The land of the rising sun has produced some of the most sought-after dishes in the world, as evidenced by their 1st place ranking in countries with the most 3-starred Michelin restaurants. Japanese cuisine places a strong emphasis on seasonal ingredients. It is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes, as well as staples including soba and udon noodles. Seafood forms a significant part of Japanese cuisine as well.
This list contains some of the most popular Japanese dishes worldwide as of now, including tonkotsu ramen, gohan (one of the most popular Japanese breakfast foods). I also include how to prepare the popular Japanese bbq sauce.
History of Japanese cuisine
Japanese cuisine has historically been influenced by Chinese cuisine, but in the modern era has opened up to Western influences. As a result, meat has become a more prominent part of the Japanese diet, which was historically shunned due to the country’s adherence to Buddhism. Fish, however, has provided the main protein source for meals due to Japan being an island nation. Unlike many national cuisines, spices are used minimally and oil and fat are usually avoided. This is part of the reason why Japanese cuisine is associated with health and longevity. Japanese people aim to keep as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Moreover, despite chopsticks being associated with Japanese cuisine, for many years they were used only by the nobility and the majority of Japanese simply used their hands.
Shun refers to the seasonality of food and in Japan, dishes are designed to herald the arrival of the four seasons or calendar months. Shun means taking advantage of the “fruit of the mountains” and “fruit of the sea” as they come into season. Therefore, the first catch of skipjack tunas that arrives with the Kuroshio current has traditionally been greatly prized.
Japanese cuisine combines the staple food (white rice or gohan) with one or more okazu, which is a main or side dish. A clear or miso soup may then be included alongside this. It is usually quite salty due to the use of ingredients such as miso, soy sauce and umeboshi. A lot of these ingredients won’t be found at your local supermarket so you will most likely need to pick up the items at an Asian market. So, lets take a loom at some of the most popular Japanese foods.
Wish to read more about some of the best seafood recipes? You should take a look at our article Ranking the best seafood in Europe.
1. Tonkotsu Ramen
1st up we have one of the most popular ramen dishes right now – tonkotsu ramen. This recipe will take up a considerable amount of your time. It takes 12 hours to prepare. The ingredients include the following:
- 12 oz good quality dried ramen noodles
- Thinly sliced green onions
- 8 cups tonkotsu pork broth
- 4 large or extra large eggs
- 2-3 oz enoki or other mushrooms
- thinly sliced green onions
Chashu pork belly
- 2 lb pork belly – rolled and tied
- 1/2 cup sake
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup mirin – Japanese wine
- 2-3 garlic cloves – left whole
- 2 green onions – coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup shiro miso
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 1/4 cup sake
- 1-2 tsp kosher salt
Chashu pork belly
- Place the soy, sake, mirin, sugar, garlic and green onions together in a ziploc bag large enough to hold the pork belly. Put a straw in the bag. Then, seal the ziploc bag up against it. Suck as much of the air out as possible and seal.
- Secondly, sous vide the pork (immerse in warm water) for 10-11 hours at 170F.
- Next, take the pork out of the ziploc bag. Throw away the bag and marinade.
- Let the pork belly cool entirely.
- Then, slice across the chashu pork into 8-12 slices about 1/8 inches thick. Reserve.
Medium boiled eggs
- Boil the eggs. Prick the eggshell off. Boil large eggs for approximatley 6 minutes.
- Then, submerge the eggs in cold or ice water to chill. Next, peel. Cut in half right before you serve your tonkotsu ramen.
- Place all the ingredients in a small sauce pan. Simmer at the lowest setting for 5 minutes.
Put it all together
- Boil your ramen noodles in plenty of water and follow package instructions. This usually takes 4 minutes.
- Then, cook your mushrooms along side the noodles to soften
- Next, lightly fry the chashu pork in a skillet until they are slightly browned.
- Place 1/4 of your tare you are in the bottom of four bowls.
- Place about 1/2 cup of the tonkotsu broth into each of the bowls using a ladle. Stir to mix.
- Then, add your noodles. Then, pour in another cup and a half of the tonkotsu broth per bowl.
- Finally, top with the egg, mushrooms, pork and green onions.
2. Gohan – Japanese breakfast food
This is a simple rice dish which is a staple breakfast dish in Japan. It is a fluffy, sticky rice that you can top with pickles, spring onions, nori or katsuobushi flakes.
- 300g sushi rice
- 1 tsp mirin
- 200ml dashi (optional)
- pickles , nori, katsuobushi flakes, sliced spring onions, to serve (optional)
- Fisrt, rinse and soak your rice. Next, measure your rice into a bowl and cover with cold water. Then, using your fingers, massage the grains of rice – the water should become cloudy. Drain and rinse again with fresh water. Repeat this five times more until the water stays clear.
- Now, tip the rinsed rice into a saucepan with 400ml water. Alternatively, you can use 200ml dashi and 200ml water. Bring to the boil. Then, turn down the heat to a low simmer. Place a tight-fitting lid with a steam hole over it and cook for 15 mins. Remove it from the heat and leave to sit for 15 mins. Next, stir through the mirin. Take off the lid and stir. Serve with any or all of the optional toppings, depending on your preference.
3. Dango – Japanese cuisine dessert
Dango is a Japanese dessert. It is commonly enjoyed during the cherry blossom viewing season in Japan which coincides with the beginning of spring. The three colors symbolize the pink of the spring cherry blossoms, the white of the winter snow, and the green of the summer grass.
- Joshinko glutinous rice flour
- Shiratamako glutinous sweet rice flour
- Powdered sugar
- Hot water
- Matcha powder
- Pink food coloring
- First, soak the 12 bamboo skewers in water.
- Secondly, mix your rice flour and water. Put the rice flours into a bowl and pour in the hot water. Mix with a spoon, and when it starts to take shape, use your hands to mold the dango dough together. Add more flour or water if you need. The dough should feel like soft clay or play-doh.
- Next, Divide your dango dough evenly into three pieces and put each one into a separate bowl.
- Then, add one drop of pink food coloring to one piece of dough and work it in until there is no more white.
- Now, add 1 teaspoon of water to the matcha powder and mix to form a paste. Add it to another piece of dough and work it in well. The final piece of dough should remain white.
- Next, start shaping the dough into balls. Each ball should be about 20 grams, weighed on a kitchen scale. The recipe makes about 36 balls.
- Boil a pot of water and start to cook the white balls first. When they rise to the top of the pot, continue cooking for a further 2 minutes.
- When they are cooked, use a spoon to transfer the steamed dango to a bowl of ice water.
- Then, carry on this process with the pink and green dango to avoid staining the water.
- Finally, place the balls on the bamboo skewers, ensuring you place the green ones on first, then the white, and the pink ones last. Serve as they are or add a topping.
4. Japanese cuisine barbecue sauce
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Simply stir together ketchup, Worcestershire, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, mustard, and garlic powder in a small bowl. You can either use straight away or you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Read more about Japanese cuisine here.