Japan is one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. Cuisine from Japan has a wide breadth of styles depending on traditional techniques and ingredients, different regions, as well as incorporating influences from elsewhere in Asia and around the world. From dishes of humble and historic origin, to modern and elegant creations, Japanese food is a cuisine everyone can enjoy.
From sushi to mochi, wagashi to udon, here is an A to Z breakdown of some of Japan’s most iconic and delicious foods.
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Akumaki – Traditional Kyūshū dessert made by wrapping lye-soaked glutinous rice in bamboo leaves, then seasoned with toasted soybean flour, sugar and salt.
Amanattō – Confectionary dating back to the Edo period, made of azuki beans cooked in sugar syrup, then dried and covered in sugar.
Anko nabe – Hot pot containing monkfish, as well as kombu, mushrooms, carrots, miso and sake.
Anmitsu – Traditional sweets made with agar and anko, served with mitsu syrup and dusted with kinako (roasted soybean flour).
Babahera ice cream – Scoops of banana and strawberry ice cream arranged in a distinctive flower shape, a local favourite from Akita City.
Barazushi – Sushi rice bowl dish topped with carrot, tamago, lotus root, pickled ginger, shiitake mushrooms and salmon roe.
Basashi – Thinly sliced horse meat, eaten raw with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sake.
Bocchan dango – Three colourful balls of glutinous rice served on a skewer, made with red bean paste (red), egg (yellow), and matcha (green).
Bouze no Sugata-zushi – Japanese butterfish, served soaked in vinegar and yuzu, and stuffed with rice.
Buta-no-shogayaki – Stir fried ginger pork dish.
Butadon – Rice bowl dish topped with pork and a caramelised soy sauce, and ginger.
Champon – Noodle dish from Nagasaki, made with pork or seafood, vegetables and noodles, which are stir fried.
Chawanmushi – Savoury custard dish made of egg, dashi, soy sauce and mirin, and topped with protein such as chicken or shiitake mushrooms.
Chankonabe – Nicknamed ‘sumo stew’, a hearty protein-rich hot pot packed with vegetables, meat, mushrooms, soy, miso and kimchi.
Daifukumochi – Mochi desserts filled with red bean paste (anko), and sometimes contains custard or strawberries.
Dashi – A fundamental soup stock used in many recipes, made of kombu (dried kelp) and fish, known for its umami flavour.
Denpun dango – A winter dessert made of balls of boiled sweet beans and potato flour, and served on a bamboo skewer.
Donburi – A broad category of rice bowl dishes, topped with meat and vegetables.
Dorayaki – Famous dessert made of two pancake-like castella cakes, sandwiching a layer of azuki paste.
Edamame – Soybeans harvested and picked when green and young, often blanched in salt water and served as a side dish or snack.
Ekiben – Lunch bento boxes with different fillings, often sold at train stations for train journeys.
Fugu – Pufferfish, served as sashimi or nabe (hot pot). Because of the presence of tetrodoxin, fugu can be toxic if not properly prepared.
Fukagawa meshi – Clams cooked in miso or soy soup, then poured over rice.
Funazushi – Traditional fish dish made by fermenting fish in salt for one year, then in rice for 3 more years. It is known for its intense taste and smell like pungent cheese.
Futomaki – Thick sushi rolls filled with fillings such as cucumber, carrot, tamagoyaki, mitsuba, shiitake mushrooms, tofu, or fish.
Goheimochi – Glutinous rice cakes on a skewer coated in a sweet glaze of sugar, soy and mirin, then roasted.
Gokabo – A sweet cylinder of glutinous rice, flavoured with toasted soybean flour and served stacked in a pyramid.
Gyoza – Crescent-shaped dumplings made of wheat flour, eggs and water, then stuffed with meat and vegetables and fried.
Gyudon – A beef and rice dish made with thinly sliced beef, onion and a sweet and savoury dashi, soy, sugar, mirin and sake sauce.
Gyukatsu – Deep fried beef cutlet, crumbed with panko crumbs.
Gyutan – Thinly sliced beef tongue cooked over a grill, flavoured with soy sauce, and accompanied by pickles.
Habutai mochi – Thick mochi dumplings made of glutinous rice, filled with red bean paste (anko), white bean paste, or fruits such as strawberry.
Hakata burabura – Mochi rice cake covered with a layer of azuki red bean paste.
Hambāgu – Japan’s version of the hamburger, served as a beef patty with a sweet glaze sauce.
Harajuku crepes – Modern desserts popular in Harajuku, Tokyo. Often advertised in large, colourful displays, crepes are rolled into a cone shape and can be sweet (containing cream, fruit, ice cream or chocolate), or savoury (containing chicken, tuna, curry or mayonnaise).
Hida beef – Wagyu beef variety prized for its extensive marbling, served as steak or for sushi.
Hiyajiru udon – A cold soup of miso, sesame seeds, ginger, perilla leaf, and udon noodles.
Hiroshimayaki – Style of okonomiyaki from Hiroshima, with a base layer of yakisoba or udon noodles, cooked on a hotplate in layers instead of a combined batter.
Hito-kuchi gyoza – Steamed gyoza with fillings of chicken, pork, prawn, or vegetables, and fried on the outside.
Hiyoko – Small cakes from Fukuoka, shaped into cute baby chick shapes and with a yellow bean paste filling.
Hokkaidō soft cream – Soft serve ice cream from the Hokkaidō region, renowned for its fluffy texture and rich, sweet taste.
Honetsuki dori – Fried chicken from Kagawa prefecture, prepared with ginger, garlic and other spices for a crunchy skin.
Hōto – Flat and doughy udon noodles served in a rich miso soup with vegetables.
Ichigoni – A flavourful seafood soup of abalone and sea urchin with chopped spring onions.
Ichiroku tart – Sponge cake similar to a Swiss roll, flavoured with yuzu citrus and filled with red bean paste.
Ikinari dango – Sweet dumpling made of glutinous rice flour, filled with sweet potato and red bean paste.
Imoni – Taro and beef soup with a rich soy broth.
Imotaki – Traditional taro root stew, containing chicken, konnyaku (konjac), carrot, onion, kombu, and a broth of soy, mirin and sake.
Inaniwa udon – Hand-made udon from Akita prefecture with a thin shape and chewy texture, often served in a hot salt broth topped with pickles.
Ishikari nabe – Salmon hot pot dish made of a miso and kombu dashi base, with Hokkaidō butter added for a creamy taste. Onion, potato, daikon and cabbage are commonly added.
Izumo soba – Dark soba noodles made of buckwheat flour, eaten with nori, green onions, and radish, served in a dashi broth.
Jakoten – Small fried fish cakes made of hotarujako fish. The fish is minced and formed into rectangular shapes, before being fried.
Japanese fruit parfait – A modern dessert made with sponge cake, fruits (such as melon, strawberry or banana), ice cream, whipped cream, and topped with chocolate or nuts. Served in a tall sundae glass.
Jibu-ni – Flour coated duck or chicken cooked in a broth of dashi, soy, sake and mirin, thickened with flour and served with vegetables such as leek.
Jingisukan (Ghengis Khan) – Thinly sliced lamb or mutton grilled on a metal grill, served with a sauce of soy, chilli and sake, as well as vegetables.
Kaisen-don – Rice bowl topped with thinly sliced raw fish and seafood, originating from Hokkaidō.
Kaki no dotenabe – A hearty winter hot pot dish of seafood, with miso, oysters, mushrooms, tofu, as well as vegetables such as cabbage.
Kakinohazushi – Traditional sushi from Nara, made by wrapping salted fish and rice with persimmon leaves.
Kamome no tamago – A thin layer of sponge cake with a filling of sweet white bean paste, coated entirely with white chocolate.
Karaage – Japanese fried technique, typically made by coating chicken in panko crumbs, ginger, garlic, soy, sake, and mirin.
Kare (curry rice) – Japanese curry, commonly served with meat, carrots, potatoes, and rice.
Kashi pan – Sweet bread buns, often flavoured with melon, anko, or kare (curry sauce).
Kasutera – Also known as Castella cake, a soft sponge cake sweetened with honey.
Katsudon – A dish of panko-crumbed pork cutlet, onions and egg, served over rice.
Katsuo no tataki – Sliced skipjack tuna which is broiled and seasoned with garlic, ginger, citrus, soy and vinegar.
Kenpi – Strips of sweet potato cut into fries shapes, fried and glazed with sugar until crunchy.
Kibi dango – Dumplings made of rice and millet, shaped into balls, and often containing fruit flavours.
Kijoyu udon – Simple dish with two ingredients, udon noodles served in dashi soy sauce.
Kininaru ringo – Fuji apple soaked in syrup, wrapped in pastry and baked until golden.
Kiritanpo – A stick of pounded rice placed on a skewer, grilled with a miso glaze and commonly added to stews or hot pots.
Kitsune udon – Udon soup dish made with fried tofu, dashi broth, and narutomaki fish cakes.
Kobe beef – Well-known variety of beef, prized for high level of fat marbling, often used as a steak, raw tataki, or sashimi.
Kurumi mochi – Glutinous rice cake mochi coated in sticky walnut paste.
Kushiage – Street food consisting of deep-fried panko crumbed vegetables or meat on a bamboo skewer, with a savoury dipping sauce.
Kushikatsu – Deep fried panko-crumbed skewers of meat and vegetables.
Marusei butter sand – Commercial snacks made with two crunchy cookies sandwiching a layer of white chocolate, raisins, and Hokkaidō butter.
Matsuba gani – Snow crab from coastal Tottori, eaten as sashimi, grilled, or in a hot pot dish.
Mentaiko – Pollock or cod roe, cured with salt and seasoned.
Mire biscuit – Small coin-sized biscuits made with flour, oil, sugar, shortening and salt, fried in oil and seasoned with salt.
Miso-katsu – Deep fried tonkatsu (panko crumbed pork) topped with a sweet and tangy hatcho miso sauce. Often served with rice and cabbage.
Miso soup – Soy-based soup made from dashi stock and miso paste (fermented soybeans), commonly containing kombu seaweed and tofu.
Mitarashi dango – Balls of grilled rice dumplings on a bamboo skewer, with a sweet soy glaze.
Mizutake – Chicken or fish hot pot made in a donabe, a ceramic pot.
Momiji manju – Maple leaf-shaped manju, with a batter of wheat flour, eggs, milk, and honey, usually with a red bean filling.
Monjayaki – Savoury pancake dish similar to okonomiyaki, with a liquid consistency that is cooked in a ring shape of a large hot plate. Made with flour, water, dashi, meat and vegetables.
Motsunabe – Healthy and cheap hot pot dish made with beef or pork offal, as well as noodles, cabbage, spring onions and garlic.
Nabe – Hot pot dishes, commonly including meat, seafood, vegetables and mushrooms.
Namagashi – Wagashi sweets made with fruit jellies or sweet bean paste, formed into beautiful shapes such as leaves or flowers.
Namerō – Tuna tataki made by thinly slicing fish and flavoured with miso or perilla leaves.
Natto – Traditional breakfast dish of fermented soy beans, notable for its strong smell and sticky/slimy texture.
Nikujaga – Meat and potato stew made with a dashi based stock.
Nigiri – A variety of sushi made with vinegared rice, topped with raw fish or seafood.
Noppe – A thick stew of vegetables fried in sesame oil, as well as mushrooms, tofu or chicken.
Oden – Winter hot pot stew consisting of a soy-dashi based broth, as well as fish cakes, deep-fried tofu, hard-boiled egg, daikon, kombu, and konnyaku.
Okoshi – Crunchy desserts similar to rice crispy treats, made with roasted rice, sugar and butter, and flavoured with matcha or sesame.
Okonomiyaki – Iconic Japanese savoury pancake made of flour, eggs, cabbage, as well as a variety of meats or vegetables. It is cooked on a large hotplate (teppan), and served with sweet okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori and bonito flakes.
Oma hon maguro – Blue fin tuna fished from the Tsugara channel prized for their high fat and marbling, and used for sushi and sashimi.
Omuraisu – Japanese omelette rice, made by wrapping a portion of chicken fried rice in omelette and covered in ketchup.
Onigiri – Steamed rice formed into a triangle or ball shape, often wrapped in nori and with a variety of fillings and seasonings.
Oyaki dumplings – Chewy dumplings of buckwheat flour, stuffed with vegetarian fillings such as muchrooms, vegetables, anko paste or pickles.
Oyakudon – A donburi dish of chicken, onions and egg cooked in a dashi and soy broth, and served over rice.
Pongashi – Puffed brown rice, eaten as a snack.
Ramen – A hearty noodle soup made with a savoury broth of soy, miso, tonkotsu or salt, as well as ramen noodles, a thin wheat noodle. Toppings such as meat, vegetables, nori and bamboo shoots are common.
Saga wagyu – Premium beef variety, prized for its sweet flavour and high marbling, often used as steak or in shabu shabu.
Sakuramochi – Pink mochi rice cakes with a red bean paste centre, and wrapped in Sakura leaf.
Sasadango – Steamed rice dessert flavoured with mugwort and filled with red bean paste, wrapped in bamboo leaves for steaming.
Sasa kamaboko – Savoury fish cakes made with fish paste, egg whites and starch, with a distinctive fluffy texture.
Sashimi – Thinly sliced raw food, typically fish, seafood, or red meat. Typically flavoured with soy sauce and wasabi.
Senbei-jiru – Known as ‘rice cracker soup’, a traditional Aomori dish made with a broth of dashi, chicken, crab or pheasant, vegetables such as carrot or cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and wheat crackers called nanbu senbei.
Shabu shabu – Hot pot dish named for the sound the ingredients make as they swish around the pot. Ingredients such as beef, tofu, cabbage, broccoli, and shungiku (edible chrysanthemum leaves) are added to the kombu dashi broth.
Shoyumame – Savoury snack of broad beans, marinated in a mirin, soy, sake and sugar sauce.
Soba – Buckwheat noodles known for their nutty, earthy taste. Commonly served in hot or cold soup dishes.
Soba-boro – Buckwheat cookies from Kyoto, with a crispy crunch and unusual taste of baking soda.
Sobagome – Buckwheat porridge made with sobagome seeds, chicken, mushrooms, carrots, mirin and soy sauce.
Somen – Thin white noodles made of wheat flour, typically served with hot or cold broth.
Soup curry – Japanese curry with a thin sauce, with chicken, potatoes, carrots, eggplants, mushrooms, or okra, and eaten as a soup.
Sukiyaki – Hot pot dish made with fatty beef, tofu, vegetables, noodles and a sweet soy broth.
Sushi – A broad category of dishes made by seasoning rice with rice vinegar. Popular varieties include nigiri (vinegar rice topped with fish or seafood), and makizushi (rice and fillings wrapped in nori).
Tai meshi – Sea bream rice disah, serbed with soy, sake and kombu seaweed, as well as aromatic kinome leaves and ginger.
Taiko manju – Sweet dumplings of egg, flour and sugar, filled with red bean paste (anko) and cooked on a hotplate.
Taiyaki – Popular street food dessert made with a batter or egg, milk and flour, cooked until crispy on the outside in a distinctive fish-shaped mold, and filled with red bean, custard, or chocolate.
Takowasa – Side dish made of raw octopus flavoured with wasabi.
Takoyaki – Street food made of octopus bits and dough, fried in a ball shape on a specialised pan and garnished with sweet takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise and aonori.
Tamago kake gohan – Simple rice dish of cooked with topped with a raw egg.
Tamagoyaki – Rolled Japanese Omelette made by rolling thin layers of seasoned egg, and cooked in a tamagoyaki pan.
Tankaku wagyu beef – Low fat beef from Iwate prefecture, often grilled as yakiniku.
Tatami iwashi – Sardines pressed flat into a dried sheet, used as an ingredient in salads or eaten as a side dish.
Tecchiri – Hot pot dish containing boiled fugu (puffer fish), only prepared by licensed chefs to remove the toxic elements of the fish.
Tempura – Slices of meat, vegetables or fish coated in a batter of flour, egg and water, and deep fried until crispy.
Tempura udon – Tempura vegetables or meat, served with thick udon noodles and a dashi-based broth.
Teriyaki – Sweet sauce made of soy sauce, sugar, mirin and sake.
Tonkatsu – A crispy panko-crumbed, deep-fried pork cutlet, served with rice, shredded cabbage and sweet tonkatsu sauce.
Toriten – Tempura fried chicken made with sake, soy, ginger and garlic, with a crunchy tempura batter and a ponzu dipping sauce.
Tsukemen – Cold dish of ramen noodles, which are dipped into a hot dashi based broth, and served with egg, chashu pork, menma, and nori.
Tsukisamu anpan – A wheat bun with a sweet filling of azuki red bean (anko), white bean (shiro-an), black sesame (goma), or chocolate.
Udon – A thick and chewy wheat flour noodle, and one of Japan’s most common noodle varieties. Udon is commonly served in noodle soups with a savoury broth.
Uirō – Chewy rice flour and sugar desserts, flavoured with chestnut, red bean, matcha or yuzu.
Uroko dango – Sweet dumplings made of flour, rice and sugar, formed into triangle shapes and cooked by steaming. Also known as ‘fish scale dumplings’ due to their shape.
Unagi no Kabayaki – Grilled eel served with rice, and a sauce of soy, sake and mirin.
Uwajima taimeshi – Traditional fisherman dish made with raw sea bream sashimi, dipped in egg, soy sauce and dashi, then eaten with rice, sesame and nori.
Wagashi – Blossom-shaped traditional sweets, made of plant-based ingredients.
Wakakusa – Rice cakes dusted with fine sugar and green coloured rice powder.
Waribimochi – Sweets made of bracken starch, dusted with toasted soybean flour and sometimes served with sweet kuromitsu syrup.
Wasanbon – Small colourful candies made with sugarcane sugar, often pressed into flower shapes and served with matcha tea.
Yaki manju – Sweet bun made of roasted dough, and coated in miso.
Yakisoba – Fried noodle dish served with a variety of meats or vegetables.
Yakitori – Skewers of barbequed chicken, seasoned with tare sauce.
Yakizakana – General term for grilled fish, served whole and often marinated in soy sauce or miso.
Yatsuhashi – Triangular desserts made with glutinous rice flour, sugar, cinnamon and red bean paste (anko) filling. Often sold as souvenirs.
Yōkan – A sweet jelly dessert made of red bean, agar-agar, and sugar, and served in block shapes.
Yokosuka kaigan curry (navy curry) – A thick curry made with beef or chicken, carrots potatoes and onion.
Yuba – Dried tofu skin made by simmering soy milk and drying the sheets. A meat alternative often added to soups, and popular in Nikkō.
Yubari king melon – A prized and extremely expensive cantaloupe from Yūbari with perfect shape, patterning and taste, sometimes sold for tens of thousands of dollars.
Yudofu – Silken tofu and kombu (kelp), served with kombu and a sauce of soy, sake, mirin and bonito flakes, often served as an appetiser.
Zangi – Hokkaidō-style fried chicken made with a slightly sweet marinade.
Zunda mochi – Glutinous rice cake mochi coated in a layer of sweet green soybean paste.
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Japan, as one of the world’s most culinary countries, has a diverse and delicious list of classic foods. But it’s a difficult task to list them all, and surely many others deserve their rightful place on this A-Z. Let me know in the comments what other foods belong on this list!