Japanese delicacies you’ve never heard of
You may be an aficionado of sushi, ramen and tempura, but there’s more to Japanese cuisine than just that. Beyond what we know from restaurants in SG and tourist guides, there exists a whole other gastronomic paradise in Japan - with quintessential dishes hidden in hole-in-the-wall stalls, some so unique that they can only be found in specific regions.
Here’s a masterlist of iconic Japanese food that only the locals know about, plus info on where you can find them in the Land of the Rising Sun itself!
1. Unagi don soaked in green tea
Unagi don is a classic in Japan, but Nagoya’s version of it - hitsumabushi - is on a totally different level.
There are 4 steps to eating hitsumabushi: First, divide the hitsumabushi into four portions, and savour one portion as it is without garnishings. Next, have another portion with wasabi, seaweed, and spring onions toppings. Then, pour green tea over the third portion and try it. Lastly, finish the remaining portion with your favourite method out of the three!
Hitsumabushi Nagoya Bincho in Nagoya is famed for its hitsumabushi at 3100 Yen, where the eel is grilled over charcoal.
Address: 3-6-1 Sakae, Naka-ku | Lachic 7F, Nagoya 460-0008, Aichi
Opening Hours: 11.00 am - 3.30 pm. 5.00 pm - 11.00 pm.
2. Squid stuffed with rice
Hokkaido locals love cosying up to a bowl of ikameshi - plump squids stuffed with sticky rice and braised in soy sauce! Gobbling up these is the best way to warm yourself up in the sub-zero weather during winter, along with a can of Sapporo beer.
Head to Ikameshi Abe Shoten - a mamak shop where the very first ikameshi was created - to dabao yourself a box of this warm squiddy goodness at just 650 Yen. They even sell cute ikameshi keychains as souvenirs!
Address: 112 Miyukicho, Kayabe-gun, Mori-machi 049-2326, Hokkaido
3. Grilled miso
If you’re in Takayama, skip the miso soup and opt for hoba miso found in every nook and cranny of the city. Grilled on a leaf, hoba miso is eaten as a topping on rice, meat or vegetables. Its sweet and savoury taste adds an appetising flavour to unseasoned food. Suzuya grills their hoba miso with 65g of mouthwatering wagyu beef at 1944 Yen.
Address: 24 Hanakawamachi, Takayama 506-0015, Gifu
Opening Hours: 11.00 am - 2.00 pm, 5.00 pm - 8.00 pm
4. Raw beef donburi
Before you balk at the thought of eating raw meat, just think of it as the beef version of sashimi. Everything in Japan is so fresh that your doubts will disappear once you try this! Eating wagyu beef raw is a thing in Japan, and usually served laid over a bowl of steaming Japanese rice and drizzled with soy sauce.
The marbling of the wagyu beef is really what makes this dish a standout as the streaks of fat give it a creamy texture. For this adventurous donburi, head to any region in Japan where there’s wagyu beef. Kumagera in Hokkaido is famed for its raw beef don at just 1980 Yen!
Address: 3-22 Hinodemachi, Furano, Hokkaido
Opening Hours: 11.30 am - 11.00 pm
5. Tofu made from peanut
Japan is tofu central, with countless variations of the dish - and only there can you find tofu made from peanuts. Peanut tofu (jimami tofu) is widely eaten in Okinawa, where it is commonly found at supermarkets in little takeaway cups!
Jimami tofu is dressed with sweet sauce and eaten as a dessert. Paikaji serves this delicious after-meal snack at 450 Yen, and they even do a deep fried version!
Address: 4-8-26 Omoromachi, Naha 900-0006, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Mon - Fri: 5.00 pm - 1.30 am. Sat - Sun: 5.00 pm - 3.00 am.
6. Flat udon
Himokawa udon is like the Japanese equivalent of our kway chap. Unlike the typical round udon that we slurp from bowls of soy sauce broth, Kiryu city in Gunma Prefecture is the only place you can find these flat and wide udon noodles. The widest can go up to 10 cm!
Eat it like you would eat soba - dip the udon sheets into a bowl of soy sauce mixed with wasabi and spring onions. For 740 Yen, you can try himokawa udon at Ajidokoro Furukawa in Park Inn Kiryu. The restaurant serves sides such as tempura and mushrooms to complement the udon as well!
Address: 2-2-3 Tomoecho, 1F, Kiryu 376-0021, Gunma
Opening Hours: 5.00 am - 10.30 pm. Closed on Monday
7. Squid ink soup
Italians have their squid ink pasta, and Okinawans have their squid ink soup. Ikasumi soup is an age-old recipe in Okinawa - squid and pork are simmered in bonito stock before the black squid ink is added. The soup is so gao, you might want to check for stains on your teeth before leaving the restaurant!
At 1000 Yen, you can try a bowl of this black soup at Ryukyu Sabo Ashibiuna. If you’re a squid ink fanatic, they also have squid ink yakisoba at 700 Yen.
Address: 2-13 Shuri Tonokuracho, Naha 903-0812
Opening Hours: 11.00 am - 3.00 pm. 5.00 pm - 11.00 pm.
8. Yakisoba pan
Yakisoba pan is a staple of convenience stores in Japan. It’s a whole lot of carbs, but the taste of fried noodles and mayonnaise with the hot dog bun makes it a perfect indulgent snack! Pre-made versions can be found in almost any of the convenience stores from 98 Yen, but freshly made ones can be spotted at street food stalls during festival seasons!
9. Seared skipjack tuna
Blow-torched sashimi is commonly eaten in Japanese restaurants. But in Kochi, bonito seared over an open flame is an old tradition still kept alive. The seared bonito is sliced to reveal the rawness of the fish, before it’s lightly salted and topped with spring onions.
Tosa Tataki Dojo in Kochi lets you sear the bonito over a bonfire yourself! But if you can’t tahan the heat or just don’t trust yourself to get your tuna on fleek, the staff can do the job for you. A set of bonito with rice and miso soup there costs 1500 Yen.
Address: 201-2 Niida, Kochi 781-0112, Kochi
Opening Hours: 10.30 am - 3.30 pm
We’re all familiar with the regular round mochi, but kuzumochi is like Japan’s version of muah chee - dusted with soybean powder and drenched in black sugar syrup.
You can get kuzumochi at Kameido Tenjin Funabashiya in Tokyo, a sweet shop known for the sugary treat. At 545 Yen, the kuzumochi comes with a cup of green tea. Takeaway packs are available too.
Address: 6-26-3, Kameido, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 11.30 am - 5.00 pm.
Lesser-known Japanese dishes you’ll want to hunt down
The next time you head over to the Land of the Rising Sun, don’t just limit yourself to the usual favourites. We may be used to our Japanese comfort foods, but these traditional classics are also worth a try, so go on and add them to your foodie list. Oishii!