Last Updated on October 4, 2023 by Ezra Matiasi

Japanese cuisine is renowned worldwide for its exquisite flavours, meticulous preparation, and rich cultural heritage.

Here is our list of Top 10 Traditional Food Of Japan:
Sushi, Ramen, Tempura, Sashimi, Okonomiyaki, Soba and Udon, Kaiseki, Miso Soup,Yakitori and Onigiri

These dishes are more than just meals; they are a testament to the artistry of Japanese cooking, a celebration of seasonal ingredients, and a nod to time-honoured customs.


Sushi on a wooden chopping board. One piece of Sushi held with black chomp sticks

The early history of sushi can be traced to Southeast Asia, where fermented rice was used as a preservation method. 

It eventually made its way to Japan, where the Japanese people started experimenting with different ingredients and techniques. 

The result was a range of sushi varieties, each with its unique flavours and preparations that is why it made it on out top 10 traditional food of Japan list.

Types of Sushi:

  • Nigiri: Nigiri sushi consists of hand-pressed vinegared rice topped with various ingredients. Common toppings include thinly sliced fish like tuna, salmon, and shrimp, but it can also include other delicacies like tamago (sweet Japanese omelette) or uni (sea urchin).
  • Sashimi: While not technically sushi, sashimi deserves mention due to its close association. Sashimi is a simple dish of thinly sliced raw fish, served without rice. It’s often presented elegantly, highlighting the natural beauty and taste of the fish.
  • Maki: Maki rolls are perhaps the most recognizable form of sushi outside of Japan. They consist of rice and various ingredients rolled in seaweed (nori) and then sliced into bite-sized pieces. Popular maki rolls include the California roll, spicy tuna roll, and tempura roll.

The Art of Sushi Preparation and Presentation:

The preparation of sushi is truly an art form. 

Skilled sushi chefs, known as Itamae, dedicate years to mastering this craft. 

Their precise knife skills are essential for creating perfect slices of fish and shaping the rice.

Presentation is another critical aspect of sushi.

Sushi plates are often works of art, adorned with colourful garnishes, such as daikon radish flowers, shiso leaves, and edible flowers. 

Wasabi, pickled ginger (gari), and soy sauce are served alongside sushi to enhance the flavours, and each has its purpose. 

Wasabi adds a spicy kick, while pickled ginger cleanses the palate between bites.

In a traditional sushi setting, chefs interact with diners, providing a personalized experience and crafting sushi to match individual preferences. 

The combination of meticulous preparation and artistic presentation makes sushi not just a meal but an exquisite culinary experience.


Hot ramen on the table showing steam

Ramen, a soul-warming noodle soup, holds a special place in the hearts of both Japanese locals and international food enthusiasts.

Despite its worldwide popularity, ramen remains deeply rooted in Japanese culinary culture.

Regional Variations of Ramen:

One of the most intriguing aspects of ramen is its regional diversity. 

Japan boasts a plethora of regional ramen styles, each with its unique flavours and characteristics. Some notable examples include:

  • Tonkotsu Ramen: Hailing from Fukuoka, this ramen features a creamy, pork-based broth that’s simmered for hours to achieve its rich, collagen-packed consistency. It’s often served with thin noodles and topped with ingredients like chashu (braised pork belly) and black garlic oil.
  • Shoyu Ramen: A classic Tokyo-style ramen, shoyu ramen features a clear soy sauce-based broth that’s both savoury and aromatic. It’s typically accompanied by toppings like sliced green onions, bamboo shoots, and tender slices of chashu.
  • Miso Ramen: Hokkaido is renowned for its miso ramen, characterized by a hearty, umami-rich miso broth. This ramen style often incorporates corn, butter, and sometimes seafood into the bowl for a unique flavour profile.
  • Shio Ramen: Shio (salt) ramen boasts a clear, light broth seasoned with salt. It allows the natural flavours of the ingredients to shine through, making it a favourite in Kyushu and other regions.

Ramen is not just a meal; it’s an experience that reflects Japan’s culinary diversity and dedication to perfecting every detail, from the broth to the toppings.


Hot Tasty shrimp in tempura with sweet and sour sauce on top on a thick choping board with a black tea cup from a distance.

Next on our top 10 traditional food of Japan list is Tempura, a beloved Japanese dish, has its origins in Portuguese cuisine. 

The word “tempura” is believed to have been derived from the Portuguese word “tempero,” meaning seasoning or sauce. 

It was introduced to Japan by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, and over time, it evolved into a unique Japanese culinary tradition.

The Perfect Tempura Batter:

The hallmark of great tempura lies in its light and crispy batter.

Achieving this delicate balance requires precise technique:

  • Ingredients: Tempura batter typically consists of flour, ice-cold water, and sometimes egg yolk. The cold water is crucial to create a lacy, crispy texture when fried.
  • Mixing: The batter should be mixed lightly and should remain slightly lumpy to create a desirable crispiness when fried.
  • Frying Temperature: Tempura is traditionally deep-fried in vegetable oil at a specific temperature to achieve a quick and even cooking process. The oil should be hot but not too hot to avoid a greasy result.

Tempura is a versatile dish that can feature a wide range of ingredients.

Common items for tempura include:

  • Seafood: Shrimp, squid, and white fish are popular choices.
  • Vegetables: Tempura-fried vegetables like sweet potato, eggplant, and zucchini are delicious.
  • Mushrooms: Varieties like shiitake and enoki mushrooms are often included.
  • Tempura Variations: Some unique variations include tempura-fried flowers, leaves, and even ice cream for dessert.

Tempura is typically served with a dipping sauce called tentsuyu, which is made from a combination of dashi (fish stock), soy sauce, and mirin (sweet rice wine).

Additionally, diners can enhance their tempura experience with grated daikon radish and ginger, which add refreshing and spicy elements to the dish.


Sashimi meal

Sashimi is a pristine and minimalist Japanese dish that showcases the pure, unadulterated flavours of raw seafood without the addition of rice or other ingredients. 

It is often misunderstood as a type of sushi, but there are significant differences:

Sushi vs. Sashimi

Sushi involves vinegared rice combined with various ingredients, including raw fish.

Sashimi consists solely of thinly sliced raw fish, presented elegantly without rice.

Selection and Preparation of Sashimi-Grade Fish

The key to exceptional sashimi lies in the quality and freshness of the fish:

  • Sashimi-Grade Fish: Not all fish are suitable for sashimi. Sashimi-grade fish must meet strict standards to ensure it’s safe to eat raw. Factors like freshness, texture, and flavour are crucial. Common sashimi options include tuna (maguro), salmon (sake), and yellowtail (hamachi).
  • Preparation: Slicing sashimi-grade fish requires exceptional knife skills. Chefs use long, sharp knives to create thin, uniform slices that enhance the texture and mouthfeel of the fish.

Sashimi Etiquette and Presentation:

Sashimi is not just about taste; it’s also about aesthetics and respect for the ingredients. 

Here are some important aspects of sashimi etiquette and presentation:

  • Plate Arrangement: Sashimi is often arranged on a simple, pristine plate with garnishes like daikon radish, shiso leaves, or edible flowers. The arrangement should be visually pleasing.
  • Wasabi and Soy Sauce: Unlike sushi, where wasabi is typically mixed into soy sauce, sashimi allows diners to apply their wasabi and dip each piece delicately into soy sauce. This preserves the delicate flavours of the fish.
  • Chopsticks or Fingers: While it’s common to use chopsticks, some people prefer to eat sashimi with their fingers to fully appreciate the texture and flavours.


Japanese okonomiyaki also known as the Japanese Pizza

Okonomiyaki, often referred to as a “Japanese pancake” or “Japanese pizza,” is a savoury delight that varies in style and ingredients depending on the region. 

Its name, “okonomi” meaning “what you like” and “yaki” meaning “grilled” or “cooked,” reflects its versatility.

Variations and Ingredients in Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is highly customizable, with various regional styles and ingredients.

Some key variations and common ingredients include:

  • Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki: Layered preparation with ingredients like cabbage, bean sprouts, noodles, pork, and an egg on top. It’s often served with a sweet okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise.
  • Osaka-style Okonomiyaki: Ingredients are mixed together before cooking, creating a thick, fluffy pancake. Common components include cabbage, seafood, thinly sliced pork, and a sweet and savoury sauce.
  • Modanyaki: A modern variation often found in Tokyo, modanyaki includes ingredients like mochi (rice cake), cheese, and various toppings.
  • Ingredients: Okonomiyaki can include a wide array of ingredients, such as seafood (shrimp, squid, scallops), meat (pork, beef, chicken), vegetables (cabbage, scallions), and even cheese.

Soba and Udon

Open bowl of Soba and Udon Meal

Japanese cuisine offers a variety of noodles, and two of the most prominent options are soba and udon. These noodles differ in several ways:

  • Ingredients: Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, which gives them a nutty flavour and a slightly grainy texture. Udon noodles, on the other hand, are made from wheat flour, resulting in a chewy and soft texture.
  • Thickness: Soba noodles are thin and typically appear grey-brown or green due to the buckwheat flour. Udon noodles are thick and white.
  • Versatility: Soba noodles are often enjoyed cold with a dipping sauce or hot in a broth. Udon noodles are typically served hot in a savoury broth, but they can also be enjoyed cold in summer.


Birds eye view Japanese sushi kaiseki fine dining platter combo set on a wooden board

Kaiseki is the pinnacle of Japanese fine dining, offering an exquisite and multi-course culinary experience that reflects the seasons and local ingredients.

Often likened to an elaborate tasting menu, kaiseki is not just about food; it’s a holistic sensory journey.

Elements of a Kaiseki Meal

A traditional kaiseki meal is meticulously composed, consisting of several courses designed to harmonize flavours, textures, and visual appeal. 

Here are some key elements of a kaiseki meal:

  • Appetizers (Sakizuke): The meal often begins with a series of small, artistic appetizers that stimulate the palate and set the tone for the meal. These may include seasonal vegetables, seafood, or pickled items.
  • Sashimi (Mukozuke): High-quality sashimi is showcased in this course, with each slice of raw fish carefully selected to highlight its freshness and flavour. The presentation is often an artwork in itself.
  • Simmered Dishes (Nimono): A warm, comforting dish like a braised fish or vegetable preparation is served to contrast with the freshness of the sashimi.
  • Grilled Dishes (Yakimono): This course features expertly grilled items, such as seafood or meat, often enhanced with seasonal sauces and garnishes.
  • Tempura (Agemono): Tempura, with its delicate batter and perfectly cooked ingredients, adds a crispy contrast to the meal.
  • Rice, Soup, and Pickles (Shokuji): A kaiseki meal typically includes a bowl of rice, clear soup (often with seasonal ingredients), and pickles to round out the flavours.
  • Dessert (Mizumono): A light and often seasonal dessert, such as fruit or a sweet confection, concludes the meal on a sweet note.

The Cultural and Seasonal Significance of Kaiseki

Kaiseki is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and is heavily influenced by the changing seasons. 

It reflects the concept of “shun,” which emphasizes using ingredients at their peak of freshness and flavour. 

As such, a kaiseki menu changes with the seasons, ensuring that diners experience the best of each time of year

Miso Soup

Steaming Hot Miso soup with tofu and seaweed in brown bowl with chomp stick on the side

Miso soup is a fundamental and comforting dish in Japanese cuisine, enjoyed daily by millions. 

At its heart is miso, a fermented soybean paste that adds depth of flavour, umami richness, and nutritional value to this beloved soup.

Miso Soup Ingredients and Preparation

  • Dashi: Dashi is the foundational broth for miso soup, providing a savoury base. It is often made from kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) or other ingredients like shiitake mushrooms.
  • Miso Paste: Miso paste, the star of the soup, comes in various varieties, including white (Shiro), yellow (shinshu), and red (aka). The choice of miso influences the soup’s flavour profile.
  • Tofu: Soft tofu cubes are a common addition, adding creaminess and protein to the soup.
  • Wakame Seaweed: Dried wakame seaweed is rehydrated in the hot soup, imparting a mild oceanic flavour and texture.
  • Scallions: Sliced scallions add a fresh, green element and a hint of sharpness

Miso Soup as a Daily Staple in Japan

In Japan, miso soup is a customary part of the daily meal, often enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

It’s not just a source of comfort but also a nutritious addition to the diet. 

Miso is not only rich in flavour but also provides probiotics, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.


authentic Japanese yakitor

Yakitori, a popular Japanese street food and pub snack, consists of bite-sized pieces of skewered and grilled chicken. 

This dish is a testament to simplicity, highlighting the delicious flavours of well-seasoned, perfectly grilled chicken.

While chicken is the primary ingredient, yakitori encompasses a variety of cuts and parts, each with its distinct flavour and texture. 

Some common yakitori ingredients include:

  • Negima: Chicken thigh meat skewered with green onions.
  • Momo: Chicken thigh meat without any additional ingredients.
  • Tsukune: Chicken meatballs often coated with a savoury tare sauce.
  • Bonjiri: Chicken tail, known for its rich flavour.
  • Kawa: Chicken skin, prized for its crispy texture when grilled.
  • Sunagimo: Chicken gizzards, offering a unique chewy texture.
  • Torikawa: Grilled chicken skin, often served with a sprinkle of salt or a flavorful glaze.

Enjoying Yakitori in Izakayas and Street Stalls

Yakitori is commonly found in izakayas (Japanese pubs) and street stalls, where it pairs perfectly with drinks like beer, sake, or shochu. 

The preparation and presentation of yakitori vary, but the basic method involves marinating the chicken in a simple soy-based sauce and then grilling it over charcoal.


ake triangle shaped Onigiri

Onigiri, often referred to as Japanese rice balls or rice triangles, are a simple yet iconic part of Japanese cuisine. 

These portable, hand-held snacks have a rich historical context dating back centuries.

  • Historical Significance: Onigiri’s origins can be traced to the Nara period (8th century), where people would shape rice into small, easily transportable portions for convenience during travel and as a form of sustenance.

Making Onigiri: Ingredients and Shapes

Onigiri is made from sushi rice, a short-grain rice variety known for its stickiness. 

The rice is typically seasoned with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. 

There are various shapes and fillings:

  • Triangle (Trikke): The most recognizable shape, onigiri is often formed into triangles by hand. The rice is filled with ingredients like pickled plum (umeboshi), salted salmon (shake), or tuna with mayo (tuna mayo).
  • Ball (Yaki Onigiri): Another common shape is the round onigiri, often brushed with soy sauce and grilled for a crispy exterior.
  • Wrapped in Seaweed (Nori Onigiri): Onigiri can be wrapped in a sheet of nori (seaweed) to add flavour and prevent the rice from sticking to the fingers.

Conclusion: Top 10 Traditional Food Of Japan

In exploring the top 10 traditional food of Japan, we’ve uncovered a rich tapestry of flavours, techniques, and cultural significance. 

From the artistry of sushi preparation to the comforting warmth of miso soup, and the convenience of onigiri, Japanese cuisine offers a diverse and deeply rooted culinary journey. 

Each dish, whether it’s the nuanced elegance of kaiseki or the simplicity of yakitori, reflects the essence of Japan’s culinary heritage, making it a vibrant and integral part of the country’s cultural identity.

About the Author

Ezra Matiasi

Head Content Writer

Hello! My name is Ezra Matiasi, and I'm the enthusiastic mind behind Travello, a captivating travel blog that takes you on remarkable journeys around the world. With a passion for exploration and a love for sharing captivating stories, I curate the best travel experiences, hidden gems, and breathtaking landscapes. Through vivid descriptions and captivating photographs, Travello aims to inspire wanderlust and help fellow travelers make the most of their adventures. Join me as we embark on exciting virtual voyages and discover the wonders our beautiful planet has to offer. Let's explore the world together, one adventure at a time!

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