Everything to do with food in Japan centres around variety. From the types you can eat to the different establishments that serve it, you are in for a real adventure when it comes to eating out in Japan.
Rice has been the basic foodstuff of the Japanese for over two thousand years and is consumed by the natives for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In fact, there are very few dishes in the country which do not include rice of one type or another. But, as with all other foods in Japan, there is a great deal of variety even when it comes to this simple staple ingredient.
Highly recommended is fried rice or ‘chahan’ which is plain white rice with pieces of egg, peas, ham, prawns etc. Rice balls or ‘onigiri’ are another favourite and consist of rice which is rolled into balls and wrapped up with seaweed (nori in Japanese). Other food is put into the centre of the ball and they make excellent snacks. Sushi rice is rice with vinegar and is used in all the different sushi dishes. Donburi is simply a bowl of rice with some other food on top of it, namely chicken, beef or egg. Finally, ‘omochi’ is a sticky rice which is pressed into cakes and traditionally could only be eaten on special occasions.
Once you have decided on the type of rice which you wish to accompany your meal, it’s time to pick your main course. The list of alternatives is positively endless so here are just a few of the more popular dishes served in the country. To begin, sushi, the most famous and most popular Japanese dish, not only among the Japanese themselves but also among foreigners. Traditionally, pickled fish conserved in vinegar, today there are numerous different types. Nigiri are small rice balls with seafood served on top, ‘temaki’ are sushi cones rolled by hand, ‘norimaki’ are sushi rolls which contain rice and seafood wrapped in seaweed, ‘futomaki’ are big norimaki, ‘chriashi’ is seafood served over sushi rice and ‘inari’ are deep fried tofu bags filled with sushi rice.
Another favourite is ‘sashimi’ which is basically raw seafood is dipped into soya sauce before consumption. The most popular types are maguro (tuna), toro (fatty tuna), ika (squid), tako (octopus), ebi (prawn), saba (mackerel) and sake (salmon).
Another popular Japanese delicacy are the various types of noodles which most of you are probably familiar with. Others include ‘tempura’, a dish made from seafood and vegetables which have been deep fried in special batter, ‘yakitori’ or grilled chicken skewers, ‘gyoza’ which are Japanese dumplings of Chinese origin, ‘sukiyaki’ made from beef, tofu and vegetables cooked in a pot and dipped in raw egg. And the list goes on. You just have to be experimental and brave and forget about any weight watching because it’s not going to happen.
Finally, as well as the variety of foods you can eat, there are also a number of types of eateries to be found in Japan. Firstly, for those of you who don’t like to venture too far away from what you are accustomed to back home, ‘restorans’ are regular western style restaurants. The most common native type of restaurant found in the country, however, is a ‘shokudo’ which translates as eating place. These establishments serve a combination of western and Japanese foods and for those of you with poor Japanese, the easiest alternative in shokudos is a ‘teishoku’ or a set course meal.
For the noodle fans among you, head to an ‘o’sobay-ya’ which specialises in both hot and cold noodle dishes. Shina ryori-ya are restaurants serving Chinese specialties. Izakayas are the Japanese equivalent of western pubs and a good place to go to get something simple in friendly and casual environment. Robatayaki are restaurants serving foods which are grilled over charcoal and ‘yakitori-ya’ serve barbecued chicken and other meats on skewers. And, last but not least for pastries and light sandwiches find yourself a Kissa ten.