When you think about delicious Japanese food, what comes to mind? Piping hot ramen? Fresh sushi? Snotty fermented soybeans and raw horse meat? Okay hold on, maybe not those last two. Let’s take a look at some shockingly normal Japanese foods you won’t find at your local Japanese restaurant.
While different regions around Japan are famous for various local specialties, there aren’t many dishes that Tokyo can truly call their own. Except for the grilled batter dish called monjayaki, which looks more like something you might spot in a gutter in Shinjuku on a Saturday night than next to your yakisoba at a teppanyaki (iron grill) restaurant. Featuring the same basic ingredients as okonomiyaki (savory Japanese “pancakes”), monjayaki also includes dashi (soup stock) which gives it its amorphous blob shape. Don’t let its unappetizing appearance fool you! With tons of varieties like mochi mentaiko, mapo tofu and broccoli cheese risotto, it’s much more delicious than it looks.
With seafood as an essential part of Japanese diets, you can partake in fish of just about any size imaginable. If you’re interested in eating as many fish as possible in one bite, shirasu may be for you!
These tiny white fish with beady black eyes are baby anchovies or sardines, and are often served in heaping helpings over rice. The flavor is relatively mild, if you can get over the feeling of several dozen pairs of eyes looking at you.
Shirasu is especially popular in beachside Enoshima, where you can even find shirasu-flavored ice cream, complete with salty shirasu bits!
This one’s not for animal lovers or the faint of heart. Basashi is raw horse meat, and it’s considered a delicacy in many places in Japan.
It’s served chilled and is often dipped in soy sauce and grated ginger, and it doesn’t have a particularly strong flavor. The opinion of non-Japanese who have tried it often seems to be, “I couldn’t get over the fact that I was eating horse.” If you’re into lengthening your list of animals you’ve eaten, it’s certainly worth a try. Just don’t think about it too much.
A typical healthy Japanese breakfast usually includes: miso soup, a bowl of rice, grilled fish, some vegetables, and for many, fermented soybeans called natto. The soybeans are fermented with a strain of bacteria and are known for their sticky and slimy appearance and very strong smell.
High in nutrients, the beans are often mixed with soy sauce, mustard, spring onion or raw egg before being eaten on their own or over rice. It can also be served on toast, in fried tofu or gyoza, and more. Natto is also famous for the sticky strings it produces when picked up with chopsticks, which is a texture called “nebaneba.” You can experience the same nebaneba texture in yamaimo (Chinese yams) and raw okra, if natto’s smell is a bit too much for you!
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