Destinations > Japan > Japan Food Tours
Japanese Culinary Tours
Of all the culinary tours in Asia, it’s in Japan where you’ll find the greatest breadth of experience. Every city has its own speciality, each region distinctively fresh flavors. We can organize cooking classes with the experts, including those led by award-winning and world-renowned Japanese chefs. All across Japan we can lead you on street food tours, focused on specific delicacies and traditions. Top of most wish lists are a classic Japan culinary tour, a Tokyo food tour (below), or an authentic Kyoto tea ceremony and an evening of kaiseki. But there’s so much more here, from foraging for ingredients to visiting the markets where the freshest sushi is sourced. Even a simple noodle breakfast, while sat on a tatami mats, can become an insatiable long-term memory.
Much More Than A Japan Food Tour
Japan subtly opens your senses. The fragrances are soft and alluring, the taste deft and delicate. Textures roll around the tongue, their inimitability intrinsic to the experience. In the first few days of a luxury Japan tour you mostly take in the raw flavors and classic dishes. Spend longer and you’ll find that Japan offers a very immersive culinary experience. A cultural tour here is also a Japanese food tour, the wonderful nuances of cuisine starting to inhabit so many moments in the day. While we arrange specific food experiences, the great experience in Japan comes from the food you get to try every day. Our fine dining restaurant recommendations cover all the localized specialities, while our guides know where to uncover the best of the stalls and backstreets.
Tokyo Food Tour
Explore the culinary delights of Tokyo with our crafted dining tours. In Shinjuku, enjoy a range of casual delicious fare served up at Izakaya (informal Japanese bistro/gastro pubs), including Sashimi, Kushiage, Robata grill, Kushiyaki (grilled meat or vegetable skewers) Ramen, and savory Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake), kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi), and more formal dining, including world-renowned sushi at Kyubey.
Nowhere is the mantra “food is culture” truer than in Japan. Japanese cuisine is ubiquitous, everyone has a favorite sushi bar and are certainly familiar with other favorite Japanese exports such as tempura and ramen. But how much do we really know about Japan's complex culinary tradition? We know it’s typically healthy, fresh, and it tastes wonderful, and for many of us, that’s all we need to know.
However, let's scratch the surface here, to discover a cuisine guided by both deeply refined aesthetic principles and among the strongest with a connection to history and culture. Learn of a cuisine that embraces simplicity yet demands the highest quality ingredients, ritualized preparation, and perfectionist eye to detail.
Of Rice & Men
Like many countries in the region, the cultivation and preparation of rice has always played a central role in Japanese food culture. providing an abundant staple for an emerging civilization. The rice-centered food culture of Japan evolved rather recently, following the adoption of wet rice cultivation learned from other parts of Asia slightly more than 2,000 years ago. Centuries following the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century, laws and imperial edicts gradually eliminated the eating of almost all flesh of animals and fowl. The vegetarian style of cooking known as shojin ryori was later popularized by the Zen sect, and by the 15th century many of the foods and food ingredients eaten by Japanese today had already made their debut, for example, soy sauce (shoyu), miso, tofu, and other products made from soybeans. The Japanese tradition of rice served with seasonal vegetables, fish and other seafood reached closer to the highly sophisticated form we know of today during the Edo period from 1600 to 1868.
During this time, a highly formal and elaborate style of cooking developed that was derived from the style used within the court aristocracy—honzen ryori, now one of the three basic styles of Japanese cooking along with chakaiseki ryori (the cuisine of the tea ceremony meal) and less formal, kaiseki ryori. Enjoying the old and welcoming the new Honzen ryori An example of this formalized cuisine, which is served on legged trays called honzen.
With an emphasis on the artistic presentation of fresh, seasonal ingredients, the tea meal married the formalities of honzen ryori to the spirit and frugality of Zen. Kaiseki ryori developed in its present form in the early 19th century and is still served at first-class Japanese restaurants known as ryotei and at traditional Japanese inns. While retaining the fresh seasonal ingredients and artful presentation of earlier styles, kaiseki meals have fewer rules of etiquette and a more relaxed atmosphere. Sake is drunk during the meal, and, because the Japanese do not generally eat rice while drinking sake, rice is served at the end. Appetizers, sashimi (sliced raw fish), suimono (clear soup), yakimono (grilled foods), mushimono (steamed foods), nimono (simmered foods), and aemono (dressed salad-like foods) are served first, followed by miso soup, tsukemono (pickles), rice, Japanese sweets, and fruit. Tea concludes the meal. Although most Japanese people have few opportunities to experience full-scale kaiseki dinners, the types and order of foods served in kaiseki ryori are the basis for the contemporary full-course Japanese meal.
The sushi that most people are familiar with today—vinegared rice topped or combined with such items as raw fish and shellfish—developed in Edo (now Tokyo) in the early 19th century. The sushi of that period was sold from stalls as a snack food, and those ancient stalls were the precursors of today’s sushi restaurants. Not many people realize, American sushi has evolved from Japanese.
Portrait of a Place: Arakicho
Regardless of traditions, in the 150 or so years since Japan reopened to the West, Japan has developed an incredibly rich and varied food culture outside of native-Japanese cuisine with many foreign dishes, some adapted to Japanese tastes while others remain less unchanged.
Japan’s first substantial and direct exposure to the West came with the arrival of European missionaries in the second half of the 16th century. At that time, the combination of Spanish and Portuguese game frying techniques with a Chinese method for cooking vegetables in oil led to the development of tempura , the popular Japanese dish in which seafood and many different types of vegetables are coated with batter and deep fried. With the reopening of Japan to the West in the mid-19th century, many new cooking and eating customs were introduced, the most important being the eating of meat. Although now considered a Japanese dish, sukiyaki—beef, vegetables, tofu, and other ingredients cooked at the table in a broth of soy sauce, mirin (sweet sake), and sugar—was at first served in “Western-style” restaurants. Another popular native dish developed in this period is tonkatsu, deep-fried breaded pork cutlets. Created in the early 20th century using Indian curry powder imported by way of England, kareraisu—curry rice—became a very popular dish, made with vegetables and meat or seafood in a thick curry sauce that is served over rice.
Contemporary Japanese Cuisine
Even with easy access to global styles, native Japanese food is still the norm, and a “Japanese meal” at home will generally feature white rice, miso soup, and tsukemono pickles. The multiple dishes that accompany these three vary widely depending on the region, the season, and family preferences, but candidates include cooked vegetables, tofu, grilled fish, sashimi, and beef, pork, and chicken cooked in a variety of ways. Japan’s most famous contribution to global food culture—sushi—is generally eaten at sushi restaurants where customers sit at the counter and call out their orders item by item to a sushi chef. There are also very popular chains of “conveyer-belt” sushi restaurants where you simply pull small plates of sushi off the rotating conveyer belt passing by you.
Unlike Japanese restaurants abroad, which often serve a range of different types of Japanese food, restaurants in Japan generally specialize in a single type, such as sushi, tempura, shabushabu (thin slices of beef cooked at the table by dipping into a simmering broth), sukiyaki, unagi (grilled eel), soba and udon noodles, etc. The main exceptions to the specialization rule are the chains of family restaurants, which usually serve a range of Japanese, Western, and Chinese dishes. (See descriptions of both below).
Two types of restaurants which are found in large numbers all over Japan but which are not considered native to Japanese are ramen and yakiniku restaurants. Ramen restaurants, unlike the simple packages bought in stores, serve large amounts of Chinese-style ramen noodles in big bowls with delicious broth (flavored with soy sauce, miso, salt, etc.), roast-pork slices, and various vegetables (bean sprouts, scallions, etc.), and many people also order gyoza (Chinese dumplings) to accompany their ramen. At yakiniku restaurants, which are based on Korean style barbeque, guests cook bite-sized pieces of beef, other meats, and vegetables over a charcoal or gas grill at the table. Most large cities also have a considerable number of other foreign-food restaurants serving French, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and other cuisine, and in Tokyo an almost unlimited selection of the world’s food is available.
At the opposite end of the price spectrum from elegant kaiseki ryotei and French restaurants are the food stalls that are still a familiar sight in some urban districts and at festivals and other outside events where many people gather. Some of the most popular stalls are those serving yakisoba (fried soba noodles), yakitori (grilled chicken pieces on a skewer), okonomiyaki (pancakes with vegetables and a variety of other ingredients), frankfurters, and buttered baked potatoes.
Styles, Dishes and Themes of Japanese Cuisine Explained
Agedashidofu is made of lightly breaded tofu which is then fried and served hot in a dashi soy sauce broth and commonly garnished with green onions or grated daikon. Agedashidofu can be found in a variety of restaurants and is common izakaya food (casual places for salaryman after-work drinking).
Needs no introduction although interestingly enough, the original type of sushi, known today as nare-zushi, was first made in Southeast Asia, possibly along what is now known as the Mekong River, and the contemporary version, internationally known as "sushi", can actually be traced to an inventor, Hanaya Yohei (1799–1858), from the end of the Edo period in Edo.
Types of sushi includes:
(ちらし寿司, "scattered sushi") is a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of raw fish and vegetables/garnishes (also refers to barazushi).
(稲荷寿司) is a pouch of fried tofu typically filled with sushi rice alone.
(巻き寿司, "rolled sushi"), norimaki (海苔巻き, "Nori roll") or makimono (巻物, "variety of rolls") is a cylindrical piece, formed with the help of a bamboo mat known as a makisu (巻簾).
(太巻, "thick, large or fat rolls") is a large cylindrical piece, usually with nori on the outside.
(細巻, "thin rolls") is a small cylindrical piece, with nori on the outside.
(手巻, "hand roll") is a large cone-shaped piece resembling an ice cream cone, of nori on the outside and the ingredients spilling out the wide end.
(熟れ寿司, "matured sushi") is a traditional form of fermented sushi.
(握り寿司, "hand-pressed sushi") consists of an oblong mound of sushi rice that the chef presses into a small rectangular box between the palms of the hands, usually with a bit of wasabi, and a topping (the neta) draped over it.
(軍艦巻, "warship roll") is a special type of nigirizushi: an oval, hand-formed clump of sushi rice that has a strip ofnori wrapped around its perimeter to form a vessel that is filled with some soft, loose or fine-chopped ingredient that requires the confinement of nori such as roe, nattō, oysters, uni (sea urchin roe), corn with mayonnaise, scallops, and quail eggs.
(押し寿, "pressed sushi"), also known as 箱寿司, hako-zushi, "box sushi"), is a pressed sushi from theKansai region, a favorite and specialty of Osaka.
(裏巻, "inside-out roll") is a medium-sized cylindrical piece with two or more fillings, and was innovated as a result of the creation of the California Roll, as a method originally meant to hide the nori. Uramaki differs from othermakimono because the rice is on the outside and the nori inside.
United States-style Makizushi. Futomaki
is a more popular variation of sushi within the United States, and comes in variations that take their names from their state of origin. Other rolls may include pretty much anything, including chopped scallops, spicy tuna, beef or chicken teriyaki roll, okra, and assorted vegetables such as cucumber and avocado, and the "tempura roll", where shrimp tempura is inside the roll or the entire roll is battered and fried tempura-style.
Sushi Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sushi
Chains of shops sell a variety of Japanese box lunches known as bento. The English name “box lunch” notwithstanding, bento are often eaten for dinner as well. Many shops are takeout only, but some have tables available for informal dining.
Gyoza are dumplings stuffed with a filling made of minced vegetables and ground meat. Gyoza were introduced to Japan from China. Japanese gyoza are usually prepared by frying them, and they are commonly served as a side dish to ramen.
Kare raisu (Curry Rice) is cooked rice with a Japanese curry sauce. It can be served with additional toppings such as tonkatsu (fried pork filet). Curry is not a native Japanese spice, but has been used in Japan for over a century. Kare Raisu is a very popular dish, and many inexpensive Kare Raisu restaurants can be found especially in and around train stations.
A savory Japanese style pancake-like comfort food dish (also known as the Japanese pancake or the Japanese pizza).
Usually made with a batter of flour, eggs, water, shredded cabbage, and a variety of other ingredients, such as meat or shrimp. However, the name okonomiyaki basically means "what you like, grilled". Yaki means grilled or cooked Okonomi means "what you want" or "what you like" and you can change the ingredients and even cooking style to make it any way you want. For example, a variation is Hiroshima style okonomiyaki, in which the ingredients are layered as the pancake cooks rather than easier Osaka style, in which all ingredients are mixed up into a batter and cooked. The Hioshima style also uses much more cabbage than the Osaka style.
Hiroshima style okonomiyaki
Begin with a layer of the batter, poured onto the pan that is topped with a pile of shredded cabbage and bean sprouts and then some shrimp and bacon. Cook until the batter in golden brown, then flip and simmer until the bacon is crisp. By now some noodles are fried in a separate area and then topped with the rest of the okonomiyaki. Finally an egg is fried and the whole okonomiyaki is placed on top of it with the noodle side down. Serve with the egg side up and topped as you like. View a website devoted entirely to okonomiyaki: http://okonomiyakiworld.com
Every college student has eaten this dehydrated and packaged instant ramen in the form of Cup of Soup, perhaps the world's most popular dish. The low-cost Chinese-noodle dish is also extremely popular throughout Japan, and every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen, such as the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu and miso ramen of Hokkaido.
After World War II, cheap flour imported from the United States swept the Japanese market while at the same time, millions of Japanese troops had returned from China and continental East Asia from their posts in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Many of these returnees had become familiar with Chinese cuisine and subsequently set up Chinese restaurants across Japan. In 1958, instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese founder and chairman of Nissin Foods. Named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century in a Japanese poll, instant ramen allowed anyone to make this dish simply by adding boiling water (Wikipedia).
The best ramen in Japan? You'll have to travel far to get there. Fukuoka is famous for ramen, and the best tonkotsu in Japan, Shin Shin (シンシン) is one the finest ramen shops in the city, but only for lunch. A 3 min. walk from from Tenjin Station (Kuko Subway Line) and a 5 min. walk from Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station (Nishitetsu Omuta Line). Lunch only. Read more at : http://findingfukuoka.com/ramen/
Read Lucky Peach Magazine's
A Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan
Yakiniku, or overseas known as "Japanese barbecue" is recognizable from restaurants with table-top grills on which diners cook bite-sized pieces of beef, pork, and other meat at the table and then dip the cooked pieces into sauces. While in Japan the origin has become a subject of debate, the cooking style is considered to be from Korea.
Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat and synonymous with the type of thin bluish-hued noodle made from buckwheat flour, although in Japan soba can refer to any thin noodle (unlike thick wheat noodles, known as udon). Known as zaru soba, cold soba dish is eaten by dipping long noodles into a dipping sauce to which wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and green onions are often added.
A traditional Japanese breakfast will often include a serving of yakizakana. Served straight from the grill, yakizakana (literally, grilled fish), with a bowl of rice and miso soup comprise the quintessential Japanese meal. Many varieties of fish are enjoyed in this way, including mackerel (saba), salmon (sake), mackerel pike (sanma), horse mackerel (aji), Okhotsk atka mackerel (hokke), sea bream (tai) and sweetfish (ayu).
Sukiyaki is typically prepared right at the table, hot-pot style just like shabu shabu, by cooking thinly sliced beef together with vegetables, tofu and vermicelli. In Japan, sukiyaki is typically a winter dish and it is commonly found at bōnenkai, year-end binge drinking parties with co-workers or friends (below).
Tempura is food deep-fried in vegetable oil after being coated with a mixture of egg, water and wheat flour. Among the ingredients used are prawns, fish in season and vegetables.
Honzen ryori is one of the three basic styles of traditional Japanese cooking yet regarded as Japan's most exquisite culinary refinement. Honzen ryori is a highly ritualized form of serving food in which prescribed types of food are carefully arranged and served on legged trays (honzen). Honzen ryori has its main roots in the socalled gishiki ryori (ceremonial cooking) of the nobility during the Heian period (794 - 1185). Although today it is seen only occasionally, chiefly at wedding and funeral banquets, its influence on modern Japanese cooking has been considerable.
The basic menu of honzen ryori consists of one soup and three types of side dishes - for example, sashimi (raw seafood), a broiled dish of fowl or fish (yakimono), and a simmered dish (nimono). This is the minimum fare. Other combinations are 2 soups and 5 or 7 side dishes, or 3 soups and 11 side dishes. The dishes are served simultaneously on a number of trays. The menu is designed carefully to ensure that foods of similar taste are not served. Strict rules of etiquette are followed concerning the eating of the food and drinking of the sake. For example, it is proper to eat a bit of rice before passing from one side dish to the next. An example of this formalized cuisine, which is served on legged trays called honzen.
Similar, but a less formal variation of Honzen ryori is the famous traditional multicourse Japanese-inn meal, kaiseki. Finer Japanese inns (ryokan) generally serve sumptuous multiple-course kaiseki-style meals such as the one shown (right). Vegetables and fish feature, with a seasoning base of seaweed and mushrooms.
Although the basic features of kaiseki ryori can be traced to the more formal styles of Japanese cooking - Honzen ryori and chakaiseki ryori - in kaiseki ryori one may enjoy their meal in a relaxed mood, largely free of the elaborate rules of etiquette. Today this type of cooking can be found in its most complex form at first-class Japanese-style restaurants (ryotei). Sake is drunk during the meal, and, because the Japanese customarily do not eat rice while drinking sake, rice is served at the end. Appetizers (sakizuke or otoshi), sashimi (sliced raw fish; also called tsukuri), suimono (clear soup), yakimono (grilled foods), mushimono (steamed foods), nimono (simmered foods), and aemono (dressed salad-like foods) are served first, followed by miso soup, tsukemono (pickles), rice, Japanese sweets, and fruit. Tea concludes the meal. The types and order of foods served in kaiseki ryori are the basis for the contemporary full-course Japanese meal.
Kaiseki has international fans at the highest echelons of cooking, including Chef Kyle Connaughton of Single Thread in Sonoma, who notes his own attraction to the tradition is "The foundation of kaiseki is that the menu is not the same as yesterday or tomorrow, [but] focuses on that day, that moment in nature."
A is a type of vegetarian cooking introduced into Japan together with Buddhism in the 6th century. Shojin is a Buddhist term that refers to asceticism in pursuit of enlightenment, and ryori means “cooking.” In the 13th century, with the advent of the Zen sect of Buddhism, the custom of eating shojin ryori spread. Foods derived from soybeans - including tofu - and vegetable oils - including sesame, walnut, and rapeseed - were popularized in Japan as a result of their use in shojin ryori.
Yakitori is made up of small pieces of chicken meat, liver and vegetables skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over hot coals, essentially Japanese BBQ and similar to satay. Yakitori is popular as a quick, informal bite small restaurants or stands in small alleyways with already cooked or that will grill yakitori to order over charcoal. Popular as a drinking snack in the evenings (usually eaten complimented by beer or shōchū). In Tokyo, sample yakitori at Omoide-yokocho in Shinjuku.
Tonkatsu is one of the most popular Western-style dishes in Japan featuring a pork chop is breaded with flour, egg, panko (bread crumbs), and then deep fried. There are two types of tonkatsu—hire (pork filet) and rosu (pork loin), served with shredded cabbage, a thick type of Worcestershire sauce (called tonkatsu sauce, or simply sōsu, meaning sauce), karashi (mustard), and a slice of lemon. Tonkatsu isusually served with rice, miso soup and tsukemono and may also be served with ponzu and grated daikon instead of tonkatsu sauce. An outstanding kid-friendly favorite.
You will no doubt recognize the name of one of Japan's most popular exported dishes. Shabu-shabu (also spelled shyabu-shyabu) is tender, thin slices of beef held with chopsticks and swished around in a pot of boiling water, then dipped in sauce before being eaten. Some versions of Shabu-shabu use pork, crab, chicken, lamb, duck, or lobster. The dish is related to sukiyaki in style as both consist of thinly-sliced meat and vegetables and served with dipping sauces. However, shabu-shabu is considered to be more savory and less sweet than sukiyaki.
With shabu-shabu the meat and vegetables, which are cooked at your table grill, are usually dipped in ponzu or goma (sesame seed) sauce before eating, served along with a bowl of steamed rice. Once the meat and vegetables have been eaten, leftover long-simmering broth from the pot is customarily combined with the remaining rice, and the resulting fabulous tasting soup is eaten last. The dish origins are traced back to the Chinese hot pot known as shuan yang rou.
A nabe dish prepared with thinly sliced meat, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu and shirataki (konyaku noodles) simmered in a sweet soy sauce broth. The pieces of food are dipped into raw beaten egg before being eaten. Sinilar to shabu shabu but sweeter in taste.
Soba and Udon
Soba and udon are the two most popular kinds of noodles in this noodle-crazy country. Soba is made from buckwheat flour giving it a bluish color while udon is made from wheat flour. Both are served either in a broth or dipped in sauce and are available in hundreds of variations.
Japanese Restaurant Types
Specialty Japanese Restaurants
"Ya" translates roughly as "among other things," meaning other dishes are typically available.
Sushi-ya are restaurants which specialize in sushi. In most sushi-ya, customers can sit either at a normal table or at a counter (sushi bar), behind which the sushi chef is working as is the custom in Western sushi places.
Kaiten-zushi are less expensive sushi restaurants, where the sushi dishes are presented to the customers on a conveyor belt. Customers can freely pick the dishes that they like as they pass in front of them or order dishes which are not available on the belt. The sushi is priced per plate with differently colored plates corresponding to different price tiers (typically 100-500 yen per plate) or by a flat rate. In the end, the plates are counted and the total amount is determined.
|Kappabashi AKA "Kitchen Town"
For foodies and culinary professionals interested in more than food, Kappabashi street is a must visit. Several blocks long, the street Kappabashi-dori also called "kitchen town" is lined with stores, including commercial restaurant supply vendors seeling everything from bar stools to high-end knives, to the kitchen sink, but the most famous attraction there is the plastic imitation food in hundreds of varities.
Souvenir from Kappabashi? Aside from the kitschy fake plastic sushi pieces, Japanese knives from Sakai are world famous for their very fine quality. After all, their craftsmanship has been cultivated over six hundred years. Stop into Kamaasa to pick up your own Sakai knife, and as a nice finishing touch the shop offers to engrave Japanese script or a name on the blade of your new knife.
Soba-ya and Udon-ya
Soba-ya specialize in soba and udon noodle dishes. Most noodle dishes are served in a hot broth or come cooled with a dipping sauce on the side. The noodles may be ordered with different toppings (tempura),vegetables, etc.), and the menu often changes with the seasons.
Ramen-ya specialize in ramen dishes, Chinese style noodles served in a soup with various toppings. Every ramen-ya has developed its own soup, the most crucial ingredient for a restaurant's success. Several other dishes of Chinese origin, such as gyoza and fried rice, are also usually available at ramen-ya.
Kare-ya are restaurants that specialize in Japanese style curry rice dishes. There is usually at least one kare-ya and one ramen-ya inside or around major railway stations.
Gyudon-ya specialize in gyudon (beef domburi). Gyudon-ya are among the most inexpensive fast food style restaurants and found all across the country.
Okonomiyaki-ya specialize in okonomiyaki (see paragraph above), savory pancakes, and sometimes monjayaki (pan-fried batter with various ingredients). In some places, customers prepare their okonomiyaki by themselves on a hot plate built into the table.
Delicious grilled chicken skewers, usually grilled to order over a white charcoal (binchō-tan) fire although the term "yakitori" can also refer to skewered food in general. Yakitori are particularly popular among salarymen after work, and, together with ramen-ya, a popular place to go for a late night snack after drinking.
Tonkatsu-ya serve tonkatsu, deep fried breaded pork cutlets. Korokke and other deep fried dishes are also available at many tonkatsu-ya.
As its name suggests, these restaurants specialize in tempura, such as tendon (tempura domburi) and other assorted tempura.
Unagi-ya specialize in unagi (fresh water eel) dishes such as unajuu, grilled eel served in a box over rice, and unadon (unagi domburi).
Sukiyaki-ya & Shabu Shabu-ya
Sukiyaki-ya specialize in sukiyaki and shabu-shabu. They are often found in large, Western style hotels and tend to be expensive.
At teppanyaki restaurants, the chef is preparing meat, seafood and vegetables on a large iron griddle (teppan) in the presence of the customers who sit around the griddle. Teppanyaki restaurants are commonly found at hotels and are usually pretty expensive. They are a popular place to enjoy premium Japanese beef (wagyu) such as kobe beef.
General Japanese Restaurants (offering a broader range of dishes than specialized restaurants ABOVE)
Izakaya, like pubs, are casual drinking establishments that also serve a variety of small dishes, such as robata (grilled food), yakitori, salads and other finger foods. They are the most popular restaurant type among the Japanese, and many of them are found around train stations and shopping areas. Dining at izakaya tends to be informal, with dishes shared amongst the table rather than eaten individually.
Family restaurants (famiresu), such as Gusto, Royal Host, Saizeria and Joyful, are casual dining restaurants that typically belong to a nationwide chain and offer a variety of Western, Chinese and Japanese dishes. Family restaurants are more commonly found in the countryside than in large urban centers.
Shokudo are casual restaurants, similar to family restaurants, but tend to be small, independently owned and feature mostly Japanese style food such as soba, udon, donburi and curry. Shokudo are commonly found around tourist sites.
Teishoku-ya are restaurants that serve set menus (teishoku). Teishoku typically consists of a main dish such meat of fish, a bowl of cooked rice, pickles and miso soup. Teishoku-ya are especially numerous in business areas and busiest during lunch time.
Kissaten (Coffee Shops)
Kissaten are coffee shops that typically also serve some sweets, sandwiches or salads. Some of them also offer a few hot dishes, such as pasta. They are often found in museums, shopping areas and department stores. Chain coffee shops such as Starbucks are also numerous.
Kaiseki Ryori & Ryotei
Kaiseki ryori is Japan's haute cuisine, a refined multi-course cooking style which emphasizes seasonality, simplicity and elegance to the point of ritual. It can be found at special kaiseki ryori restaurants or at ryotei, expensive and exclusive Japanese restaurants while many finer ryokan also serve kaiseki ryori.
Yatai are movable food stalls that sometimes include seating space inside a tent, commonly found during festivals and also year-round along busy streets. Fukuoka is particularly famous for its yatai. Commonly sold items include fried chicken (karaage), okonomiyaki, taKōyaki, yakisoba, oden and ramen.
Blogs & Other Resources on Japanese Cuisine
Every traveler is seemingly a food blogger now, but here are a few of our favorites:
Humble Bean—Come for the mouth watering photos, stay for the writings on the comprehensive articles on Japanese cuisine, including tradition, techniques, culture, and reviews.
She Who Eats features sublime travel, culinary notes, and photos from Chika, who often writes about non-Japanese cuisine as well.
Eat-Japan features an extensive collection of recipes with wonderful photography.
Just Hungry is a longtime favorite (since 2003) with writings on food, shopping, and travel by Tokyo native Maki.
The Japanese Food Report written by Japan-based journalist Harris Salat. A few years since being updated, but worth reading for extensive articles on almost everything about Japanese cooking.
Chawanmushi or savory egg custard
"Chawan mushi is one of those Japanese dishes I've enjoyed in restaurants for years but always thought would be too hard to make at home. A steamed savory custard served in an cup, chawan mushi is made from eggs, dashi and soy sauce, usually with tasty tidbits added like ginko nuts, shrimp, chicken or thin slices of reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms. When wife Momo decided to make chawan mushi, sans the tidbits, for baby Gen -- who basically loves every food that hits his lips -- I realized that this dish was totally doable in a home kitchen; easy, in fact. But, surprise, surprise, baby Gen didn't like Momo's chawan mushi! I did, though, and resolved to make it myself a few days later to understand the method. The keys are passing the egg mixture through a sieve and steaming for just the right amount of time. Here's the recipe, with chicken, shrimp and dried shiitake. Give it a shot!" (recipe) —The Japanese Food Report
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