Japanese cuisine is incredibly diverse, with regional and seasonal impacts on almost everything..Cost varies hugely too, it can be downright expensive ( a restaurant near me serves a 125 g steak for around $1000 USD) or ridiculously cheap (Tonkatsu set $10 USD) ..
What I think is different is the quality of the food and its preparation even in cheap restaurants, that may only serve one thing, it is commonly beautifully and carefully prepared.. So you can eat well here cheaply, even in big cities, but you need to get away from tourist restaurants to do so..
I have many favorites and every meal out is another adventure because the menus change seasonally.
Anyway here are some of my favorites, in no particular order and also not a final list – not even close, I have many, many more.. Most of these from restaurants around the Otawara or Nasu area..
Sashimi -a well known Japanese dish consisting of very fresh raw meat or fish sliced into thin pieces… Presentation plays a big part and often it looks just too good to eat.. Everyone thinks of it as a fish dish but beef, horse and deer sashimi are also common.
Sushi, vinegared rice with other ingredients and in Japan it is presented very beautifully and simply.. If you eat Sushi in Japan, you will struggle to eat it in other countries where they add mayonnaise and other non traditional flavourings..
Tonkatsu – mostly a pork fillet or pork loin coated with bread crumbs and deep fried. Often served with shredded cabbage and a sort of pasta salad in my favorite restaurant. It is eaten with a Tonkatsu sauce (sort of Worcestershire) mustard and a slice of lemon. You can get it in sandwiches too and with a curry sauce – but plain old Tonkatsu is one of my favorites.
Gyoza are Japanese style Dumplings and can be fried, steamed or deep fried. My preference is plain old fried Gyoza, I quite often buy them and cook at home, but also eat out in Gyoza restaurants.. Gyoza normally contain ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of dough, and when fried are also known as pot stickers …
Ramen basically needs no caption. Chinese-style noodles in a broth, with toppings such as sliced pork, egg, dried seaweed, spring onions
Korean BBQ is another fun group meal that is really popular here..basically you order small pieces of meats, vegetables and flame grill them over charcoal.. Eat as you cook, dipping the cooked meat into sauces, lemon, soy, garlic and others…. seriously yummy and really popular here.. Technically not Japanese but, you would not realize it, there are so many Yakiniku restaurants around
Okonomiyaki – fun food that’s fun to cook. This is great for a group of people because you make it yourself. Its a sort of Japanese pancake filled with whatever you choose. Varies by region and you can get it with meat, fish, shrimp, shredded cabbage, onion, octopus, squid, vegetables, mochi or cheese and even noodles.. you cook it on a hotplate in front of you and add condiments to suit.. they are really tasty and satisfying meal.. In Tokyo they eat Monjayaki – which is a runnier version – there’s an entire street of Monja restaurants in Tokyo
Soba noodles – I have become a real Soba noodles fan.. In particular my favorite is Duck Soba. Soba is made from buckwheat and can be served either hot or cold – both delicious. The cold being nice in warmer weather, but the hot noodles in soup in winter is just heavenly.
Unagi or eel, is the freshwater type, its immensely popular in Japan and is different to Anago or saltwater eel. Mostly its covered with a sweet sauce and grilled and then served on rice… This particular restaurant has been serving eel for over 300 years in the same site.
Chawanmushi is the first Japanese thing I ever cooked, its one of my absolute favorites. Steamed savory custard with all sorts of different treats inside – one being a Ginko nut, but others can be mushrooms, shrimp, fish cake, spring onions.. Usually served in a sort of tea cup and you can use a spoon ! No-one expects chopsticks on this one!!
Kaiseki is a traditional many course Japanese meal. Its almost an art form in its presentation carefully balancing flavors with textures and colors of food Local and seasonal ingredients are presented in a manner that enhances flavors and textures.
Kinako Mochi is mochi (Japanese rice cake) coated with a mixture of kinako (roasted soybean flour) and sugar. Best eaten warm freshly made at a festival. I know its not a meal, but it is a favorite 🙂