The top tables and must-try eats in the land of the rising sun.
Japan is the ultimate sensory experience. From the bright neon lights of the city to the pitter-patter of geishas on the street, there’s excitement in the air wherever you go. And then, there’s that alluring waft of warm broth, fried street food and fresh seafood that fills the air and calls to you from street stalls and iconic restaurants.
When searching for what to eat, there’s more than enough to keep you sated from snackable sushi and sashimi meals to warm ramen and fried katsu chicken dishes.
There's also the Tsukiji Fish Market,which is a must for any to-do list, even if it’s just a visit to see this famous fish market in its element.
For those who like a good novelty, you shouldn’t pass up the chance to eat Kobe beef or try your luck with a pufferfish.
For showmanship and tradition, make sure to try a teppanyaki restaurant, where the chef cooks on a stovetop in front of your eyes and includes theatres with audience participation.
You could also book a table at an izakaya, a Japanese drinking den, for a true night on the town and then follow it up by heading to a karaoke bar.
To help you along your culinary journey, we’ve compiled a succinct list of top food to eat, star restaurants to book and food tours to take so you won’t have to miss out on a single (delicious) thing.
Top five must-eat Japanese foods
1. Sushi and sashimi
Two of Japan’s most beloved food exports are a must-try when in Japan. For those unfamiliar with the terms, sushi is a dish of rolled vinegared rice packed or topped with a variety of cooked or raw ingredients such as avocado, salmon, cucumber, tempura and tofu. Sashimi is a form of sushi and consists of raw meat or fish. Unlike in western cultures, finding the novelty sushi train in Japan is quite a difficult task. You’ll more likely wind up eating sushi at a sit-down bar or restaurant where you’ll need to order your plates separately. You can find sushi and sashimi throughout Japan. Image: Sushi Jiro
Ramen is the kind of dish that garners a cult following across the world and it’s easy to find wherever you travel in Japan. Ramen consists of miso or pork broth, wheat noodles and toppings such as seaweed, egg, mushrooms and sliced pork. Each district makes its ramen dish differently, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about trying it again and again throughout your holiday.
3. Wagyu beef
If you’re going to splurge on a meal, it may as well be on a cut of Wagyu beef. Wagyu translates to “Japanese cow” in English and refers to any one of four Japanese breeds of beef cattle. The meat is renowned for its intense marbling which increases the ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats to deliver a high quality meat that commands a high quality price. Whip out that credit card, now. Image: Matsuzakagyu Yakiniku M
Forget asahi, when in Japan the drink of choice has to be sake. It’s a rice wine that you can find all across the nation. You can order it hot or cold, making it ideal for winter or summer holidays.
5. Matcha and green tea
Match is finely ground powder derived from green tea. You can find it in green tea, but it’s also infused into many of the nation’s dishes, including mochi and Kit Kat chocolate bars. You won’t be able to escape this one, so find the coolest green-tea flavoured novelty and bring it home as a souvenir.
Top five must-eat Japanese restaurants
1. La Rochelle
Helmed by the one and only Iron Chef Sakai of TV series Iron Chef fame, La Rochelle is one of the most famous restaurants in the country. The cuisine is French, the atmosphere is sophisticated and the experience is unforgettable. La Rochelle has three restaurants in Japan, one in Minami Aoyama (Tokyo), one in Fukuoka (Fukuoka) and one in Sanno (Tokyo).
2. Jiro Sushi
For the ultimate sushi experience, book a table at Jiro Sushi. And when we say book, we mean it. The rice for the sushi is cooked to coincide exactly with your reservation to enable the highest quality food experience possible.
Helmed by acclaimed chef Jiro Ono, each piece of sushi and how it should be eaten is elevated to an art form, which covers how it should be picked up, the need to eat shoga (pickled ginger) and the need to use green tea (not hot water) to cleanse the palate. If you only take one piece of advice from how to eat Jiro’s offerings, make sure it’s to not let your sushi sit. You should eat it immediately for the highest sensory experience.
Tsukamoto Sogyo Building, Basement 1st Floor,2-15, Ginza 4-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
3. Matsuzakagyu Yakiniku M, Hozenji Yokocho
Equipped with private rooms with sliding doors for romantic holidays or business trips, Matsuzakagyu Yakiniku M is a premium Japanese barbeque venture in the heart of Osaka.
It’s a TripAdvisor favourite, having nabbed a Traveller’s Choice Award in 2015 for the best restaurant as voted by foreign travellers and serves only the highest quality Matsusaka (a type of Wagyu beef) meat.
For those seeking a lighter meal, Matsuzakagyu’s menu also includes sushi.
1-1-19 Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0076, Osaka
A TripAdvisor favourite for sushi lovers, you can find Sushidai inside Tsukiji Fish Market where it claims customers hungry for its fresh fish dishes from the moment its doors open in the wee hours of the morning. For those determined to make the pilgrimage to this sushi mecca, be sure to bring a good book or good company as the wait can be hours long. You’ll be rewarded once indoors as the quality of the food and the friendliness of the service live up to its name. Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Tsukiji Ichiba Building 6
You can find the Nabezo chain throughout Japan with multiple branches in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama.
It’s an optimal go-to for all-you-can-eat sukiyaki, shabu-shabu and hot pot at a decent price.
Top Japan food tours
Tour and sample the best food with these delicious and fun food tours.
Food Tour in Tsukiji Fish Market
Nighttime Local Food and Drink Tour
Walking Tour with Street Food Tasting