28 of the Best Things I Ate in Japan

japan food guide 2020
Much is to be learned from a country’s cuisine, and this couldn’t be truer in Japan. Known for being delicate, intricate, and balanced, Japanese food is something you really have to try where it came from. Despite claims of any place that they have a Japanese chef and that they serve authentic food, you still need to fly out and see it for yourself. Eating Japanese is not just about the flavors—it’s an entire experience.

japan food guide
Before visiting Japan, I told myself I wouldn't go there unprepared... unprepared to splurge spend on food, that is. Their cuisine is so varied and there’s so much to try, and nothing would have depressed me more than not fully exploring its delicious offerings. In a country where even convenience store food is impressive, you really have to try everything—which means that you also have to save up for it, as eating out here can be rather pricey compared to other Asian countries.

japan food guide
Below I’ve listed down my favorites from Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, Fukuoka, and Oita. I told myself I would not go home with only a handful of convenience store food as memories (they're really good, but you know what I mean), so I was basically eating more than I was sightseeing. This list is ranked according to my favorites (number 1 being the best), and it will continuously be updated as I travel back to this exceptional country. Have fun reading, and stay hungry!

1 | Tori Shio Ramen from Men No Youji (Osaka)

japan food guide

You know a ramen place is especially good when it’s full of Japanese people, not tourists. Such is the case of Men No Youji, a tiny ramen-ya tucked away from the busy parts of Dotonbori. The twenty-minute walk—which feels like forever in Japan standards—and the wait outside in the chilly spring air are totally worth it. Probably my favorite bowl for the entire trip, this tori shio (chicken and salt base) is light but packs layers of flavors. Scoop from the top and you get delicious menma and onion flavors. Dig deeper and there's insanely delicious yuzu. Such a "breath of fresh air" from the heavy tonkotsu (not my favorite, I must say). Eating this bowl was truly an adventure!

2 | 7-course Omakase with Wine Pairing from La Maison de la Nature Goh (Fukuoka)

Omakase, or chef's choice, is very popular in Japan—and where best to try it than in an awarded restaurant that combines Kyushu's best ingredients with French techniques? La Maison de la Nature Goh has one Michelin star and is #24 in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants of 2019. Choose between a 6-course and a 7-course menu, and upgrade your dining experience with wine pairing. Expect small bites that surprise and delight, as well as a lineup of desserts that simply impresses. My favorites include the duck shavings with beetroot salad, bacon mushroom quiche, wasabi cookie, Kagoshima steak, lobster and truffles, cassis sherbet, and miso creme brulee.


3 | Teppanyaki Chef’s Lunch from Minami at the Swissôtel Nankai Osaka (Osaka)

japan food guide
When you’re looking to indulge in some premium teppanyaki while in Osaka, hop over to Minami at the 10th level of Swissôtel Nankai—where seasonal ingredients and superior produce are the stars. Whether you’re into lobsters or into wagyu, their lunch set options can cater to your specific cravings. Get the best of both worlds with the Chef’s Lunch, which consists of a seafood course for appetizer, a garden salad, a beef course, steamed rice, miso soup, pickles, scorched vegetables, and a dessert. Kagoshima Black wagyu beef, which comes from a cow breed that’s been awarded the best in Japan, is typically served but you can further upgrade to premium wagyu or Kobe as you wish!


4 | Yakiniku from Chifaja (Osaka)

japan food guide
When in Japan, never miss dining in a yakiniku place, and I highly recommend that you go to Chifaja for your unlimited barbecue fix. The restaurant is elegant, the service is great, and most importantly, the food is AMAZING. Go for the Excellent Course (check menu here) which includes a variety of Japanese Black Miyazaki beef (awarded as the best wagyu, even better than Kobe beef) with different cuts; pork; seafood (scallops, shrimp, etc.); chicken; vegetables; salads; soups; rice; noodles; and desserts—a total of 72 selections for ¥4,104, for 2 hours… HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!?! My favorites are the beef tongue, calbi beef, black wagyu, liver, and scallops. They serve curry rice so it was so hard not to eat rice, hahaha! (Plus who the hell says no to Japanese rice?) Add ¥410 for unlimited non-alcoholic drinks or ¥1,058 if you want to enjoy beers, cocktails, wines, and highballs! 

5 | Otoro from Sushi Izakaya Yataizushi (Kyoto)

japan food guide
Part of my Kyoto bucket list is popping into an izakaya and sampling sushi paired with highballs, and I ticked this one off happily at Izakaya Yataizushi. There’s a certain magic in izakayas that I never felt in ramen shops or other types of Japanese restaurants. One of my favorite moments in this trip is sitting here sharing a sushi platter with a friend, nibbling on delicious edamame, and ordering multiple highballs. The highlight, of course, is my first taste of otoro (fatty tuna)—the most desired part of the fish. I can’t accurately describe how it tastes—it just slides and melts on the tongue and fills your mouth with flavors that are to die for. It’s so delicious I wanted to bang my head on my wall. It’s quite expensive too at ¥400 and up per piece. But yes, I ordered another one.

6 | Wagyu Skewers (Kyoto)

japan food guide
A trip to Fushimi Inari in Kyoto is not complete without trying the food stalls outside the temple area. From pancake sandwiches to karaage, there’s something for every craving—but if you’re to eat only one, make it the wagyu skewers. Despite this inexplicable sense that anything I eat in Japan is going to be good, I was still shocked at how delicious their beef is—especially the ones sold in the street. Simply sprinkled with salt and pepper, each skewer was just pure bliss. There’s an option to add barbecue sauce but I wanted to taste more of the meat.

7 | Ajitama Hot Ramen from Ramen Zundoya (Osaka)

japan food guide
Googling “24-hour ramen near Namba” led us to Ramen Zundoya in Shinsaibashi, another local favorite and up in the leagues with the more popular Ichiran. Given the choice between two places with equally high reviews, I would always choose the less hyped one (call me “hater”, I don’t care, LOL). Zundoya specializes in tonkotsu (pork bone broth) but here you can customize your bowl: from the richness of the broth to the type of noodles. I got the Ajitama Hot Ramen with a rich broth and thin, straight noodles—the bowl was impeccably presented and loaded with smoky, delicious chashu, garlic bits, sesame seeds, spicy oil, negi, bean sprouts, nori, and a perfect ajitama. The takana (pickled mustard leaves) and pickled red ginger are so good! I would eat here again!

8 | Torched Buttered Scallops (Kyoto)

japan food guide
Whether or not you’re not traveling for food, you need to experience a market in Japan and sample its tasty offerings. In Kyoto, there’s Nishiki Market—probably the longest one I’ve been in. It’s just rows and rows of shops, selling everything from food to kitchenware to souvenirs. You’ve got to try the culinary delights though, one of which is the incredible torched buttered scallop skewer. The scallops are so huge and fresh, and seasoned simply with salt and pepper (and well, soaked in butter, LOL), these are the most exquisite bites in this market. I found these babies near the market entrance from Teramachi Shopping Arcade.

9 | Tiger Prawns (Kyoto)

japan food guide
After weaving through the stalls (and eating more fresh seafood) in Nishiki Market, stop by this tiger prawns stall if you chance upon it. The owners sell jumbo, plump, fresh prawns sprinkled delicately with salt, pepper, togarashi, and lemon juice. I love how the Japanese people have mastered the art of balancing flavors—the seasoning is so subtle but still evident, and it never conceals the taste of the main element, which in this case is the shrimp. The prawns are, of course, peeled already so don’t worry—all you have to do is open your mouth!

10 | Dango-Jiru (Oita)

A specialty in the Oita Prefecture, dango-jiru is a "dumpling soup" dish that has thick, flat noodles made from wheat flour, along with mushrooms, carrots, onions, and pumpkin in a delicious miso broth. There's a mild sweetness in the vegetables, as well as chewiness from the noodles, making each slurp much more filling and comforting. It's usually served in a pot, and with accompaniments such as pickles, salad, rice, and a meat side dish (like karaage). If there's a dish that can hug the soul, it's this.


11 | Udon (Wakayama)

japan food guide
If you’re looking for something simple yet incredibly tasty, my vote goes for the udon. I can’t eat ramen every day because of its richness, but give me udon any day and I will slurp that bowl clean. Made with dashi broth and thick flour noodles, I think this dish is the ultimate comfort food. We passed by an udon restaurant on the way to Mount Koya—we were only planning on having coffee but ended up ordering beef bowls. This was the best way to beat the mountain cold! The restaurant only has 4 items in the menu. Sometimes, you can tell that a place is really good when they only serve one type of dish.

12 | Steamed Clams in Soya Milk from Tousuiro (Kyoto)

japan food guide
I got to try this dish as part of our kaiseki dinner in Tousuiro, a famous tofu specialty restaurant in Kyoto. Made with steamed clams, sticky rice powder, lily bulb, soya milk, egg, and bonito stick, the cake-like dish is reminiscent of the chawanmushi, and every spoonful was a surprise. Looking at it will make you think of dessert, but after your first taste of the delicious combination of seafood and soy and egg, you just can’t stop eating it.

13 | Matcha Pork Bun (Kyoto)

japan food guide
While walking (more like climbing) on the way to Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, I spotted a shop selling matcha pork buns and decided to stop, of course. Think of the best pork bun you’re ever tried. Now, imagine that the bun is pillowy soft, made fresh, and is flavored ever-so-lightly with green tea. No, the matcha doesn’t hog the spotlight—it’s still the juicy meat inside (and the wonderful bread, actually). Worth burning my hand and my tongue on the way to the temple because the bun and its fillings are super hot, LOL.

14 | Gyukatsu Ramen from Makotoya (Osaka)

japan food guide
Another ramen in the list? Well, why not? If you like the richer broths, make your way down to Makotoya in Namba and get yourself a bowl of their specialty gyukatsu ramen—made of beef bone broth! It’s like tonkotsu, with a deeper flavor and a thicker mouthfeel. It’s especially perfect after a night of drinking in Osaka, but I must mention that the rich flavor (hey, Mendokoro Ramenba is comparable to this one) is too much after several spoonfuls; however, for its amazing taste alone, you need to put it in your must-tries.

15 | Unagi Sushi (Kyoto)

japan food guide
Unagi, or freshwater eel, is widely consumed in Japan during summer, as it is believed to counter heat and regain energy. I personally do not feel any of such sensations when I eat eel, but I do think it is incredibly delicious. If you go to a sushi restaurant, it's almost in the same price range as the much-coveted fatty tuna, but if you like this delicacy, you should definitely try it in Japanwhere it's impeccably prepared. Its smoky and sweetish preparation always leaves my mouth watering.

16 | Dango (Kyoto)

japan food guide
Dango is another delicious discovery outside Fushimi Inari. When our friend Karisa, who lives in Osaka, told us to try dango in Kyoto, we made a mental note to look for it. It’s a skewered mochi coated with a variety of sauces or flavored with different ingredients like green tea, sweet soy, sesame, or miso paste. Some would definitely find the combination of sweet and salty rather odd, but I love it very much. Would you try it?

17 | MOW (convenience stores)

One spot is dedicated to Japan’s astounding convenience store food, but guess what beats all the tonkatsus and gyudons and yakitoris? That’s right—ICE CREAM! Whatever you do, don’t go home without looking for this MOW brand in 7 Eleven/Lawson/Family Mart! It’s made of Hokkaido milk vanilla—that’s all I know. I don’t usually eat ice cream, but f*ck MOW. Don’t ask me anything. Just buy it.


Kobe Beef (Kyoto)

japan food guide
Why only in the runner up list? I may be ignorant or stupid, but I found it just fattier and tenderer than “typical wagyu”. LOL. I will happily eat wagyu for half the price, same flavor. Sorry. Believe me, even their “normal“ wagyu is already super good.

Honey Toast (Itoshima)

Only a few desserts have made me wild. This was one of them. (Read about it here.)

Matcha Ricotta (Osaka)

japan food guide
This doesn’t need an explanation.

Tonkotsu Ramen from Ichiran and Shin Shin (Fukuoka)

You've got to try tonkotsu where it originated.

Manpuku Ramen Set from Ganso Nakasu Ramen Ichiban Ichiryu (Fukuoka)

I love how light tonkotsu ramen is in Fukuoka, compared to Osaka. This one from Ichiban Ichiryu, complete with chahan and gyoza, is a winner.

These IPAs (Osaka)

japan food guide
I know they are “drinks”, not “food”, but it’s my blog and I will feature beers whenever I want to. LOL.

Afuri Cup Noodles (convenience stores)

japan food guide
Another yuzu-flavored ramen, but in a cup. Found these babies in Lawson convenience store. I must go to Tokyo and try the true Afuri ramen restaurant.

Conveyor Belt Sushi (Kyoto)

japan food guide
Everything I tried at Daiki Suisan was good (in Kyoto).

This Bento from Tayoshi (Osaka)

japan food guide
I just went into a random shop in Namba, pointed at the menu (nobody speaks English), and found myself enjoying a lovely bento meal, complete with tempura, tuna sashimi, tofu, unagi with rice, and udon. LOVE.

Curry Pan from Saint Marc Café (Osaka)

japan food guide
Saint Marc Cafe Philippines probably has this but, yeah, try it.

What's your favorite Japanese food? Can you add more to this list? Anything I should try for my next Japan trip?

If you like my posts and would love regular updates on travel photos, food finds, restaurant reviews, dance articles, and drunken tales, follow Pepe Samson on Facebook!

pepe samson

About Pepe Samson

This is a short description in the author block about the author. You edit it by entering text in the "Biographical Info" field in the user admin panel.
    Disqus Comment
    Facebook Comment


Post a Comment

Let me know what you think!