Japanese food guide: 20 MUST-EAT dishes in Japan that’s NOT sushi

Japanese food to eat

Japanese food is in a league of its own. Besides being the birth place of Pokemon, the creators of anime and manga, and a new style of porn, Japan is known for its AMAZING food scene. When planning my visit to Japan, food was at the top of my cherry blossom season bucket list. The restaurant industry in Japan is overflowing with options to eat. For a couple that relies heavily on the “I don’t know you decide” response when figuring out where to eat, Japan was a challenge. Every restaurant menu looked delicious. All the food stalls smelled tantalizing to the nose and had our taste buds sweating for nibble.

Japanese food ramen

I’m a big believer that you don’t know until you try. I don’t believe in “the best ever” because food is subjective and what is good to one person isn’t good to another. Hence, I am not the pompous ass hole that gives restaurant recommendations trying to site that my opinion on food is better than anyone else’s. Instead, I will give you a starting point on what to order so you can try Japan’s food treasures for yourself.

The 20 MUST-EAT Japanese food to try

There are actually 22 must-eat Japanese food in the video, and yes the last one is sushi, but you still got two more suggestions than you originally bargained for. The fiance and I were very focussed on eating as many small, local street foods as possible. When we did sit at an actual restaurant we aimed to eat what Japanese residents were queuing for.

On one occasion we let our nose decide where we ate. On the day we went to Chidorigafuch park to see the cherry blossoms, we walked by a basement staircase that smelled like soup heaven. After walking through the park, we made our way back to that staircase and had a bowl of noodles that is unlike any type of Japanese noodles I had ever tried before. If anyone knows what it’s called, the noodles and pork were kept in a separate bowl and the soup was a creamy intense dried shrimp flavor.

Japanese food

Japanese food that you must try while traveling in Japan

  1. Steak from Ikinari Steak
  2. Okonomiyaki
  3. Cotton Candy in Harajuku
  4. Flame grilled whole scallops at Tsukiji fish market
  5. Flame grilled crab at Tsukiji fish market
  6. Whole raw oysters at Tsukiji fish market
  7. Sea urchin (uni) at Tsukiji fish market
  8. Japanese pickle on a stick
  9. Karaage chicken
  10. Pork Katsu
  11. Tonkotsu ramen from Ichiran
  12. Cheesecake
  13. Udon
  14. Coffee
  15. Grilled squid
  16. Bento boxes
  17. Takoyaki
  18. Custard & red bean fish pancakes
  19. Soft serve ice cream
  20. Yakitori
  21. Sushi sandwiches
  22. Sushi!

Japanese food udon

Not on the list, but totally changed my world is omelette rice! I ordered omelette rice and a last minute quick bite to eat while on the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Thinking nothing of it, I didn’t bother to take a photo because I don’t really care for omelettes or for fried rice. The tomato sauce drizzled on top was like the icing on the cake.

A word of advice for eating your way through Japan: Don’t fill up on rice.


    1. I don’t even like cotton candy usually but this one was so fluffy and fun I couldn’t resist. And cosnidering I only paid 500 yen for that crab it was a great deal (that’s like $5!)

    1. I definitely ate a ton of sushi too! But there are so many things to eat besides the Kawaii rice dishes. I was pleasantly surprised by the omelette rice and have a new found love for chicken cartilage yakitori.

    1. One thing I would add is checking out Japan’s McDonald’s! I know it sounds counter intuitive but my experience with MCD internationally is always so much classier than in the US. Also they had special menu items for sakura festival like a sakura mcflurry.

  1. I always preferred Japanese food rather than other Asians’ cuisine (I’m a maki and sushi lover). But of course, sushi are not everything, and I would love to visit Japan just to taste their ‘real’ food. Especially the ones that are fried 😀

    1. Oh all the fried and grilled japanese foods on a stick were amazing! I found osaka and kyoto were better for street food bites. Tokyo didn’t have a lot of traditional dishes unless you wanted to sit in a restaurant.

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