10 Must-Try Food in Japan | Solo Female Travel
Japan is a country stuffed with delicious food. Like most things Japan has to offer, its food too is unique, delicious, and has what the Japanese call Kodawari! The word is another beautiful word in the language, and it can be loosely translated to uncompromising commitment. That’s what Japanese food is for you. The meticulous attention to detail and the fierce dedication to quality is what makes Japanese food one of its kind.
When we say Japan, we think of sushi, sashimis, and ramen. While you have to try these on your solo trip to Japan, you should also be open to trying out the plethora of delicacies Japan has to offer. So, let’s look at the ten must-try dishes on your first solo trip to Japan.
As it is rightly said, breakfast is the most important meal of the day so let’s start at the very beginning with tamagoyaki. It is a Japanese omelette dish where whisked eggs are put in a square skillet, and then rolled up into multiple layers. The juicy and textured eggs are then doused in sweet and savoury sauces.
The result is a lighter, fluffier, and creamier omelette, which looks like a small yellow pillow. It is mostly eaten for breakfast, but you will find tamagoyaki rolled up in a bento box that you can buy from just about anywhere. It is a must-try dish to start your day in Japan.
Where to eat: While you can find tamagoyaki everywhere, I would recommend you try out the ones at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Yamachou and Marutake. While fish draws people to the market, the hot piping tamagoyaki is the crowned jewel! At Yamchou, the tamagoyaki is available in two flavours: sweet and less sweet, and it comes with ground radish on top.
Marutake has been in business for 80 years, and you know the tamagoyaki is good because you always have a line in front of it. It is extremely affordable, just 100 yens.
2. Tako Tamago
There is plenty of food in Japan that looks bizarre but tastes delicious. Tako Tamago is one such food!
Kyoto is Japan’s cultural heart, and it serves some of the best and innovative foods in Japan. Enter Nishiki Ichiba market. A five-block long shopping street known as Kyoto’s kitchen and for good reasons. Many shops here have been operating for centuries, with the first shop to have opened in 1310! It is a paradise for street food lovers, and the one dish you must try here is Tako Tamago.
At first look, it looks like a sea of baby octopuses on a stick in a sticky red sauce. It looks cute, and when you bite into it, there is a surprise waiting for you. *SPOILERS AHEAD* The octopus lollipop is candied and grilled, and there is a hard-boiled quail egg in the head!
Though the combination screams bizarre, it is one of those foods that work together. I will not lie about the idea of eating a creature from the deep sea creeped me out a bit. But you just have to overcome the fear and try it out. You won’t regret it!
Where to eat: Nishiki Ichiba in Kyoto, and while you are at it, also try out some delicious unagi and eel liver. If you want to know more about Kyoto, check this out my blog on the best cities to visit as a solo female traveller in Japan.
These stuffed rice balls stuffed with tasty goodness are a dream, and I don’t know why we don’t get this elsewhere as much. It’s a bloody crime! It’s delicious, filling, and easy to carry.
I tried to look up why this was called onigiri and found that there was a dispute regarding its etymology. So I didn’t bother about it much and rather focused on its deliciousness. Onigiris are usually triangular pieces of cooked rice with a filling inside. They also come in round or cylindrical shapes. While they are commonly wrapped in nori or seaweed, you also get some with a thin coating of an egg around it and dusted with furikake, a Japanese seasoning.
The filing can range from savoury like salmon, tuna, roe to sweeter options like red bean paste, Japanese pickled plums, and so on. Japan takes its onigiri very seriously, and the food gets a makeover in many places keeping in mind the different festivals of the country. For example, watching cherry blossoms in the spring is famous in Japan. You get the sakura onigiri, which is pink coloured rice balls and decorated with edible cherry blossom flowers during this time. To know more about this, read my blog on cherry blossoms in Japan.
Where to eat: You get onigiri in almost all konbini or convenience stores in Japan.
4. Jiggly pancakes and cheesecake
I first came across this in an article about new food. Then I found out that they were available in Tokyo, and I headed there in a few weeks. What a blessing! These pancakes looked so fluffy!
These souffle pancakes are taller and thicker than your average pancake, and that is because of extra egg whites that are beaten to perfection. You can top them with boba pearls, fresh cream, sweet syrup, fruits. The options are endless. The cloud-like texture makes this a must-try item. Three pancakes stacked can be as tall as 15 cm! Can you even imagine that?
If you have fallen in love with these pancakes, the jiggly cheesecake will take your breath away. The cheesecakes are lined with raisins, and the cheesecake has a very rounded top. It is airy inside, and both the pancakes and the cheesecake make for a perfect Instagram moment. It seems like the boomerang was built just for it. Turn it on and watch it jiggle!
Where to eat: For the authentic cheesecake experience, head to Uncle Tetsu in Tokyo, where this internet sensation first began.
One of the tastiest Japanese desserts and a definite must-try on your list should be mochi. A quite well-known dish in Japan, mochi is made by beating glutinous rice and filled with Anko or red bean paste. It is soft and has an almost chewing gum-like texture and is chewy.
Mochi has always been an integral part of Japanese culture. It was earlier offered to the gods during a religious festival, and today it has become essential in every tea festival. Because of its sweetness, pair it with a good matcha tea and see the sweetness and bitterness complement each other. It is heavenly!
While eating mochi is an experience, it is incomplete without watching it being made. Mochi making is a two-person labour intensive job and is made with a wooden mallet called ki-ne, and a mortar-like thing called usu. The mass of steamed rice is put into the usu by one person and is beaten by the other with the mallet. In between each beating, the hot mass of rice is turned, and if needed, water is added. The whole process is quite dramatic and nerve-wracking to watch as you fear for the fingers of the one turning the hot rice.
Do watch the process here before you head out.
6. Miso soup
The staple of almost every Japanese meal, Miso soup is Japan’s comfort food. Having a meal without Miso soup is almost unthinkable in this country. Made with just two ingredients: miso paste and dashi (dried bonito broth), the soup is often enhanced using other ingredients like tofu, mushrooms, clam, and so on.
Interestingly, even though it is eaten and served almost everywhere in Japan, miso soup is never served as the only dish. It is always accompanied by a bowl of rice and two or more side dishes.
The miso paste is a thick paste of fermented soybeans, barley, rice malt, or chickpeas. Because it is fermented, miso is also a great source of probiotics, and I have come across Japanese people who call this a healing soup. I don’t know about its healing powers but at the end of a hectic and tiring day of travel as a female solo traveller, tucking into a bowl of miso soup with some sticky rice is like a warm hug. To learn more about what to do on your first female solo travel to Japan, read my blog on 13 things to do alone in Japan.
Where to eat: It is difficult to order miso soup though almost all restaurants in Japan serve it. As I have mentioned above, it only comes along with the main dishes.
The sole dumpling of Japan, Gyoza is a dish that has been heavily inspired by… yes, you guessed it right, China. The dumpling looks a lot like potstickers, and unlike the Chinese ones, they have a thinner, almost translucent coating. You have three varieties of gyoza available: Yakigyoza (fried), Suigyoza (boiled), and Agegyoza (deep-fried). Fillings are usually thin slices of cabbage, sliced pork, or chicken laced with nira, a Japanese chive which is a little overpowering than the regular one.
As for what you dip the gyoza in, well, that ranges from soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, chilli oil, and if you love too much spice, you can attempt to have it with a hint of wasabi. But don’t go overboard. We don’t want to land up in the hospital, now do we?
Where to eat: The country is sprinkled with gyoza-specialty restaurants, and if you are in Tokyo, you will be spoilt for choice. Pair it with sparkling wine or sake.
8. Wagyu and Kobe beef
Calling all the meat lovers, Wagyu, is hands down the best in the whole world. Yes, I haven’t tried everything the wide world has to offer, but I can still attest to the supremacy. As a female solo traveller I had this on my list for a while, and I am happy I could tick this off my bucket list. It is the first food on this list, which is expensive, but hey, you can’t put a price on the quality.
The word Wagyu means Japanese cow, and the beef in this country is mainly categorised into four main breeds. What makes the beef one of the most expensive meat globally is its buttery softness and the intramuscular fat cells, which chefs know as marbling.
Kobe beef, on the other hand, is a variety of Wagyu. So, while all Kobe beef is Wagyu, all Wagyu isn’t Kobe beef! Kobe is the highest grading and the most expensive variety of Wagyu today.
Where to eat: Wagyumafia cutlet sandwich at Nakameguro in Tokyo. Choose the Kobe beef chateaubriand sandwich where the meat is fried to arrest all the flavours and then placed between two loaves of bread. You will find that the meat is softer than the white bread when you bite into it. Now isn’t that must-try food?
Only in Japan can you whip up something from absolutely nothing and yet make something delicious. Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake, hailing from Osaka and Hiroshima, made of a simple batter of cabbage, pork belly, Kewpie mayo, topped with bonito, seaweed, and anything that you can lay your hands-on, and it’s so delicious!
The name has been derived from okonomi, which means ‘how you like’ and yaki, which means ‘to cook.’ The dish looks like a pizza at first but hits you with a barrage of flavours when you bite into it. I also got to taste the two distinct styles in which okonomiyaki is made in Japan. The Kansai or Osaka style is more popular and is a single pancake made with green onions, pork, squid, cheese, and other vegetables.
On the other hand, the Hiroshima style has several layers of batter, cabbage, and meat. It also includes ramen noodles and fried eggs loaded with sauces and mayo.
It is comfort food that you must try! If you have it in the morning, it will fill you up. You can travel without thinking about what to eat next!
Where to eat: If you have time to try out the best okonomiyaki in Japan, visit Kiji in Umeda in Osaka. The long queue in front of the restaurant is a testament to the taste of the dish.
This dish is one that is difficult to describe. Is it an omelette on rice? Is it egg fried rice? Or, is it a cross between an omelette and Japanese fried rice?
Whatever it is, omurice is comfort food like no other that is also easily available and extremely affordable. Omurice is a dish that is heavily influenced by Western culture in Japan or yoshoku. This cuisine evolved in Japan, and omurice has become a Japanese specialty. The rice is tossed in veggies, meat, and ketchup and kept aside. The egg is then cooked in a way that it is firm from the outside while the inside stays gooey. The omelette is then placed on the rice, and demi-glace is added. The chef then proceeds to cut the egg open from the middle, and it blankets your rice.
Where to eat: While I was advised to try out Omurice in Osaka, I thought of trying out the famous Kichi Kichi restaurant in Kyoto, and boy, was it entertaining! The chef, who is always with a smile, cooks the omurice right in front of you. It is less cooking and more theatre, and it is so worth the trip.
And then, there are other kinds of must-try food in Japan…
There will be a surprise waiting for you in a country like Japan every time you turn a corner. While these are the absolute must-tries on your first solo trip to Japan, you never know what you might discover when you travel there yourself. If you are brave enough to try dangerous food, Japan again has you covered! From horse meat sashimis to eels. But be sure to carry enough medicines to cure an upset stomach! Know what to carry on your first trip to Japan.
If you come across any such delicious food in the Land of the Rising Sun that I have missed, do let me know in the comments below. Till then, let’s dig in or, as the Japanese say before every meal, itadakimasu!
An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.