6 Japanese Dishes You'll Only Find in Japan

Nationwide Food Wasabi 2020.06.26
Japan loves unique dishes and extra local cuisine, so these six delicacies are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Japanese cuisine!
1. Wasabi Donburi & Wasabi Juice
!!! WARNING !!! the following contains !!! WASABI !!!

To some of us, it can be a lethal weapon, for others, it is a pleasure. That sharp sensation that starts by burning the mouth, then strikes up through the nose and sinuses, finally bringing tears to the eyes...

Whether you like the spice of wasabi or not, these dishes will surely wake you up! Above, you'll see a full meal of wasabi, available at the Daio Wasabi Farm restaurant in Nagano Prefecture. This tray features wasabi-don (ワサビ丼, a wasabi rice bowl), tempura wasabi leaves, and a little knob of fresh wasabi you can grind for yourself. Forget the horseradish you get overseas, this wasabi is the real thing and it doesn't get much fresher. At the same wasabi farm you can also try wasabi curry (Thai green curry style), wasabi ice cream, and wash it all down with a refreshing wasabi beverage.
  • When life gives you wasabis and lemons, make wasabi-ade! (Yes, actually.) The drink is a surprisingly refreshing mix of tart lemon and wasabi, which adds just a little kick.
    (They also have wasabi beer!)
  • Freshly grated wasabi is something almost unheard of outside of east Asia, because genuine wasabi is notoriously hard to grow and difficult to ship.
2. Shirasu Pizza
Shirasu (シラス), small fish fry also called whitebait, are widely used in Japanese cuisine, but not nearly as common overseas. A shame, considering shirasu are an excellent source of calcium!

There are a few places around Japan where you can enjoy these little fish fresh-caught, but shirasu are only available raw for part of the year. For a taste of the little umami-packed jewels, Enoshima is the closest spot to Tokyo.
  • Shirasu... pizza!?
Around Japan shirasu is usually just eaten with rice and simple Japanese staples. We only know of one place where you can find the little fish on top of pizza, though! One Enoshima restaurant decided that shirasu are not only destined for traditional Japanese cuisine, but are ripe for reinvention. If anchovies can be savored on pizza, why wouldn't whitebait be a good topping, too? And so, shirasu pizza, with the savory little fish on top of a crispy crust, bright tomato sauce, and a satisfying layer of cheese.

For a more traditional take, raw shirasu (a bit like sashimi) are available for just a few months a year. Shirasu-don, a bed of rice topped with a pile of super-fresh fish fry, is a rare delicacy even for many in Japan!
3. Ippon Udon
Not your ordinary udon.
This dish, found in Hanyu City, Saitama, comes with just one long single strand of udon in a bowl. That's right―one big, long hunk of udon noodle. But the udon is cooked in the broth to soak up just the right amount of the savory flavor. Just looking at it, you can see this isn't any ordinary udon. 

Ippon udon (一本うどん, literally single-strand udon), has a history shrouded in mystery and legend in Japan. Some gastronomic historians think it's a genuine dish that existed in Japan's past. One family restaurant in Japan offers the dish, claiming that their recipe dates back to ancestors who created ippon udon long ago. Others in Japan say that there's little evidence for this claim, and it's just the stuff of myth. Whoever it was that came up with the original concept, they clearly had an impressive imagination! This particular bowl of ippon udon came from a totally different roadside restaurant, where it took the chefs three whole years to perfect the new recipe.

In the end, they came up with one chewy and flavorful noodle, with a texture almost like mochi!
4. Firefly Squid Hotpot
  • The ingredients close at hand.
This is not your everyday shabu-shabu hot pot!

Normally, shabu-shabu is mostly a meat dish, and you're more likely to find high-quality beef at a Japanese hotpot restaurant than seafood. However, in this case, delicate firefly squid (or hotaru ika, ホタルイカ) are the star of then show. Firefly squid, so named because they glow bioluminescent in the nighttime sea, are quickly cooked in the mild broth, and eaten whole! If the eyeballs freak you out a little, this might not be the dish for you, but trust us when we say it's quite a delicacy.
5. Negisoba
Opt out of chopsticks―try eating this bowl of soba noodles with a single green onion!

That's right, in Japanese negi (ネギ) means green onion, so this is literally green onion soba. It might seem hard to eat just looking at it, but after giving it a try, people often say that it's actually not too much of a challenge. You can see the negi does an alright job of picking up some noodles! The dish is a specialty of Ouchi-juku, in Fukushima Prefecture.

Don't worry, the restaurants will still provide chopsticks for those who need them.
  • When something like this is placed in front of you, it's kind of difficult to know where to start.
  • This is how you do it! Apparently, you can eat the negi as a condiment as you go.
6. Ox Tongue (Gyu-Tan)
In Japan, cow or ox tongue is called gyu-tan (牛タン) and it's a high-priced delicacy. In recent years, tongue meat has lost popularity in many parts of the world, similar to offal and cuts like tripe. But the tender meat, with a unique texture and satisfyingly meaty flavor, is still popular in Japan! Since each cow only provides a very limited amount of tongue meat, tongue ends up being a valued cut of meat, and it's actually a high-priced indulgence. 
  • Gyu-tan is often prepared on a flaming grill, barbecued to perfection.
  • The finished product actually goes extremely well with freshly ground wasabi, like we described above!
A Different Side of Japanese Cuisine
Planning to travel to Japan? Ramen and sushi are delicious parts of any trip, but why not try these unique dishes while you're here? We think they're pretty delicious, but even if you can't agree, you'll have a great story to bring home!

Stay tuned for new original articles at JAPANKURU. 🐶 Make sure you follow us on our Facebook and Instagram for more Japanese stories!


For more gourmet experiences in Japan, check out the following articles:

3 Must-Try Ramens in Tokyo

JAPANESE BEEF | 4 Must-Try Restaurants in Tokyo

Exploring Japan's All You Can Eat and Drink "Houdai" Culture

  • e 2019.06.26 reply
  • e 2019.06.26 reply
  • e 2019.06.22 reply
    e 2019.06.27 reply
Related Article
Question Forum