Translated by Jenni Silvola
Japanese Foods You Absolutely Must Try
Written by Nao Sugio
Visiting Japan? Make sure you try these traditional Japanese foods! Matcha (green tea), mochi rice cakes, sweets with red bean paste, natto and okonomiyaki should definitely feature on your list of must-try foods!
Yes, Japan is famous for sushi. And indeed, it is deeply satisfying to devour an impressive variety of mouthwatering sushi while in Japan but there is so much more to the country's culinary delights than just raw fish and rice – no matter how delicious.
Any traveler coming to Japan should definitely try out these traditional Japanese foods.
Most of them you can find in any convenience store, such as a 7-Eleven, Family Mart or Lawson. Most supermarkets and restaurants will also have most, if not all of these delicacies on their menu. Street food is not very popular in Japan but in many tourist spots or at festivals you will be able to get your hands on these goodies.
Natto is made from fermented soybeans. In other words, some very old beans gone "bad". Considered a superfood by many nutritionists, natto might look suspiciously gooey but it is high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. These soybeans are light brown colored and if you poke them with chopsticks you will find that they tend to stick to your utensils with glue-like strings. It might not sound appetizing but the taste definitely beats the looks of this very traditional Japanese delicacy.
Natto is sold in tiny polystyrene packets, perfect for a single serve. It comes with soy sauce and mustard, which you can mix in with the natto and have it as it is. Most Japanese people tend to it eat natto on top of rice. You will also find natto in sushi rolls sold in konbinis, Japanese convenience stores.
It looks strange and you might have your doubts, but you should try natto as it is not only healthy, but Japanese people eat this superfood as a part of their everyday diet. This is definitely something your friends back home have never tried before! Go ahead, dip your chopsticks in this gooey goodness!
2. Mochi - Sweet Glutenous Rice Cakes
Mochi are small balls made of glutenous rice, either sweet or savory. The texture of mochi is quite dense, somewhat sticky, though usually soft. Rolled mochi balls are served either on skewers or as they are. Mochi itself does not have a lot of taste, hence they usually come filled with sweet paste or covered in a savory sauce. They can be eaten as an appetizer, a snack or a dessert and there are many flavors of mochi available.
Mochi is also visually pleasing – look for the colorful assortments in white, pink and green. The savory mochi will usually be covered in a brown soy sauce. (The skewered mochi balls covered in sweet soy sauce are called "mitarashi dango" and are a delight!).
Mochi balls are a must try! You can not say you traveled in Japan if you did not taste these traditional tasty sweets. An insider tip: try matcha flavored mochi as well as cream filled mochi. They will be something like you have never tried before - truly a local Japanese delicacy.
3. Anko - Sweet Red Bean Paste
Anko, the red bean paste, is the queen of desserts in Japan! A dark red, velvety paste, anko is not sold as itself but is used as a filling to flavor an incredible variety of sweets such as pastries, cookies, pancakes, buns, ice-creams, chocolates, mochi, etc.
Anko is a very old, traditional sweet in Japan which is still very much popular nowadays. The beautifully wrapped anko-filled cookies or chocolates also make a perfect gift to take back home to your family and friends. (Please be careful, though, that anko-filled sweets have a relatively short shelf life, usually within three days!)
To truly understand the Japanese cuisine you absolutely have to try anko; it is the very essence of Japanese dessert culture. Take your pick, whether it is an anko cookie, pancake or anko with mochi; but make sure you try this timeless, treasured Japanese treat.