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12 of Japan’s most loved dishes and where to find them

Japanese food is famous and well-loved around the world. From contemporary to traditional, fine dining to street food, it celebrates it all and gets it right. Whether you are in search of a hidden izakaya serving delicious small bites or an ingenious chef pushing gastronomic boundaries in the city, Japan does not disappoint. We have put together just a touch of what is on offer in some of Japan’s characteristic cities.

Ramen | Ichiran, Shibuya Spain-zaka, Tokyo

There are over 100 ramen shops in Shibuya and Ichiran beats them all. One of the most famous ramen specialists in Japan, Ichiran, is renowned for serving hearty bowls of tonkotsu (pork-based broth) ramen. Start your experience by buying a ramen ticket at the vending machine before sitting at a partitioned booth. You can completely personalise your ramen including your preferred noodle texture, richness and ratio of dashi. After filling out the form, it is time to wait for a delicious bowl of creamy ramen. Ichiran can be found in many of Japan’s main cities including in Kyoto and Osaka. For those visiting Kyoto, we think Ippudo Ramen is a close contender.

Kaiseki | Gion Nishikawa, Kyoto

The ancient art of kaiseki perfectly embraces Japan’s major flavour profiles. This multi-course meal usually starts with delicate flavours before transitioning into dishes with richer and more complex tastes and textures. Kyoto continuously embraces and excels in kaiseki, especially in the geisha district of Gion. The two-star Gion Nishikawa, run by kaiseki master Masayoshi Nishikawa, is one of the best in Japan. From the moment you enter the quaint wooden house and step into the low-lit dining room, you know you are in the perfect setting to appreciate the embodiment of Japanese fine dining.

Izakaya | Kaikaya by the Sea, Tokyo

An izakaya is a type of Japanese bar that serves a variety of small dishes to accompany sake and other alcoholic beverages. Casual places to go after work, they are an enjoyable way to immerse yourself into Japanese culture. You can easily stumble upon izakaya that will quickly become your favourite, but it can also be daunting at first, especially if you don’t speak the language. A good starting point is at Kaikaya by the Sea, Tokyo. The food is outstanding, the atmosphere is lively and it is loved by locals and visitors alike. As you get used to Japan, explore side streets and lively neighbourhoods in search of hidden izakayas that interest you.

Takoyaki | Takoriki, Osaka (daytime only)

Takoyaki is one of Japan’s most famous street foods. This batter-based snack, filled with diced octopus, tempura scraps, ginger and spring onion, is cooked in a specially moulded pan to ensure uniform takoyaki. Originating in Osaka, you will find this delicious Japanese snack along many food stalls in Dotonbori. Of course, you can’t go to Osaka without ordering takoyaki at one of the famed street food stalls. However, if you are looking or a refined experience, why not try glamorous takoyaki and champagne at Takoriki. Take a seat at the counter and watch the chef prepare them at lightning speed. It may appear as just a fad, but this restaurant serves wonderfully light versions of the street food.

Udon | Taniya and Shin Udon, Tokyo

Udon noodles are thick Japanese noodles made from wheat flour. They are usually chewier than soba noodles and often served in a light broth. Sit along the long counter in Taniya and watch expert chefs prepare the noodle dough and cut udon by hand. We suggest ordering udon in a hot broth with a side of crispy tempura vegetables. Another excellent option is Shin Udon near Shinjuku. This small eatery serves delicious udon, especially the cold tray of udon with squid tempura. Inspired by Italian pasta, two standout dishes are the udon versions of carbonara and cacio e pepe. For those visiting Osaka, Aozora Blue is currently in the spotlight as one of the best udon restaurants in the city.

Yakitori | Ayamuya, Osaka

To sample delicious yakitori, go to Ayamuya in Osaka. Chef Naganuma left corporate life to pursue his dream of opening a restaurant and it wasn’t long until he came to fame. This Michelin-starred restaurant has a simple menu with a sustainable philosophy; to use free-range local produce and waste as little as possible. It is all about tender skewered chicken that is cooked over premium charcoal before being dipped into a flavourful tare marinade. It is a favourite among Osakans, so reservations are a must.

Tempura | Tenyu, Kyoto

Though it may appear as an easy cooking technique, tempura needs outstanding ingredients, balance and of course, ultimate crispiness. At Tenyu, expect light and crispy tempura dishes using local produce like shrimp, shitake and squid. Sitting at the counter, it is quite relaxing and enjoyable to watch expert chefs carefully prepare dishes in front of you. For those who enjoy uni (sea urchin), this dish is one of Tenyu’s specialities. For those who will visit Toyosa Market in Tokyo, Tenfusa Tempura is a must!

Soba | Kanda Matsuya, Tokyo

Soba noodles are thin buckwheat noodles that are commonly served chilled with a dipping sauce or in a broth-based soup. Kanda Matsuya, operating since 1884, is one of Tokyo’s oldest and most famous soba restaurants. Their continued success is down to perfectly prepared handmade noodles using carefully selected buckwheat flour from across Japan. The wonderful thing about this historic restaurant is its homely feel. Both exteriors and interiors are reminiscent of ancient Japanese houses and the restaurant is a favourite among locals.

Okonomiyaki | Madoka, Osaka

Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake that is largely associated with Osaka’s and Hiroshima’s food culture. A quite playful dish, its name literally translates as “how you like it, grilled”. There are many variations of the dish across regions, but they all include eggs, shredded cabbage, spring onions and meat, served with a rich okonomiyaki sauce. One of our favourite places to enjoy this characteristic dish is at the small restaurant of Madoka, Osaka. They have a great selection of okonomiyaki dishes but their signature dish is the yakisoba (fried noodle) okonomiyaki.

Gyoza | Gyoza no Fukuho, Tokyo

There are few people who don’t enjoy gyoza. Whether you prefer yaki gyoza (fried) or sui gyoza (boiled), Japan has some outstanding gyoza restaurants. It is quite difficult to say which restaurant is our favourite, but you can’t go wrong with Gyoza no Fukuho. Specialists in gyoza, there are several across the city including in Shinjuku. Order a portion of crisp yaki gyoza and tender sui gyoza, all served with a section of dipping sauces.

Shabu Shabu | Hyoto, Kyoto

Shabu shabu is a rich hotpot made with thinly sliced meat and vegetables. Invented in Osaka, its origins trace back to the Chinese hotpot and it is similar to Korean-style Jeongol hotpot. Perfect for winter months and gatherings, guests cook the dish at the table, dipping ingredients into flavoured broth and dipping sauces. One of our favourite places to eat shabu shabu is at Hyoto, Kyoto. A traditional style restaurant, guests are greeted by waiting staff dressed in beautiful kimonos. Sample delicious wagyu beef cooked in the simmering pot of Hyoto’s famous dashi broth and enjoy an interactive lunch with family and friends. As you come to the end of the feast, pour the noodles into the pot and enjoy a comforting bowl of noodle soup.

Sushi | Sushi Iwa, Tokyo

Tokyo is home to some of the best sushi restaurants in the world. Whether you choose to dine in a three-star Michelin restaurant or at a local food stall, you are guaranteed to find outstanding eateries on both sides of the spectrum. Needless to say, any Michelin starred sushi restaurant will serve delicious sushi. For a more affordable option, it is best to dine at a Michelin starred restaurant at lunchtime. Try Sushi Iwa, an easy-to-find restaurant in the Ginza area. Enjoy delicious fresh sushi like bonito, sardines and mackerel.

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