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The top 3 dishes in Japan? As a team of Japanophiles, we’re a little sceptic. Is it really possible to narrow it down? Tour leader, Brian certainly thinks so.
There are so many good dishes to eat in Japan that many people end up gaining weight rather than losing it when they visit. This is also true for my Japanese friends who live in the US. While you won’t be short of things to try, if I could only choose three dishes for a newcomer in Japan to try, this would be them (in no specific order). All three also have vegetarian options!
Traditionally, people used their hands when they ate sushi and at many fancy sushi restaurants you’re supposed to do it that way, so feel free to pick those bad boys up. Especially, if your chopstick skills are not up to par.
Bear in mind that you only need a tiny dab of soy sauce, otherwise it’s all you’ll taste. The proper way to dip your sushi is fish (or vegetable) side down. Although, I see Japanese people dipping the rice side down, or even taking the fish off the rice, dipping it and putting it back on the rice. This is something you’ll see a lot of at a revolving sushi bar, kind of a free for all when it comes to etiquette.
If you’re eating at an upscale sushi place, then definitely make sure you do as the chef instructs you to, so as to not offend him. I thought I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the Japanese-owned sushi restaurants in California and the ones in Japan, but boy was I wrong. Yep, sushi in Japan tastes completely different and is much tastier – as it should be.
This sweet and savoury pancake / omelette / pizza type thing has to be one of my all-time favourites. The two most popular kinds of okonomiyaki are Hiroshima style and Osaka style. Japanese people will often have a preference and even argue over which is better at times. The main difference is the Hiroshima style includes noodles, making it more filling and giving it a different texture. I love both styles, but if I had to choose one I’d have to go with Osaka. I like the texture better and the portion size is perfect.
At most of these restaurants you’re expected to make it on your own. Don’t worry, the staff are always very helpful and some restaurants have English instructions. At some restaurants the staff will prepare it for you, if you can’t be bothered. I consider myself a good cook and making it on your own is definitely fun, but for some reason it’s never as good as when the staff make it. They make this stuff all day every day, so in my opinion it’s best to just let them do it for you (it is quite a bit of work as well).
BBQ — yay! I’m American so I love pretty much anything on the grill. Yakitori are chicken skewers, but most restaurants will also do pork, beef, and vegetables too. You’ll always see these at festivals, supermarkets and izakaya (Japanese style gastropubs). There are yakitori restaurants too where it’s all they have on the menu.
It’s completely fine to pick these up by the skewer with your hands to eat. In a group setting though, where people are sharing, you should use the upper part of your chopsticks or flip your chopsticks around to use the side that hasn’t touched your mouth to separate the meat from the skewers. This way ensures everyone gets a bite.
So there you have it, my top three, and all can be made vegetarian. There is vegetable sushi; vegetable skewers and you can ask the staff to have your okonomiyaki prepared without meat or fish (watch out for the bonito flakes on top).
If your trip to Japan didn’t include these dishes, I think you’d be missing out. Don’t worry if you can’t remember the proper etiquette, just remember the golden rule: “Do as the Japanese do”.
*While these are my top three, honourable mentions go to shabu shabu, ramen, yakiniku, yakisoba, tempura, and kaiseki-ryori (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner).