If you’re ever lucky enough to visit the Land of the Rising Sun you’ll be pleased to know that Japanese food is some of the best in the world. Be sure to try our list of the 8 ‘must try’ Japanese dishes that we’ve listed here, along with a restaurant recommendation for each in either Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka.
No 1: SUSHI (Tsukiji Fish Market: 5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan)
Obviously no trip to Japan would be complete without trying sushi, but it’s worth noting that Japanese sushi is quite different to the Yo Sushi and Itsu that we’re accustomed to at home. Without many of the frills we’re used to (there’s no sign of beloved cucumber, avocado or cream cheese, for example), Japanese sushi is simply some of the freshest raw fish that you may ever try on a bed of sticky white rice. We would recommend enjoying a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji fish market. We opted for the Nagiri special set menu with raw salmon, prawn, tuna, scallop and squid, salmon roe and seared salmon, scallop and tuna from a small restaurant with a red cover on the side of the market. This set us back ¥2000 (around £15) each.
No 2: RAMEN (Gogyo Kyoto: 604-8121 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Japan)
Like sushi, ramen is a traditional Japanese meal and one it would be a crime not to try. There are many ramen restaurants all over Japan, where you typically stand in a small booth and slurp up your ramen within ten minutes or so. If you’re stopping in Kyoto and would prefer a sit-down meal head to Gogyo and try the burnt miso ramen. As with most of the best restaurants in Japan you may have to queue to get a table, but it is well worth the wait and the queue usually moves quickly. This bowl of heaven containing pieces of pork, soft boiled egg, wheat noodles and the tastiest ‘burnt’ miso soup ever, was one of the highlights of our trip and one we went back to enjoy a second time. The gyozas were also delish (8 pieces to a set and really crispy). Two half sized ramens and the gyozas to share was £25, which we thought was great value for money.
No 3: UDON (Omen: 606-8406 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Japan)
Another must visit restaurant in Kyoto near the Ginkaku-ji shrine is Omen. We’ve nicknamed the udon noodles there ‘DIY noodles’ as we were served a beautiful platter of pickled vegetables and spices to add to our broth of noodles. Udon noodles differ from ramen since they are thicker and made differently: ramen is a pulled noodle whereas udon is made by flattening a ball of dough, then flouring it, folding it over, and cutting noodles from the dough. The restaurant itself was traditional and welcoming, serving green tea with the meal. This place is a definite recommend after a long day’s temple visiting. This dish will likely set you back about £10.
No 4: KATSU CURRY (Various locations throughout Japan but we went to Coco Ichinbanya: 600-8022 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Inarichō (Kawaramachidōri), 330-2, Japan)
To sample the famous Japanese curry head to Coco Ichibanya, which is a chain of curry eateries, fairly similar to fast food joints. It’s cheap and cheerful, but they do have a wide selection of meat, fish and vegetarian choices (the traditional Japanese curry is served with breaded pork) as well as the ability to pick your spice level (say 0 or 1 if you usually enjoy the mildness of the Wagamama version). We paid roughly £5 each, which is a very cheap dinner in Japan. Also look out for Katsu curry throughout Japan for a slightly more traditionally cooked version of the dish.
No 5: TEMPURA (35 Steps Bistro: 150-0043 Tokyo, Shibuya, Japan)
Tempura is served in one way or another at most Japanese restaurants (being various bits of meat, seafood and vegetables deep fried in batter) but on your trip make sure to pay a visit to an izakaya – Japan’s version of a gastro pub with tapas-like sharing dishes. We would recommend 35 Steps Bistro in Shibuya where we enjoyed aburi-shimesaba mackerel (flame grilled in front of us), ebi-chilimayo (deep fried prawns with sweet chilli sauce and soft boiled egg), fried potato with caviar (Japanese curly French fries with a chilli flavouring to us), Kara-age Jan (deep fried chicken with Japanese style soy sauce and vinegar dressing) as well as sake and plum wine. This restaurant is tucked away (you guessed it) 35 steps beneath a hotel. If you didn’t know where it was, you wouldn’t be able to see it so we recommend looking it up online first and ringing to book a table.
No 6: OKONOMIYAKI (Mizuno: 1 Chome-4-15 Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0071, Japan)
This was something we had never heard of before coming to Japan and so gave us the opportunity to try something completely different. Dubbed ‘Japan’s kitchen’, Osaka is well worth a visit for the neon lights and endless options of delicious food (and only a 12 minute train ride from Kyoto). We chose Mizuno, which serves onominyaki – a Japanese style pancake cooked with flour, egg and pork (but there are many variations with different types of meat and noodles etc). We are not aware of anywhere in London which serves this but if anyone is, please let us know as we’d love to have it again. At Mizuno, the raw ingredients of the onominyaki are cooked fresh in front of you on hot plates, which you eat off of, making it a very different (and enjoyable) dining experience. Our tip – they take your order whilst you’re queuing outside so order more than one pancake otherwise you may find yourself wishing for more once it’s too late!
No 7: GYOZA (Gyoza-ro Harajuku: 150-0001 Tokyo, Jingumae, 6−2−4, Japan)
If you love dumplings and want a cheap and delicious feed head to Gyoza-ro in Harajuku. We got there at 9pm and queued for maybe around 15-20 minutes, but like most Japanese dining people are in and out within half an hour and so we weren’t queuing for long. The menu is simple, but delicious. We started with a portion of the cucumber with miso paste and moved onto the fried pork garlic and leek dumplings. The meal hit the spot for us after a long day trip, and what made the meal even better was the price! For three sets of dumplings (six in each) and two servings of the cucumber miso bowls we paid around ¥1300 (£10).
No 8: WAGYU BEEF (Blacows: 2 Chome-11-9 Ebisunishi, Tokyo 150-0021, Japan)
Here, we have possibly saved the best until last. Along with the Ramen from Gogyo, our experience at Blacows burger joint in Ebisu was one of the highlights of our holiday. The restaurant serves only 100% Japanese black wagyu beef and we had two avocado and cheese burgers with added lettuce, tomato and grilled onions with zucchini fritters on the side. The portion of zucchini fritters wasn’t particularly generous, especially considering you have to pay more for them, but this was more than compensated for by the burger. Before trying wagyu, we were slightly sceptical about what the difference with usual beef would be, but now our eyes have been opened. Make sure you include a trip to Blacows if you also want to find out what all the fuss is about.
If you’d like any more information on any of the restaurants we’ve reviewed, please free feel to contact us.