おでん - see oden article and recipe
Ika no shiokara
いかの塩辛 is cuttlefish squid that is salted and fermented in its own innards. It has a slimy sort of texture, and a very intense sea-flavor. Great on hot rice. An acquired taste. Easily obtainable in jars at larger Japanese grocery stores; if you can get very fresh squid with the innards you can make your own at home. This recipe on Chowhound
should work well, but use a non-reactive, glass or ceramic container; this is powerful stuff that will at the very least stain and odorize a plastic container forever, and may even eat through thin plastic (I've had this happen...)
カルピス is a sweet fermented milk beverage. It's most commmonly sold as a concentrate, which is mixed with cold water or plain at a 1:5 or so ratio. It's also used straight as a syrup over shaved ice (kakigouri かき氷), and as a mixer in some cocktails. Because of its fermented flavor, cloying mouthfeel and (for English speakers) rather unfortunate name which sounds like 'cow piss', it hasn't seen a whole lot of success in the West, though as "Calpico" in already diluted or soda form it is sold in some parts of Asia. An acquired taste. Japanese people love fermented-milk flavor (see Yakult below). (Switzerland also sells a fermented-milk beverage called Rivella, which tastes a bit like Calpis/Calpico soda.)
あんこう鍋 - monkfish hotpot or stew. Tabletop cooking is very popular in Japan. A small portable gas burner is placed in the middle of the dining table, a variety of cut up vegetables and some kind of protein are made ready, and they're cooked in a pot (in which they are called nabemono 鍋物 or simply nabe 鍋）of simmering water/broth, on a grill or shallow pan. Everyone at table picks out the pieces they want. Ankou is monkfish, a rather slippery, chewy fish with tons of flavor; together with lots of vegetables it makes a delicious nabe on cold winter days.
うな丼 is unagidonburi （うなぎどんぶり）shortened; it's eel filets with a sweet-salty sauce on a bed of rice. A very rich, high calorie dish that's popular in the summer months, since all those calories in eel are supposed to keep your strength up!
Komochi kombu or kazunoko
Kazunoko (数の子) is brined herring roe, and komochikonbu (子持ち昆布）is the same herring roe pressed onto konbu seaweed. Both have a distinctive crunchy texture and the salty flavor of the sea. An acquired taste.
Yamakake, grated yamaimo with maguro (red tuna) cubes (or just tororo with a raw egg)
Japanese people love food with a slippery, slimy texture, and the slimiest of them all is grated yamaimo (山芋) or nagaimo (長芋), a type of yam. This is called tororo (とろろ, not totoro!). My form of tororo is when it's combined with cubes of fresh tuna, which is called yamakake （山かけ), but the ultimate slimy experience is tsukimi tororo (月見とろろ), a bowl of grated yamaimo with a raw egg which is supposed to look like a full moon.
Properly made gyokuro shincha
ミルキーキャンディー is a classic candy, with a character called Peko-chan who has graced the packaging since 1950. It is made by Fujiya (不二家). It tastes like condensed milk in candy form, and is another example of how Japanese people like that sweet, rather curdled milk taste.
Omuraisu with demi-glace sauce
ワンコ蕎麦 or わんこそば. I'm breaking my 'no regional food' rule a bit, though you can get wanko soba outside of the region where it's a speciality (the Iwate prefecture in the north). Wanko soba is served in small bowls filled with a very strong tsuyu or soba sauce (cold) with various condiments (see Cold soba with dipping sauce
). The customer holds the bowl out, into which the servers throw in a few strands of soba noodles. The customer slurps these up rapidly, and more strands are thrown in. This is repeated until the eater is full. An average male eater can consume about 60 servings. It's a gimmick, and encourages rapid eating. Wanko soba eating contests are the precursor of extreme eating competitions which are so popular in Japan.
Handmade katayaki senbei
オムライス is another example of yohshoku. The best place to have an omuraisu is at a small restaurant that specializes in yohshoku and makes their own demi-glace sauce. Failing that, a quick homemade version with ketchup
is almost as nice. It's a big with kids in Japan.
煎餅 - せんべい - means rice cracker, but the little snack-sized rice crackers that are now as common as potato chips around the world are at the bottom of the rice cracker quality scale. At the top are hand-crafted 堅焼き煎餅 (katayaki senbei); round rice crackers the size of your palm or bigger, made of pounded rice that is formed by hand, dried under the sun, and toasted over a charcoal fire until the rice patty pops and forms crunchy air pockets. It is then painted with dark soy sauce. The sweet version is then sprinkled with big grains of salt caled ざらめ (zarame).
Yohkan (yokan) from Toraya
羊羹 - ようかん - is a dense, fudge like cake of sweet azuki beans; sometimes it contains chestnuts or other ingredients. To be eaten in slowly, in tiny mouthfuls, with green tea. The best yohkan is widely held to be from the old wagashi maker Toraya
(とらや); a gift in a Toraya bag has much cachet throughout Japan.
Fresh seaweed sunomono (can also have some tako in it)
石焼き芋 (いしやきいも) are sweet potatoes cooked in hot stones, available from street vendors; a fixture on cool fall evenings. See Hoku-hoku is fall
Ikura or sujiko
酢の物（すのもの）- a salad of sorts, usually with seaweed and/or seafood, with a slightly sweet, oil-less vinegar dressing. Very low in calories and very refreshing. The best is made with fresh seaweed, tasting of the sea; some chunks of fresh tako (タコ) or octopus are a nice addition. See wakame no sunomono recipe
using dried wakame seaweed, which is all we can get here in landlocked Switzerland...(cries)
Sujiko - すじこ is salmon eggs still encased in the egg sac, while ikura - いくら is the eggs removed from the sac membrane. Both are cured in salt or soy sauce and eaten raw. The best way to enjoy either is to just mound it on top of a bowl of rice, perhaps with a little grated fresh wasabi. A speciality of Hokkaido.
トンカツ or 豚カツ is a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet, a typical yohshoku dish. See Tonkatsu recipe
Chawan mushi or tamago dofu - the same dish either piping hot or ice cold
胡麻豆腐 is an example of shoujin ryouri (精進料理), the refined vegan cuisine developed by Zen Buddist monks. See goma dofu recipe
Freshly made mochi, with kinako and sugar, grated daikon and soy sauce or natto
Chawanmushi - 茶碗蒸し is the hot version of tamago dofu - 卵豆腐; both are delicate, smooth, savory egg custards. See Tamago dofu recipe
Mochi - 餅 or pounded sweet rice, is available in many forms. As a symbol of bounty a tier of two or three rounds of mochi are placed in front of the Shinto altar in the home for the New Year (called kagami mochi). The best mochi is freshly pounded, eaten with brown sugar and kinako (toasted soy bean powder), or with grated daikon radish and soy sauce, or even with natto and green onions. That's the way they were served at my grandparents' house when I was very little.
Gindara no kasuzuke
銀ダラの粕漬け is gindara, or silver cod, marinated in sakekasu (酒粕), sake lees mixed with other ingredients such as salt or soy sauce, mirin, and so on. The fish is marinated for a day or more, then grilled. The sweet-salty taste of the marinade permeates the firm fish and the result is heavenly.
干し柿 are dried persimmons (kaki). Bitter persimmons (渋柿 shibugaki) are hung outside to dry slowly; the bitter liquid drips out as the fruit dries, leaving a densely sweet delicacy. The bitter liquid is saved and used to lacquer wooden bowls and boxes.
Sushi rice stuffed into fried bean curd (油揚げ aburaage)
pockets. Typically a homemade sushi, rather than one served in a sushi restaurant. See Inarizushi recipe
筑前煮 ちくぜんに is a homely dish in which cut up chicken, lotus root, carrots, taro root, burdock root, shiitake mushrooms etc. are stewed together in a dashi broth. It is made in large quantities for the New Year's period, when it's heated up daily and eaten during the holidays (giving the cook of the household a break from daily cooking). It can be eaten at any time of the year though, especially the cold months. Filling and healthy!
するめ is salted and dried squid' it's chewy, rather like squid jerky. It is usually eaten shredded into fine strips; you can get it like that, or the whole squid (better quality surume is usually sold whole, to be grilled briefly at home). A standard snack to accompany sake (おつまみ otsumami - see Yakitori below). My stepfather loves freshly grilled surume with a little mayonnaise and chili pepper (ichimi or nanami tougarashi).
Yakinasu with grated gingerfav44
焼き茄子 やきなす - grilled eggplant, with しょうが shouga (ginger) and a bit of soy sauce, is a summertime The slim eggplants are grilled whole, without any oil, until they soften and the skin bursts; the charred skin is then peeled off, leaving the flower bract. The peeled eggplant is eaten ice cold.
Tamago kake gohan
卵かけご飯 たまごかけごはん is just hot, freshly cooked white rice with a raw egg plus a little soy sauce. To make this, mound a rice bowl with rice, and make a hole in the middle. Drop in a fresh egg an add soy sauce; mix. A breakfast
歌舞伎揚げ is a round, deep fried rice cracker that has a distinctive crackly surface. It originated as a snack served at 歌舞伎 かぶき kabuki theaters, allegedly. Nowdays it's a cheap and rather fattening snack.
肉じゃが - Japanese meat and potatoes, quintessential お袋の味 おふくろのあじ ofukukuronoaji ("mother's cooking"). See my mom's nikujaga recipe
Fuki no tou
ほうれん草のごま和え ほうれんそうのごまあえ hourennsou no gommae - more "mother's cooking". Spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables are always served cooked in traditional Japanese cuisine, usually quickly blanched as a side dish. Besides sesame dressing, a simple お浸し おひたし ohitashi (dashi stock and/or bonito flakes and soy sauce sauce) is also very popular. See how to blanch spinach, and gomaae and ohitashi recipes
ふきのとう - butterburr shoots, blanched and de-bittered and cooked in a typically Japanese sweet-salty sauce. Since butterburr shoots are only available in the spring, this is a very seasonal dish. Other highly treasured spring vegetables include わらび warabi - bracken fern (shoots), よもぎ yomogi - a type of chrysanthemum, and 筍 たけのこ takenoko - bamboo shoots.
お好み焼き おこのみやき - popular street food, originating in Osaka but now popular all throughout Japan and beyond! Often erroneously called Japanese pizza, I think it's more aptly described as a savory pancake. See Osaka style okonomiyaki recipe
焼き鳥 やきとり - skewered and grilled chicken bits. Very popular street food and 酒の肴 さけのさかな sake no sakana - drinking snack. (Competition between Japanese 居酒屋 いざかや izakaya - traditional pubs for the quality of their sake no sakana (also called おつまみ otsumami) is fierce, just like tapas in Spain.)
Japanese style curry, with rakkyo and fukujinzuke as condiments
けんちん汁 けんちんじる is a clear yet hearty vegetable soup. It is one of the most famous 精進料理 しょうじんりょうり shoujinryouri (a refined vegan cuisine developed by Zen Buddhist monks in the Kansai region) dishes. A variation of kenchinjiru with bits of pork in it is called 豚汁 とんじる tonjiru.
ヤクルト is a sweet, slightly fruity, fermented probiotic milk drink that is supposed to be good for your digestive system. It's sold all around the world now, with plenty of imitators. Included here because it is really very post-war-Japanese. Also see Kalpis above (which doesn't make probiotic claims, but has a similar taste).
A snack made up of spicy little rice crackers called 柿の種 かきのたね kaki no tane (literally: persimmon seeds) and roasted peanuts. See needlessly long and obsessive article
たこ焼き たこやき - another popular street snack that originated in Osaka. Puffy creamy doughy balls with a piece of octopus inside, served with a sauce. Best eaten piping hot. Frozen takoyaki are a pale, sad approximation of freshly made takoyaki. See takoyaki recipe
(the video referenced is no longer available, but you can still follow the instructions I hope!)
桜餅 さくらもち is a traditional sweet that is eaten in spring, to coincide with the cherry blossom season. Sticky rice that is half-beaten and dyed a pale pink is wrapped around 餡 あん an - sweet azuki bean paste. The whole thing is then wrapped with a preserved cherry tree leaf, which is slightly sour-salty.
Buta no kakuni
豚の角煮 ぶたのかくに - braised pork belly. Similar to a Okinawan dish called ラフテー - rafuteh. Japanese people eat a lot more pork than beef (other red meats are not eaten much). The butcher in my grandparents' town in Saitama prefecture (right next door to Tokyo) didn't even carry beef until the 1980s. See Buta no kakuni recipe
大学芋 だいがくいも literally means "university potato", probably because this hearty sweet snack is sold at the big university festivals that are held in the fall. Sweet potato chunks are deep fried then dipped in sugar syrup, which forms a hard, caramel-flavored coating, then sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Tori no tsukune
かっぱえびせん is a puffy, crunchy shrimp flavored snack, manufactured by Calbee. Yes, Japanese cuisine purists will turn their noses up at this selection no doubt! But I love Kappa Ebisen, it's very Japanese, and it's here. It actually has ground up shrimp in it, so the maker claims that it's a good source of calcium!How Kappa Ebisen is made
(Flash page in Japanese).
鶏のつくね とりのつくね - soft stewed chicken dumplings. Another example of 'mother's cooking'. Fish tsukune (mainly made of oily fish like herring or mackerel) are also popular. Chicken tsukune recipe
白菜漬け はくさいづけ is salt pickled nappa or Chinese cabbage, a pickle for the cold winter months. (This is turned into kimchi in Korea.)
ゴーヤチャンプルー is perhaps the best known dish of Okinawan cuisine. Its main feature is the use of bitter gourd, which is stir-fried with pork, egg and tofu to make a hearty dish. It's supposed to give you lots of energy yet cool your body at the same time, making it perfect for the tropical climate of Okinawa.
どら焼き どらやき is another traditional Japanese sweet (wagashi). Sweet azuki bean paste is sandwiched between two small pancakes.
お茶漬け おちゃづけ is rice with various salty/savory toppings, over which hot green tea is poured. It's often served as the last course in a formal Japanese meal, and it's also a popular midnight snack. See main ochazuke article
Stewed kiriboshi daikon
佐久間ドロップ or サクマドロップ are fruit flavored hard candies manufactured by Sakuma Seika. (Seika means 'confectioner'; there are actually two companies called Sakuma Seika, both manufacturing hard candies, run by rival members of the same family!) The candies are coated with powdered sugar, which prevents them from sticking together, and come in a reclosable can. This candy bridges the gap between traditional Japanese sweets and postwar 'modern' sweets; while hard candies existed previously, the fruit flavoring was quite new at the time. Sakuma drops featured prominently in the Studio Ghibli movie Grave of the Fireflies
(火垂るの墓). Sakuma Drops are on this list to represent the many delicious hard candies available in Japan! See also Meiji Chelsea
切り干し大根 きりぼしだいこん - shredded and dried daikon radish. There are many dried foods in Japan, which are still eaten regularly even if drying as a method of food preservation is old-fashioned. See Dried vegetables
Takenoko gohan (or in fall, kuri gohan)
竹の子ご飯 たけのこごはん is rice cooked with fresh bamboo shoots; 栗ご飯 くりごはん is rice cooked with sweet chestnuts. One signifies spring, the other fall. More 'mother's cooking'!
Cream or potato korokke
コロッケ korokke is the Japanese version of croquettes. While you barely see croquettes much these days in the West outside of restaurants, in Japan they are an everyday food, part of yohshoku. You can buy them frozen or freshly made at any supermarket or convenience store, and many people make them from scratch at home too. クリームコロッケ kureemu korokke - cream croquettes - are made of stiff bechamel (white) sauce, usually with crabmeat or shrimp in it, and ポテトコロッケ - poteto korokke are made of mashed potatoes plus something else (ground meat, corn, etc). Usually served with the ubiquitous Bulldog Sauce.
湯葉 - is a Kyoto speciality. Thin films of tofu are scooped off the top of vats of warm soy milk. It’s available in dried form and is usually used in soups and such. Fresh yuba made from fresh warm soy milk is considered a great delicacy and is usually eaten with a litle soy sauce, yuzu juice and such. Yuba is part of shoujinryouri.
ラーメン is imported from China, but has been adopted wholeheartedly by Japanese people. One only needs to watch the movie Tampopo once to see how obsessed Japanese people can get about good ramen.
最中 もなか is another traditional sweet. A crispy waffle-like casing is filled with sweet azuki paste (an), a sweet custard-cream, or ice cream.
Ekiben of all kinds
駅弁 えきべん are bento lunches served at train station. They are one of the best ways to sample local delicacies around Japan fairly economically. If you can't travel around on trains throughout Japan, you can try the ekiben sold in department store food halls. A bit more about ekiben here
枝豆 えだまめ - the quintessential summertime beer snack, now famous around the world. Addictive, more-ish yet healthy - how can you go wrong with edamame?
とりの唐揚げ とりのからあげ tori no karaage. Another imported-from-China and adapted to Japan food. My kind of fried chicken! See recipe
葛餅 くずもち - a cool summer sweet made from kuzu powder. See recipe
Konnyaku no dengaku
みたらし団子 みたらしだんご - yet another traditioan snack: sticky mochi rice dumplings coated in a salty-sweet sauce. Mitarashi dango recipe
こんにゃくの田楽 こんにゃくのでんがく - Konnyaku served hot on a skewer with a salty-sweet dengaku sauce, which is made with miso, sugar and other things. Barely any calories! See more about konnyaku
雪見大福 ゆきみだいふく is a daifuku (mochi dumpling) filled with vanilla ice cream rather than the traditional sweet bean paste. A fairly recent invention, it's not-too-sweet and very nice on a hot day.
すき焼き is a dish from the Kanto/Tokyo area. Thin slices of beef are cooked in a shallow pot, usually on a tabletop gas burner, in a sweet-salty 'sauce' made in the pot by combining sugar, a bit of sake and soy sauce. After the meat gets going, vegetables, tofu, shirataki noodles and udon noodles are added to the pot. The 'dipping sauce' is a raw egg. At-home family cooking at its finest!
生八つ橋 なまやつはし is a traditional refined sweet from Kyoto flavored with nikki or cinnamon. See yatsuhashi recipe
はんぺん is a airy-light fish cake, made of ground up white fish, yamaimo and egg white. It's commonly available readymade in any food store, but I think it has a refined flavor and texture to rival any French quenelle or the like. It is used in soups, stews, and so on, but my way to eat it is to just panfry it in oil or butter until golden brown. It's also good stuffed with a ground meat mixture.
Nozawanazuke or Takanazuke
野沢菜漬け のざわなづけ and 高菜漬け たかんづけ are a traditional preserved mountain food: freeze-dried greens that are salted down. Very nice as onigiri wrappers.
きりたんぽ is a traditional food from the north of Honshuu, especially Akita prefecture. Pounded rice cakes are formed around a skewer and grilled. These are the eaten as-is with a little soy sauce or miso, or put into soups and stews. Chewy, doughy and very Japanese.
甘納豆 あまなっとう - unlike regular natto, amanatto (sweet natto) are not sticky or fermented; they are just beans with a crystallized sugar coating. A traditional sweet snack, eaten especially around the end of the year.
奈良漬け ならづけ could be the oldest known pickle in Japan. A speciality of Nara, the first capital of a unified Japan, various vegetables like gourds and cucumbers together with ginger are pickled in sake lees. The sake lees are changed several times before the pickles are ready. The resulting pickles are semi-transparent and sweet. Related: wasabizuke, vegetables pickled in wasabi mixed with sake lees.
Aji no himono
アジの干物 - 干物 ひもの himono means dried fish. Dried fish in Japan is usually not dried to a cardboard-hard state, but rather eaten when still a bit soft. Aji or horse mackerel is delicious dried or semi-dried, cured with just salt or with a sweet mirin coating (this is called mirin boshi).
ベビーラーメン, or officially ベビースターラーメン is a salty snack that looks like little dried bits of instant ramen - it probably is bits of instant ramen, deep fried for good measure. It comes in little packets which are all connected in one long strip, useful for hanging up in a small store. Small snack and confectionary stores called 駄菓子屋 だがしや (dagashiya) used to exist in every neighborhood, selling homely snacks like Baby Ramen and Botan Candy, but they are now sadly a thing of the past, existing only in Showa-era 'amusement parks' and the like. The good news is that Baby Ramen still survives. Update as of 2010: Dagashi stores seem to be making a slow comeback, on the wave of a general trend for Showa era nostalgia.
昆布茶 こぶちゃ - also read kombucha, but do not confuse it with the drink from the mystery Russian mushroom. This is a 'tea' made with salty pieces of soft konbu seaweed. It is drunk as a tea, even though it 's salty - rather like British people drink Bovril dissolved in hot water. It can also be used as an instant dashi.
カステラ - a Japanese spongecake that came via Portugal from Spain in the 17th century. Sweet and airy, usually with a honey flavor. See kasutera recipe
田作り たづくり is a traditional dish that is part of お節料理 おせちりょうり - osechiryouri, New Year's feast cooking. It consists of tiny little dried fish that are cooked in a sweet-salty sticky caramel like sauce. Sesame seeds are added too. The numerous little fish signify a wish for a good harvest and prosperity (little fish like this apparently used to be used as fertilizer in the rice fields.) In old Japanese tazukuri is called ごまめ gomame.
かりんとう is another traditional Japanese snack. Bits of flour dough are deep-fried, then coated in dark brown sugar caramel. Karintou is here because my mother told me that this was the main snack of her childhood, made at home by her mother. I used to hate karintou when I was younger, because they were so hard and looked like poo, but now I crave it...
ソース焼きそば; yakisoba is of course derived from Chinese lo mein, but the Japanese version made with Bulldog sauce is well, very Japanese. A typical street stall snack.
かまぼこ is a rather rubbery firm fish cake, rather like a fish sausage in texture. It is usually formed on a small wooden board. It's often dyed pink on the outside, and pink and white alternating slices of kamaboko are a part of お節料理 おせちりょうり - osechiryouri, New Year's feast cooking. Kamaboko is eaten year round as a side dish.
親子丼ぶり おやこどんぶり - literally 'parent-child bowl'. A donburi is both the name of the container (bowl) as well as the name of the food which is served in it - various things on top of a bed of plain rice. An oyako donburi consists of chicken pieces and vegetables encased in half-scrambled egg. Other donburi include gyuudon (beef donburi), tendon (tempura donburi), katsudon (tonkatsu donburi), tekkadon (raw tuna cube donburi), and so on and on. Typical lunch food.
厚焼き卵 あつやきたまご - thick, slightly sweet Japanese omelette, a fixture in bento boxes and on sushi. See Tamagoyaki recipe
which uses a frying pan (traditionally it's made in a special square pan, but I don't have one!)
栗きんとん くりきんとん is another part of お節料理 おせちりょうり - osechiryouri, New Year's feast cooking, consisting of whole chestnuts cooked in sugar syrup in a sweet potato paste that is dyed yellow with a gardenia seed. The golden colors of the dish signify a wish for good fortune in the coming year.
Japanese potato salad
Japanese potato salad (ポテトサラダ）is made with plenty of Japanese mayonnaise (which is rich and slightly sweet) and is served cold, often as an accompaniment to a hot dish like grilled fish. Japanese people love mayonnaise. See Japanese potato salad recipe
Also see Diane's 100 Chinese foods to try before you die on Appetite for China!
Want more lists? The Big List of Must Eat Lists.
japanese ingredients offbeat lists