
(c) Mylène Lau

The only thing you have to be wary of is when it’s time to pay. If you’re not a drinker (like me) but want to go with friends to the local Izakaya, be prepared to fork out some heavy cash, as drinks don’t come cheap. Food is usually inexpensive, around 300円 per plate but, like in most restaurants in Japan, the bill is never split among the patrons according to what they consumed. It is rather presented as one ‘general’ bill for all of the food and alcohol consumed at a table.

TRADITIONAL

Ah, the beauty of traditional Japan, with all of its crab brain soup, shrimp heads and … wait what? These delicacies can be enjoyed in ryokan (spa-type resorts) or in fancy restaurants. Each prefecture has its own speciality that is added to the basic menu of rice, raw shrimp, clams and fish. In Hokkaido, they are famously known for their magnificent crabs during the winter therefore, crab meat prepared in various ways is often on their menu.

Various dishes presented in a traditional format, in a tatami room. Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa

Traditional food in Japan means, for the most part, raw fish and seafood. Personally, not being able to eat raw foods, I could only eat the white rice, picked vegetables and miso soup. Some of my friends however had a real feast with all of the raw shrimp, crab, fish, mussels and oysters.

FISH & SEAFOOD

Fish and seafood (the cooked variety as opposed to the aforementioned kind) is an important part of Japan’s food culture. There must be 1001 ways to prepare fish in Japan, each being more impressive and tasty than the previous.

Omicho fish market in Kanazawa, Ishikawa

Thousands of fresh fish and seafood are caught every day on the coasts of Japan and brought to markets and restaurants early in the morning. For a small price, you can get freshly caught fish and enjoy the taste of the sea right at home! The fun part is figuring out which dish to prepare!

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