In this guide, I wanted to create something truly epic for you. It is a single place to learn nearly every kind of Japanese cuisine, common ingredients, and some Japanese cooking elements — to help you discover something new to try when in Japan.
Eating in Japan is an Adventure; Discover Something New.
This is the ultimate guide to Japanese cuisine, where we cover over 80 foods and explain where you can typically find them when adventuring in Tokyo.
- Over 80 Japanese foods explained — and where you typically find each dish
- Cooking techniques and Japanese cuisine categories
- Topping and ingredients common to many dishes
The best way to use this guide is to look through the cuisine, find what you want to try, and then check out our recommendations when you want to discover the best restaurants in Tokyo — where you can find many of these dishes.
We tried to put the items in alphabetical order so you can use this guide as a reference.
Before we dive into the main Japanese cuisine, we think you want to try while in Tokyo, let’s first discuss a few cooking methods.
Japanese Cooking Techniques
Let’s really quick go through the -mono’s (you’ll understand what we mean by -mono shortly). These are the various sub-categories of Japanese cuisine described by how the food is prepared.
- Agemono = fried food
- Itamemono = sauteed food
- Mukimono = intricately carved food
- Mushimono = steamed food
- Nabemono = hot pot food
- Suimono = soup
- Sunomono = lightly vinegared foods
- Yakimono = grilled food
- Tsukemono = pickled food
Common Sauces, Toppings, and Broth in Japanese Cooking
One more thing to cover before we get into it. There are some sauces and toppings, etc. that will come up very frequently.
- Shoyu = soy sauce
- Dashi = soup broth made from bonito flakes or konbu (kelp), or both
- Mirin = rice wine (for cooking)
- Shio = salt
- Kurashi = spicy mustard
- Ponzu = a shoyu and citrus fruit mixture
Alright, with all that out of the way, let’s start going through the Japanese cuisine — remember, these are in alphabetical order.
Agedashi tofu is fried tofu with a dashi flavor. Agedashi tofu is a small, very flexible dish served in probably hundreds of varieties. Some topped with chopped green onion, others topped with grated daikon radish with ponzu sauce.
You’ll find this mostly in kaiseki restaurants and izakaya.
A bento is a takeout box meal. It can contain almost anything, especially when made at home. Common bentos are karaage, curry, tonkatsu, katsudon, tempura, sushi, and more.
You’ll find bentos in convenience stores, train stations, and bento takeout restaurants such as Hotto Motto.
A special subtype of bento is ekiben, a combination of eki and bento. Eki means train station. Ekiben is a train station bento. You’ll often find some train stations that have their own unique flavor bentos.
During New Year, the Japanese will make osechi (traditional New Year food) and put it into jubako (intricately designed stackable food boxes).
Kyaraben is a more modern bento where characters are portrayed using the food items in the bento. Often fun, popular characters such as Pikachu or Mario.
Chahan is fried rice. The basic chahan is rice, egg, sliced kamaboko (fish cake), and scallions with soy sauce, salt, and pepper. But you will discover there are probably a million different kinds of fried rice in Tokyo.
You will find shops experimenting with all sorts of ingredients — and the crazy thing? They’re almost all delicious!
You’ll experience chahan such as kimchi, steak, chashu (braised pork), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), ninniku (garlic), and much more.
Of course, Chinese restaurants in Japan will have this, but nearly every ramen shop does. Even some izakaya will offer it. It’s also one of the most home-cooked food items in Japan.
Chashu is rolled, and braised pork — the pork is rolled into a log and simmered at low temperatures (generally for long periods of time) to produce a very tender roast — flavors vary by restaurant, but the base is soy sauce.
You’ll mostly find chashu in ramen shops, thinly sliced as a topping. Or chopped and used in chahan. Supermarkets have vacuum sealed packaged of sliced chashu too.
Chawanmushi is a steamed egg custard with savory ingredients such as ebi (shrimp), shiitake mushrooms, shiso, and many more depending on the restaurant.
Chawanmushi is the combination of chawan (tea bowl) and mushi (steamed).
You’ll find chawanmushi at kaiseki restaurants, family restaurants, and perhaps surprisingly — conveyor belt sushi restaurants too.
Supermarkets also sell packaged chawanmushi you can microwave at home.
Chazuke is hot green tea poured over steamed rice — usually with some kind of a topping like umeboshi (pickled plum), salmon, or nori (seaweed). But flavors can vary wildly depending on the restaurant.
You’ll most likely find chazuke in kaiseki restaurants and some Japanese family restaurants.
Chikuwa is a fish paste formed into a tube-like shape and steamed. There are many variations as chikuwa is served in many ways as a side dish.
For instance, you’ll find fried chikuwa at tempura restaurants — or grilled chikuwa at an izakaya. And chikuwa is a common ingredient in oden.
Don’t confuse chikuwa with chikuwabu, which we’ll discuss next.
Chikuwabu is a wheat flour-based dough formed into a tube, much like chikuwa. It is also steamed and found primarily in oden.
There are izakaya dedicated to oden where you’ll find incredible chikuwabu, but you’ll most commonly see it in convenience stores.
Curry has a special place in Japan. You’ll find Japanese curry, Indian curry, and Thai curry in Tokyo. Japanese curry is very much like a stew versus the other types of curry.
You’ll find it mostly as kare raisu (curry rice), but there are also curry soup dishes and curry udon.
Curry rice with tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) on top is called katsukare.
You’ll primarily find Japanese curry in curry restaurants (such as CoCo Ichibanya), but some family restaurants have curry options.
Also, many bakeries and convenience stores sell curry bread.
Dobin Mushi is a seafood broth with mushrooms in a teapot. It’s a simple dish that you’ll really only find at kaiseki restaurants, or perhaps if you’re home-staying with a Japanese family that makes it.
It is not common to find dobin mushi on the menu.
Donburi is a rice bowl dish, where toppings are placed on top of rice in a bowl — very convenient to eat.
The name changes based on the topping, such as chukadon (stir-fry donburi) tendon (tempura donburi), gyudon (beef donburi), butadon (pork donburi), oyakodon (chicken and egg donburi), or katsudon (fried pork cutlet donburi).
There are many more varieties of donburi. You can learn more about donburi in our in-depth go here.
You’ll find donburi in specialty stores dedicated to donburi (some to specific types of donburi), family restaurants, kaiseki restaurants, and even convenience stores.
Some popular donburi fast-food chains include Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and Matsuya. Each with their own small twist on this flexible dish.
We wanted to mention something special about gyudon. The popular fast-food shops we mentioned above mostly focus around gyudon as the primary donburi on the menu.
And you can find gyudon at these restaurants for as low as ¥320 a bowl! That’s only about $3.00. If you’re on a budget in Tokyo, gyudon will fill you up without breaking your bank.
Ebi furai is fried shrimp, not to be mistaken with tempura. Both are fried, but tempura is a different batter.
Ebi furai is more like normal fried foods— battered with panko (bread crumbs) and fried to a crisp.
You’ll find ebi furai at family restaurants, izakaya, and other specialty restaurants – it’s a relatively common dish.
Edamame is soybeans still in the pod, boiled (or steamed) and salted — served as a side dish or a popular snack.
You’ll find edamame at izakaya or family restaurants — and supermarkets where you can take it home just snack on while watching your favorite TV shows.
Ganmodoki is a strange dish, a mashup of ninjin (carrot), renkon (lotus root), gobo (burdock root), and tofu. It’s a flavorful “sponge,” soaking up the soup it is in. So when you eat it, the soup gushes out.
Ganmodoki tastes like goose, though we can’t back that up as we’ve never tried goose before.
You’ll find this at kaiseki restaurants, izakaya, and sometimes at supermarkets ready for you to reheat at home.
Goma-ae is a side dish — a sort of salad made of vegetables mixed with sesame and a sweet soy sauce. The most common vegetable you’ll find is spinach, but you could find some restaurants serving green bean goma-ae, among other veggies.
It’s most often served in a real tiny bowl. Sometimes even as otoshi (compulsory appetizer) when you are seated at an izakaya.
Gyoza is a type of dumpling filled with ground meat, vegetables, and seasonings based on the shop’s preferences. You’ll mostly find pork-based gyoza with shredded cabbage, nira (Chinese chives), and ninniku (garlic) flavoring. Some shops will add their own special ingredients to set themselves apart from the competition.
You’ll find three methods of cooking gyoza in restaurants in Tokyo: boiled, pan-seared, and fried. Most common is the pan-seared type, with a crispy bottom and soft steamed top.
Gyoza is served with soy sauce, vinegar, and a spicy oil called rayu.
You’ll find gyoza at nearly all ramen shops, specialty restaurants dedicated to gyoza, street food vendors, and supermarkets where you take it home to pan-sear yourself.
Harusame is glass noodles — a clear noodle made from potato starch.
It doesn’t have much flavor of its own but takes on the flavor of the dish. It’s often used as a diet food since it doesn’t have many calories.
You’ll find harusame in salads, cold noodle dishes, and spring rolls — often in izakaya, family restaurants, and even in supermarkets and convenience stores.
Hayashi rice is a hashed beef rice dish based on Western influences. A thick demi-glacé sauce with tomato, mushroom, etc.
Much like other dishes in Japan, this one has quite a variety, depending on the restaurant. Some will use high-grade wagyu beef, others will use red wine, and some add cream.
And some restaurants will pour it over omurice (omelet rice).
It’s versatile Japanese cuisine, delicious, and you will find it primarily in chain family restaurants, and sometimes in bentos at convenience stores.
Hiyashichuka is a cold ramen noodle dish popular during the hot summer months in Japan. You can spot hiyashichuka immediately when you see the thin strips of cucumber, ham, and egg laid over ramen noodles.
A sweet vinegar, mirin, sesame, and soy-based sauce — poured over the toppings and noodles before eating.
You’ll find this at ramen shops and family restaurants during the summer months. We haven’t seen any shops dedicated to hiyashichuka, but you can purchase kits in supermarkets to easily make it at home.
Hiyayakko is a chilled tofu dish. It’s a very simple dish but does offer some variety depending on the restaurant. Generally, it is a small square of cold tofu with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), shoga (ginger), and chopped negi (green onions) — and soy sauce poured over it.
It’s most popular in the summer when it’s very hot outside and sometimes served as otoshi (compulsory appetizer) in an izakaya. You can also fin hiyayakko in kaiseki restaurants and some family restaurants (during the summer).
Originally from Hokkaido, Ikameshi is squid stuffed with rice and then simmered in a mixture of dashi, soy sauce, sake, and sugar (among other things depending on the chef).
It is not very common in Tokyo, but you can find it sometimes on the menu at a top-tier kaiseki restaurant. Often only in an omakase (chef’s choice) course.
Ikayaki is grilled squid, grilled after being dipped in a sweet soy sauce mix — sometimes dipped repeatedly while being grilled.
Popular especially at summer festivals where you can find many ikayaki vendors serving skewered ikayaki — and you can watch them grill it too.
You will also find ikayaki at kaiseki restaurants and ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels).
Jibuni is a flavorful dish of fried tofu, chicken (though traditionally made with duck), ninjin (carrots), and shiitake mushrooms — simmered in a mixture of dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sake — sometimes garnished with greens.
It’s most commonly made at home, but you can often find it in kaiseki restaurants.
Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multicourse meal — it isn’t a specific type of food item itself. We wanted to include it because kaiseki is an important part of the Japanese dining experience.
Some of the absolute top-rated restaurants in Tokyo are kaiseki restaurants.
The dishes are so varied and flexible the best chefs really get to flex their creativity — which is probably why there are so many Michelin starred kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo (and Kyoto — where you can find the most traditional kaiseki restaurants).
Kakigori is a real summer treat. It’s a shaved ice dessert (like a snow cone), but Japan really takes this dish to extremes.
You will find an incredible variety of kakigori to choose from in flavors you probably can’t imagine and never thought would be in a shaved ice dessert.
Common flavors are strawberry and condensed milk or matcha and anko (red bean paste) — and a plethora of flavors in-between.
There are even kakigori shops that pop up during the summer and serve kakigori using only the purest of pure ice created in very special places in Japan — and yes, it’s delicious and pricey.
You can also find kakigori in family restaurants during the summer season, and street vendors during summer festivals.
Kakuni is braised butabara (pork belly) that is first simmered for hours in a mixture of dashi, soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and red chili pepper (of course, among other things depending on the chef).
The simmer brings in a ton of flavor, and then the braising gives it a crispness. But the dish is served with some of the sauce in the small bowl.
Typically you will find kakuni in kaiseki restaurants or homemade kakuni if you’re lucky enough to dine with a Japanese family at home.
Karaage is Japanese fried chicken. Technically karaage is a cooking technique: frying. But if you hear the word karaage, or see it in menus, it generally refers to fried chicken.
And also, karaage tends to be boneless, but not like chicken nuggets. Instead, the meat is removed from the bones and cubed, battered, and fried. Not blended and processed like chicken nuggets.
Karaage is found all over, but primarily an izakaya item. You will find specialty restaurants focused on karaage. And family restaurants will have it on the menu too.
Karaage is also commonly seen at summer festivals with 3-5 chunks of karaage on a wooden skewer.
Karasumi is a salted mullet roe (fish eggs), dried in sunlight. It is not common in Tokyo, though you may find it in kaiseki restaurants with omakase menus — as these chefs often look for ways to add something unique to their menu.
Kinpira is a cooking technique, essentially a “sautee and simmer” method. But most often, when you see kinpira in menus, it will either have another word following it to let you know what is sauteed and simmered — or if no follow-up word, it likely means kinpira gobo (sauteed and simmered burdock root, usually with carrots and sprinkled with sesame seeds).
Like other simmered dishes, the simmer is a mixture of dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. But you’ll also see chopped red chili to add some zing.
Often kinpira dishes are small side dishes found in kaiseki restaurants and ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel). You’ll also sometimes see it as otoshi (compulsory appetizer) in an izakaya — and you can certainly buy kinpira gobo in supermarkets (and even convenience stores).
Kushikatsu, also known as kushiage, is skewered and fried food — and is one of our favorite foods in Japan.
Kushi means skewered. Katsu/age means fried.
It’s easy to eat because it is skewered on a bamboo stick and delicious because it’s battered and fried before immediately being served you.
Pork, chicken, beef, asparagus, renkon (lotus root), tamanegi (onion), shiitake mushrooms, and so much more can be found battered and fried in kushikatsu restaurants.
And pairs perfectly with your favorite adult beverages.
Primarily these kushikatsu restaurants are izakaya, and even izakaya that doesn’t specialize in kushikatsu sometimes have it on the menu.
Kushiyaki is skewered and grilled foods — such as yakitori, one item in the kushiyaki family of foods. Kushi means skewered, and yaki means grilled.
Essentially, anything that can be skewered and grilled is called kushiyaki.
Yakitori is the most famous, but we think yakiton (grilled pork) is a better flavor; of course, that is up to each individual, but we suspect you may never have thought to try yakiton.
You will find kushiyaki at an izakaya and street vendors, especially during the summer festival season.
Mentaiko is spicy pollock roe (or cod roe) — the tiny eggs of the Alaskan Pollock fish. Usually found encased in a thin membrane, but sometimes mixed with other ingredients to add flavor to a dish.
It has various Japanese cuisine uses such as pasta, pizza, soups, salads, and even eaten as is — among many other ways (even mixed in mayonnaise — called mentaimayo).
Mentaiko is essentially identical to tarako, except mentaiko is marinated in chili spices to add flavor and heat.
Mentaiko and tarako are very common in Japanese foods — readily found in pretty much all kaiseki and family restaurants in some form or another.
Also available prepared differently in an izakaya — and you can purchase it in supermarkets pretty much everywhere in Tokyo.
Authentic miso soup is a traditional soup made from the miso paste (fermented soybean) and dashi soup stock. We say authentic here because there are many instant miso soup options (packets added to hot water).
This is probably one of the most versatile dishes in all of the Japanese cuisine next to rice. There are countless varieties of miso soup. Some will use a dashi broth; some will use a kombu broth — with red miso, white miso, or yellow miso.
Some will add mushrooms; some will have chopped onion. Some will have fried tofu… The variety is literally almost limitless.
And because of that, you’ll find it almost anywhere in Tokyo — even sushi restaurants. Some restaurants will even allow refills on your miso soup.
Miso soup is generally a light side dish — when hearty ingredients like pork, carrots, and daikon radish are added — the soup morphs into something called tonjiru.
Tonjiru is very common as street food in the colder months.
Mochi is pounded rice. It has a soft, doughy texture and can also be found dried to form a hard square.
It can be found in many dishes such as wagashi (traditional desserts), soups, grilled as-is, and even ice cream. It’s quite versatile.
Actually, versatile doesn’t describe it. Do an image search in Google for mochi and you will see what we mean. You will find thousands upon thousands of unique ways mochi is used.
Mochiko is rice flour — when mixed with water, it has a similar texture to mochi. It is used in dango (rice dumpling), some fried foods, moffles, and bread.
Bread produced with mochiko has a light, soft texture, with a crisp outside. The soft feel is often referred to as “mochi-mochi.”
You’ll most often find mochi as a dessert in family restaurants or kaiseki. Or perhaps grilled at an izakaya.
Some yakiniku restaurants have mochi on the menu too — where you can then grill the mochi to your liking.
A moffle is a waffle made with mochi. You can buy small bricks of mochi in Japanese supermarkets and place it on a lightly oiled waffle iron to create moffles.
Moffles have a crisp but light texture and are ready to have toppings added, much like a normal waffle. But in Japan, you can also find moffles with ingredients such as ham, cheese, tuna, or mentaiko (cod roe).
Moffles are most common in food stalls during festivals or food trucks, sometimes available in the Harajuku area.
Monjayaki is a lot like okonomiyaki — a savory pancake-like dish mixed and cooked on a teppan (flat iron grill) — but has more liquid in the mixture than okonomiyaki; giving it a thinner texture. When cooked on a flat iron grill, the bottom sears to a crisp, like cheese.
Diners use these cool little tiny spatulas to eat monjayaki directly from the grill.
While there are restaurants dedicated to monjayaki, you’ll usually find it alongside okonomiyaki at the same restaurant. And while okonomiyaki is popular street vendor food, monjayaki is not.
Namasu is fresh, uncooked vegetables cut into thin slices and marinated in vinegar for a few hours. It’s much like pickles but has a less powerful vinegar flavor since the fresh vegetables aren’t soaked in it very long.
Namasu is a side dish found in many kaiseki restaurants, izakaya, and sometimes in seasonal menus at family restaurants.
Nanbanzuke is a fried fish dish where after frying, the fish is dipped into a mixture of vinegar, carrots, sugar, and chili peppers — giving it a sweet and sour flavor with a touch of heat.
While you can find this in kaiseki restaurants and some izakaya, it isn’t very common. It will be in some omakase courses or izakaya with very large menu choices.
Natto is a traditional dish of fermented soybean, very common in Japanese cuisine. The famous “sticky beans” that smell vaguely of old gym sock. An exceptionally healthy dish if you find you enjoy the flavor and can get past the texture.
Natto is served in many ways, but most commonly on top of rice with soy sauce poured over it and a dab of karashi (spicy mustard).
You can find natto in nearly all family restaurants, izakaya, and many kaiseki restaurants will use it in some of their dishes. You can buy packs of natto in supermarkets that also come with tiny packets of soy sauce and karashi.
Nikujaga is meat and potatoes. Niku means meat, and jaga is short for jagaimo, which means potato.
But it can’t be that simple, can it? This is Japanese cuisine; after all, there’s always a twist.
That’s right; nikujaga isn’t simply meat and potatoes cooked together. Instead, it’s meat and potatoes, onion, carrot, and other ingredients simmered in a soy sauce-based broth — simmered until the broth has been reduced, leaving the stewed ingredients flavorful and soft.
Nikujaga is primarily cooked at home, but you can find it in some izakaya and occasionally in family restaurants. Also, in supermarkets, the pre-cooked foods section will sometimes have nikujaga available.
Oden is an interesting dish. It’s various ingredients simmered in a soy sauce and dashi soup. All the ingredients are simmered together, bringing out a variety of flavor.
Items such as boiled eggs, daikon radish, sausage, konnyaku, tofu, fishcakes, etc. It’s a popular cold-weather dish, and convenience stores will offer it simmering right at the counter. Just ask the clerk for the items you want.
It’s commonly served with karashi (spicy mustard).
There are izakaya dedicated to oden, and of course, that is where you will find the absolute best. But convenience store oden is good too.
You can also find oden kits in supermarkets that make it simple to make oden at home by simply adding it to a pan and heating up.
Okayu is rice porridge. The Japanese often eat okayu when recovering from an illness due to its very light flavor.
Flavors can be added by mixing in other ingredients such as egg, umeboshi (pickled plum), flaked salmon filet, soy sauce, etc.
You’ll find okayu in kaiseki restaurants with some of the most interesting additions to create amazing umami flavors. The creativity at some of the top-tier kaiseki is unbelievable.
Okayu can be purchased ready-made from supermarkets and convenience stores too — just heat up in a pan.
Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake, but we bet that doesn’t quite describe it well enough, does it?
It means it is a batter mix with ingredients such as ebi (shrimp), ika (squid), tako (octopus), buta (pork), shredded cabbage, and more. Not all at once, but your choice.
When you order, it all comes in a bowl, and you cook it yourself at the teppan (flat iron grill) in the middle of your table using two large spatulas (and they provide oil, so the okonomiyaki doesn’t stick). If you need help, ask the staff — they will show you how to cook it.
Okonomiyaki can be found in okonomiyaki restaurants (along with monjayaki) and is also very popular in summer festivals.
Learn more about okonomiyaki in our in-depth guide here.
Omurice is omelet rice. Omu is a short work for omelet and rice, is well, rice. It’s a common dish where the omelet is cooked slightly soft and then “rolled” out of the pan onto a rice mound.
Then topped with various things such as a beef demi-glace sauce, cream, cheese, or even grated daikon with ponzu sauce and garnished with chopped shiso or nori seaweed.
You can easily find omurice in mall restaurants, family restaurants, and some izakaya. Convenience stores will often have omurice bentos too.
Onigiri is rice balls — shaped somewhat like triangles and filled with a savory ingredient such as tuna, umeboshi (pickled plum), mentaiko, hijiki, etc. — and wrapped in nori seaweed. It is sometimes referred to as omusubi.
This is extremely popular with workers when they don’t have much time for a lunch break. Or made at home to bring with them to work.
There are onigiri shops that make very robust rice balls — large, packed with filling, and often sprinkled with salt or other toppings.
Primarily you’ll see onigiri in convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Lawson, or FamilyMart.
Many Japanese people also make them at home to bring with them to school events, picnics, or daily lunches even. It’s a very handy food.
Tenmusu is onigiri filled with tempura (fried seafood, meat, or veggies).
There are small shops dedicated to onigiri, but you’ll mostly find them in convenience stores — useful as a quick snack when you’re hungry while exploring Tokyo.
Onsen tamago is an egg cooked in onsen water. Well… sort of. The original concept was, but it’s essentially an egg slow-cooked in hot water.
It gives the yoke an almost jelly-like consistency, and the whites are soft but cooked — not overly runny.
You’ll find this as-is on menus such as donburi restaurants, izakaya, and sometimes family restaurants, usually put on top of rice with a splash of soy sauce.
Interestingly, at convenience stores, you can buy them individually boxed. Yea, tiny boxes. They’re already cooked and ready to eat (though they are cold).
Ramen is a noodle dish. While the noodles are varied and affect the overall experience, the soup is the star of this dish.
There is a massive amount of variety — ramen is an extremely popular dish, and you can practically find a ramen shop around every corner in Tokyo.
Common soup broths are shio, shoyu, miso, and tonkotsu. Some shops will dedicate themselves to one specific soup broth — and there are regional varieties of each soup.
Noodles can vary by thickness and firmness. Some will be hand-made in the shop, and some will offer noodle refills.
Toppings include things such as nori seaweed, menma (bamboo shoots), corn, butter, moyashi (bean sprouts), chashu (braised pork), ajitsuke tamago (flavored boiled egg), and more.
There are upscale ramen shops, dingy hole in the wall shops — and literally everything in-between. As you can see, there are millions of combinations possible, which gives this amazing dish the ultimate flexibility.
Some popular ramen shops include Ippudo, Ichiran, Aijigen, Misoya, and far more than we could ever list.
Tsukemen is a type of ramen where the sauce/broth is separate from the noodles, and you dip the noodles before eating.
There is a ton more to learn about ramen, and you can discover it in our in-depth ramen guide here.
Sashimi is sliced raw fish (and sometimes meat). It’s raw fish sliced thin and laid carefully on a plate. These can range from small one-person plates to large party plates — and the sashimi is sometimes laid out in very intricate patters (such as with fugu — pufferfish sashimi).
The most common sashimi is tuna, but you’ll find salmon, octopus, squid, mackerel, and even things such as shrimp or sea urchin — and often, plates are lined with a variety of seafood rather than all one type.
You’ll find sashimi in non-conveyor belt sushi restaurants, kaiseki, family restaurants, and izakaya. It’s practically on the menu everywhere.
You can also find it in some convenience stores and definitely in supermarkets — just go to the fish section, and you’ll find rows of sashimi bentos to choose from.
Shabu-shabu is boiled meat — doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it is — especially when you’re boiling high-grade wagyu beef.
The name comes from the sound of putting the meat in boiling water and moving it around to cook it — the “swish swish” sound became “shabu-shabu.”
When you eat shabu-shabu, you’re not just boiling meat in hot water. No, the restaurant offers you a choice of soup bases then brings out a large nabe (hot pot) — placing it on an IH hot plate.
You’ll order the meat you want, but also veggies. The veggies go into the soup to add flavor, and this is what you’re swishing the meat around in — a hot boiling soup with veggies.
Common soups are kombu (kelp), dashi, kimchi, and tonkotsu (pork bone) — but this is up to the restaurant you visit. Some experiment with their own unique soups.
You’ll find shabu-shabu in shabu-shabu restaurants, but sometimes also in family restaurants. There are also big all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu chain restaurants, such as Syabu-Yo.
Learn more about shabu-shabu in our full shabu-shabu guide here.
Shirogohan is steamed Japanese white rice. Shiro means white, gohan means rice.
You probably don’t need us to tell you that Japanese rice is a staple in the large majority of meals in Japan, and you can find it almost anywhere — even in ramen shops. It is simply an integral part of Japanese food culture.
If you’re in a shop that allows you to “refill” your rice, say “gohan okawari kudasai” to request more rice from the staff. It means “more rice, please.”
Shogayaki is grilled ginger pork. Shoga means ginger, and yaki is to grill. Usually eaten with shirogohan, and maybe a side miso soup and tsukemono (pickles) as a teishoku(meal set) — and sometimes the rice has furikake on it (a sprinkle of dried flavorful bits, such as salmon, roasted sesame, egg, etc.).
It’s a simple dish commonly cooked at home, but you will find small lunch restaurants serve it (and sell it as bentos). Sometimes family restaurants will have it on the menu. Occasionally izakaya will as well.
Soba is buckwheat noodles. Technically soba means buckwheat, but if you hear soba when in Tokyo, it refers to soba noodles.
Soba noodle dishes have a large variety of flavors. It’s served both hot and cold. Cold varieties are laid out on bamboo slats while hot sobs noodles are in soup broth.
The water left after boiling soba is called soba-yu, and traditionally it is put into a pitcher and given to you at the table — where you pour it into a cup and drink it. It’s said to be very healthy too.
There is a lot to learn about soba, and we cover it in-depth here in our soba guide.
You’ll find soba in many family restaurants, some kaiseki, and very commonly made at home. Soba fast food shops will have bowls of soba for just around ¥350 ($3.25).
Somen is much like soba noodles but made from wheat flour rather than buckwheat. Generally, there are fewer somen dishes as well. It’s usually served cold with a tsuyu (dipping sauce).
Somen isn’t common in restaurants, but with an affordable price in supermarkets — it is very commonly cooked at home.
Suiton is a soup dish with dumplings made from scratch, by hand. In fact, the signature of this dish are the uneven dumplings.
Suiton is a historic food in Japan because it has sustained people during the worst of times; post war, after major earthquakes and natural disaster for example — because it is cheap and easy to make.
Today you may find it in some kaiseki restaurants, but it will be rare. This is mostly homecooked food now. If you have Japanese friends, or maybe a homestay with a Japanese family, there’s a chance you could try suiton.
Sukiyaki is a type of simmered nabemono dish where, in restaurants, you often get an iron pan on a hot plate to cook everything yourself.
In this case, the restaurant will usually bring the pan out with the vegetables and broth already in the pan — just the meat is separate. When the pan is hot enough, you add the meat yourself, cooking it how you prefer.
Other ingredients in the pan may be shirataki (konnyaku noodles), shungiku (spring chrysanthemum), shiitake mushrooms, and tofu. The broth is a mix of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.
You’ll also get a raw egg in a small bowl to dip the meat into after cooking it. Of course, if you don’t eat raw egg, you can pass on this. And sukiyaki is served with rice.
Sukiyaki is a family favorite where families will gather around the pan of sukiyaki to share in the cooking duties while everyone enjoys the food.
Some kaiseki will offer sukiyaki, ryokan as well. There are restaurants dedicated to sukiyaki, but not many — they tend to be tiny mom and pop shops. It’s often a seasonal item at family restaurants.
Everyone thinks they know what sushi is until they come to Japan — the home of sushi. It isn’t just the raw fish you imagine it is.
Technically, sushi means vinegared rice. But sushi — the dish — is known as vinegared rice with something on top. That “something” on top is known as the neta.
Neta is often raw fish, but it can be many more things such as egg, corn, squid, octopus, shellfish, uni (sea urchin), etc.
We dive deeply into sushi, and you can learn more about it in our complete guide to sushi here.
Even though the famous Tsukiji Fish Market has moved it’s fishing operations to the new Toyosu Market, there are still amazing sushi restaurants to try in Tsukiji.
Japan is where you will find the highest grade sushi in the world — and Tokyo is loaded with top-tier, often Michelin starred, sushi restaurants.
One we often recommend is Sushi Harataka in Ginza. — use the link to make reservations as it’s super popular and can be nearly impossible to get reservations on your own.
Conveyor belt sushi is still fantastic sushi too — and it’s very affordable, often around ¥110 per plate.
Takikomi gohan is a rice dish where all the savory ingredients are added to the rice cooker — and pressure steamed together. Ingredients such as bamboo shoots, chicken, carrots, mushroom, and dashi stock with soy sauce.
The result is an incredible “brown rice” with a magnificent flavor profile. Tip: scrape the rice bowl’s bottom for the rice with seared soy sauce — it’s a family favorite (kids have been known to fight over this part of the dish).
Takikomi gohan is more of a fall seasonal dish if you’re looking for it in restaurants. But it’s easily made at home if you have a rice cooker. In Japan, supermarkets even sell takikomi gohan kits with everything in one bag ready to add to the rice cooker.
Takoyaki is grilled octopus balls. If you’ve done any research into Japanese food, you may have heard of this. Takoyaki shops use a special iron grill with circular “dents” to put the batter and ingredients.
Then, using a bamboo pick, they push, prod, and pull the batter mix until it begins to take a ball shape while it cooks. And this cooking technique is fun to watch — especially at food stalls in summer festivals.
You’ll find takoyaki in family restaurants sometimes, but mostly in izakaya, specialty shops dedicated to it, and street food vendors. It’s common for malls to have at least one takoyaki restaurant in food courts.
Convenience stores will have takoyaki bentos sometimes, and supermarkets sell bags of frozen takoyaki you can reheat at home.
Tamago Kake Gohan
Tamago kake gohan is steamed rice with a raw egg on top. Tamago means egg, kake means on top, and gohan is rice.
It is a favorite breakfast dish in Japan, if you can believe that — often served with a grilled salmon filet.
It is usually eaten exactly as-is, but some add soy sauce, and we like to add butter (but that is not common in Japan).
You can find this at some Japanese fast-food chains in their morning menus — chains such as Sukiya and Matsuya — and family restaurants.
Tamagoyaki is the Japanese rolled omelet. The egg is mixed with dashi, mirin, and sometimes sugar — then cooked using a small square/rectangular pan called a makiyakinabe.
It’s very interesting to watch it being made since it is a layered omelet. A thin amount of egg is added to the pan and then pulled back as it cooks so the chef can add more egg to the pan. Repeat until it’s all cooked and then roll it at the end.
The flavor is fantastic, and you’ll find restaurants will change things up to add their own twist on this classic dish.
While kaiseki will have this, we mostly enjoy tamagoyaki in an izakaya. It’s excellent when paired with your favorite drinks.
Tempura is fried seafood, meat, and veggies — battered in a special tempura batter and fried to a crisp. The batter is what sets it apart from standard fried foods — and panko (bread crumbs) are not used.
This gives the tempura a smoother texture, though it is crispy.
You’ll discover all sorts of ingredients that can be made into tempura. Ebi (shrimp) is probably the most popular, but there are others such as pumpkin, chikuwa, kakiage (a veggie mix), anago (conger eel), eggplant, and much more.
Tempura is served with a dipping sauce called tentsuyu, made from dashi, mirin, and soy sauce — sometimes mixed with grated daikon. Some restaurants will also offer a small plate of rock salt and matcha (green tea) salt.
We have a great in-depth guide to tempura if you’d like to learn more about this delicious dish.
Teppanyaki means grilled on a flat iron grill. Teppan means flat iron grill, and yaki means to grill. If you know Benihana’s, that’s teppanyaki (though it isn’t so dramatic at Japan).
You’ll find some of the best-grilled wagyu, lobster, and garlic rice at teppanyaki restaurants in Tokyo.
The teppanyaki grill is usually made of iron (though there are ceramic versions), and customers typically sit in front of the grill, opposite the chef.
Tonkatsu is a fried pork cutlet. Need we say more? It’s ultra-crispy, juicy inside, and full of flavor. Restaurants dedicated to tonkatsu will offer you a choice of pig based on quality and where it was raised.
You can find other meats fried similarly, such as chikinkatsu (fried chicken cutlet), bifukatsu (fried beef cutlet), etc.
A typical tonkatsu teishoku found in restaurants will have shredded cabbage on the side, a bowl of rice, miso soup, and tsukemono. It’s an awesome meal that is one you won’t soon forget. You may even want to make tonkatsu at home.
Udon is a thick flour-based noodle. It’s usually served hot in a soup broth of — as you may have guessed — soy sauce, mirin, and dashi (it seems these form the basis of many dishes in Japanese cooking).
Many shops will add their twist, so you will find udon has many flavors. Often udon is paired with tempura or fried foods. The popular chain udon restaurants found in shopping malls offer various ala carte tempura alongside the standard bowl of udon — at fantastic prices.
Udon is on the menu and many Japanese fast food chains at prices as low as ¥350. Another great option if you’re hungry, want something quick, and don’t feel like spending a lot.
Some kaiseki and ryokan will have udon in their course offerings, and udon is frequently made at home.
Unagi is a freshwater eel or conger eel. It is a seasonal dish in Japan, found primarily in the summer months. The unagi is skinned and filleted, the skewered with bamboo skewers, dipped in a sauce, and then grilled.
This process is called kabayaki (it’s not just for unagi, but primarily it is).
You can find unagi at kaiseki, family restaurants, and of course, unagi restaurants. Some vendors at festivals will serve unagi as well — and supermarkets will have unagi when it is in season.
Wagyu is Japanese beef. Yes, the legendary Japanese beef with intricate marbling and the melt-in-your-mouth buttery flavor your taste buds dream of.
There are famous brand name wagyu ranches such as Matsusaka, Yonezawa, Omi, and probably the most renowned Kobe beef. These are the best of the best wagyu.
You’ll usually find high-grade wagyu at the top-tier yakiniku, shabu-shabu, teppanyaki, and sukiyaki restaurants. But you can find it in supermarkets too (although it can be a bit pricey.)
Yakinikuis grilled meat. Most often at yakiniku restaurants, you’ll grill the meat yourself — the tables will have a gas or charcoal grill in the middle. However, there are high-end yakiniku restaurants that will grill it for you as well.
There are all-you-can-eat yakiniku restaurants, where you can eat as much as you can for 90 minutes.
Some common meats you’ll find at yakiniku restaurants are gyutan (beef tongue), karubi (short ribs), butabara (pork belly), rosu (roast), and horomon (offal).
You’ll also find shops dedicated to grilled lamb; these are called jingisukan (sounds like Genghis Khan); they’re mostly similar to regular yakiniku restaurants but often have a dome-shaped grill.
Many yakiniku restaurants will apply a light dab sesame oil to the meat to stick to the grill and add its own great flavor.
Some popular yakiniku chains in Tokyo include Gyu Kaku (which also happens to be in Hawaii), Bekoroku, and Yakiniku King.
If you’re looking for one of the absolute best yakiniku restaurants, check out Yoroniku. If you crave top-grade wagyu Kobe beef, you’ll love Yoroniku.
Yakisoba is a grilled noodles dish. Even though soba is in the name, it is usually the same noodles as you would find in ramen. The noodles are grilled in a pan at home, or teppan at street vendors.
They are grilled with a sauce comprised of a Japanese version of Worcestershire sauce, sometimes with soy sauce added — among other things. When finished grilling, it’s garnished with aonori (blue seaweed), benishoga (pickled ginger), and sometimes mayonnaise.
You’ll also find yakisoba put into a hotdog bun called yakisoba pan (pan means bread).
Yakitori is grilled chicken skewers—part of the kushiyaki “family” of skewered foods. There is a variety of yakitori to choose from like negima (with green onion), momo (thigh), or kawa (skin).
You’ll also find them cooked a couple of different ways: salted or dipped in a sauce. Both flavors are amazing though we prefer the good old-fashioned salt flavor. You’ll also have the option of sprinkling on some red pepper called togarashi.
You’ll find yakitori at izakayas and street vendors, but also in grocery stores and convenience stores.
Yakitori is one item from the kushiyaki family of foods, and we have an in-depth guide where you can learn all about it.
As you can see, Tokyo is loaded with the most Japanese foods you’ll find probably anywhere in Japan. Okay, maybe Osaka or Kyoto come close, but you’ll still find more in Tokyo. Japan has a rich food culture, and Tokyo could very well be every chef’s true mecca.
As you can guess these foods and cooking techniques have been adopted all over Asia — you’ll find similar flavors in China, Korea, Thailand, etc. — of course, with their own twist on it. Each country in the region borrows from the other. It’s a foodie’s paradise.
These foods are the majority of the main dishes with some side dishes included, but there are lots more foods available in Japan. You will find incredible variety, just walking around train stations. Some shops even having walk-up windows where you can grab a meal, some hashi (chopsticks), and enjoy fantastic food immediately.
One thing is for sure; the Japanese people really love quality food.
We hope this helps you enjoy your time in Tokyo and look forward to adding more to this guide over time — so check back often. We’re growing fast and adding new guides based on over 24 years of experience in Tokyo and advice from our local friends’ network.
If you’re back home and can’t wait to come to Tokyo — look for some of these in your local Asian market. Maybe you could mimic them at home. Then when you get here, you can study the real, authentic flavors.
And depending on where you live, consider taking a cooking class to learn the skills of traditional cuisine in Japan. It’s truly an art form.