Japanese cuisine: what you absolutely must know

Japanese cuisine is one of the many ways to experience Japan: its history, its customs, its perfumes, its colours and much more. There is something that encapsulates all this and that will leave or has left an indelible mark on the hearts and palates of all travellers: the local cuisine!

It may seem trivial, but for a nation that is known primarily for a couple of its many tasty dishes it is not at all.

Restaurants in Japan: How and when to go

We are made of 90% rice and raw fish! This is the image with which we Japanese people are painted. Together we will discover that not only is it not entirely true, but that there are many dishes that, alas, we will only enjoy by flying over the globe for 12 long hours in an authentic Japanese restaurant.

Before getting into the heart of Japanese cuisine, the house kindly offers a taste of curiosities related to the culinary world.

shabu shabu
Shabu Shabu, the best Japanese culinary tradition

Restaurant in Japan: basic rules.

Some indications to face a restaurant in Japan following all the rules of behaviour:

Respect the queue and wait your turn

Outside the restaurants in Japan you will find small chairs on which you can wait your turn.

Outside the restaurants in Japan you will find small chairs on which you can wait your turn. Take particular care when sitting in the seat immediately following the one already occupied or use the one closest to the restaurant entrance. Respect the row and the order in which it is created is essential to avoid conflict situations.

The space is all in a restaurant in Japan

The maniacal care for space is also present in places of refreshment. Under the table or chairs you will find baskets in which to store bags, jackets, cameras and anything else that can take space away from other diners.

Add a seat at the table

As described in the previous article, finding vacancies for many people is particularly difficult, both because of the size of the premises and the number of customers who alternate all the time. It is best to take some time to find a place and book if possible.

Sampuru – Eating with your eyes

Have you ever happened to go to a restaurant and discover the true appearance and portions of the dishes only after you have ordered them? In Japan this is impossible.

In Giappone saprete sempre quale aspetto avrà il piatto che scegliete. Photo credit: Beatriz.garcia on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Outside each room it is possible to observe a reproduction (faithful both in proportions and details) of each food and drink. The reproduction of the dishes is considered a real art called Sampuru.

The relationship of the Japanese with food

In Japan the time of the meal is experienced as a pure and simple necessity to be satisfied. You will hardly be hosted to eat at someone’s home. The rhythms imposed by working life force the Japanese to take refuge in the many cafés and restaurants in all cities.

Kaiten tokyo
Kaiten Tokyo

In the kaiten, restaurants where the kitchen is visible, you can find yourself looking at the cooks throughout the meal without ever crossing that of the diners sitting next to you. A completely different approach to what we are used to.

Japanese cuisine: The great classics


Let’s start with the best known and most abused dish from Japanese restaurants in the West. Sushi is actually a real culinary experience. In Japan you can taste a wide variety of fish products accompanied by rice. (Try it with scallops, eel and mint (cod eggs, with a very special taste).

sushi selection of tuna
sushi selection of tuna

In some restaurants you can also order a selection of salmon and/or tuna with different cuts of meat (from the leanest to the fattest).


In Japan there are restaurants dedicated to tempura. You can choose the vegetarian (fish and vegetables) or carnivorous version. As an accompaniment, you will be served an excellent hot red bean tea, the taste of which you will notice shortly after drinking it.


Grilled ravioli stuffed with meat. There are different versions depending on the area. They range from the classic meat filling to a very tasty version filled with leek (both in the filling and on the outside) to a real experience in which the skin of the chicken acts as a cover for the filling. To try!




Really tasty chicken skewers. Yakitori are made up of chicken pieces or offal of the same skewered on bamboo skewers and grilled, usually on charcoal. You can usually choose to have it prepared salty, or with tare sauce, made of mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar.


Takoyaki with Hiroshima octopuses
Takoyaki with Hiroshima octopuses

If you find yourself on the streets of Osaka with little time on your hands and hunger suddenly assails you, don’t hesitate for a moment to try this street food dish. These wonderful meatballs will literally make you fall in love. Inside them you will find an octopus to devour with caution, given the magmatic temperatures with which they are served.

Curry rice

curry rice
Curry Rice

If you’re careful, some preparations see curry as particularly spicy

If you’re looking for something abundant and intensely flavored, a good curry rice is what you need. Be careful, some preparations see curry as particularly spicy. You can tell by the colouring (the darker the curry, the spicier it will be).

Kobe beef

This type of meat is particularly valuable and expensive. I have not had the chance to taste it personally, but it is one of the dishes to know and try.

Shabu Shabu

Shabu shabu
Shabu shabu

More than a dish, it is a real culinary experience. You have a limited time to eat (about 1 hour and a half) of everything. Choose the ingredients you prefer and sit down at the table. You will find a plate in which to place two containers, one for spicy preparation and the other for more delicate cooking. You will also be served portions of meat that you can cook at the moment.


It was love at first taste. A dish of Japanese cuisine that I strongly recommend both for its taste and for what it represents. There are different versions depending on the area you are in, but it is in Hiroshima that you can enjoy it in all its goodness.

okonomiyaki Hiroshima
okonomiyaki Hiroshima

It is said that its origin derives from the need for sustenance in the period after the bombardment, at a time when it was essential to bind the few ingredients available through the use of the egg.

The dish is prepared in the kitchen and finishes cooking on the plate in the middle of the table where you will be eating. In addition to the classic chopsticks, you will be given a spatula to break the preparation and eat it more comfortably.


A dish with a light and pleasant taste that comes from a poor cuisine. Served on an iron pot (kama) placed on a wooden base.

kama meshi
kama meshi

You can choose to season the rice with meat, vegetables or fish.

As you could see, Japanese cuisine is not only about sushi. What makes it all the more interesting is the completely affordable price.

Travelling also means letting yourself be guided by the local flavours that a country proudly offers. Dishes in which we find the history of a people in continuous movement, who even at the table do not know how to renounce their traditions.

Cucina giapponese cosa devi assolutamente sapere1
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