Flight Network Foodie
By Jessica Dawdy Before coming to Japan my knowledge of Japanese food was limited to sushi and ramen, but it turns out that these foods are only the beginning of a diverse and unique culinary culture. It would probably take years to discover all of Japan’s weird and wonderful food, but here are five delicious suggestions to get you started.
Okinomiyaki is sometimes called a “Japanese pancake”, however, other than its preparation on a griddle, there’s not much about this dish that reminds me of a pancake. It’s a heavy, savoury meal made from flour, eggs, and cabbage. The other ingredients vary widely, but the cooked okinomiyaki is typically topped with mayonnaise, fish shavings, and a kind of steak sauce called okonomiyaki sauce. In many restaurants, customers are given the ingredients to fry their own okinomiyaki on a small grill at their table. I think cooking it yourself is part of the fun of eating okinomiyaki, but if all you want to do is eat, there are also plenty of restaurants where chefs prepare the okinomiyaki for you.
Mitarashi dango is a skewer of chewy rice dumplings covered in a soy-based sauce. You’ll typically see mitarashi dango being grilled at street stalls, filling the air with a characteristic sweetly-charred door. It’s the perfect combination of savoury and sweet, making it a great snack to grab while you’re out sightseeing.
Soba noodles are thin noodles made from buckwheat flour, which can be served in a hot broth or chilled with dipping sauce. As with pasta, there are almost endless ingredient possibilities for this dish, but one of my favourite ways to eat soba noodles is in a hot soup with mountain vegetables. If you want to really appreciate their flavour and texture, it’s worth trying to find a restaurant where the noodles are made fresh by hand.
Takoyaki is a batter ball filled with minced octopus, green onion, and ginger. Although octopus might seem a little intimidating at first, the flavour is actually quite mild, and once everything is cooked together, takoyaki balls are gooey and delicious. It’s common to see takoyaki being prepared at street stalls, particularly in Osaka. It’s entertaining to watch the skilled vendors cooking dozens of takoyaki at a time, deftly using a skewer to flip each ball in the special takoyaki pan.
Japanese curry is thick and brown — almost like gravy. It’s much less spicy than the curries you’ll find in Thailand or India, with a slightly sweet taste. It usually includes carrots, onions, potatoes, and either pork or beef. Curry is a popular dish for Japanese families to cook at home, and is also served at many fast-food chains. It’s often prepared using pre-made blocks of curry roux dissolved in water, but, like most foods, it tastes best when it’s made from scratch.