a bowl of edamame and skewers

Top 10 criminally underrated Japanese dishes

by: Hideo Takahashi

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Time to read 8 min

Top 10 criminally underrated Japanese dishes

Japan is well known for having a vibrant and unique culinary culture. In addition to the large availability of traditional ingredients from the mountains and the sea, Japanese people are also good at arranging dishes from other countries in Japanese style. While there is an image of Japanese people having a shy and reserved personality, they can be very enthusiastic and passionate about food! Japan is still full of popular meals that are little-known outside the country yet are delicious: here is a list of some of these "unexposed" dishes, appetizers, and even desserts you will surely appreciate!

Underrated Japanese appetize

Edamame

"Edamame" refers to the immature soybeans in the pod, which are collected when they haven't ripened yet and are still green. Edamame is a familiar food that can be used to make different meals, such as edamame rice, purée, or even confectionery; the most common cooking method is to boil the pods and eat the beans with salt. Since the harvest season of edamame is between June and In August, it has become a tradition to eat salted edamame with beer in Summertime. Nowadays, as Japanese food has spread more and more in the world, and soybeans have become popular among people from overseas countries as well: they go well with alcohol, are a low-calorie treat, and are a natural, vegan source of proteins!
Edamame

Agedashi tofu

Tofu is known worldwide for being a versatile food with high nutrient levels, but have you ever tried fried tofu? "Agedashi tofu" consists of tofu covered in batter, fried, and seasoned with broth or soy sauce. The truth is, it tastes amazing! Its unique texture, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, and the broth's flavor, which is well soaked in the tofu, make the perfect side dish to enjoy at home and in izakaya or restaurants. You can also put grated daikon radish or green onions to add some freshness!
Agedashi tofu

Underrated Japanese noodle

Zaru soba

"Zaru soba" consists of buckwheat flour noodles, which are boiled, cooled, and served in a basket- shaped container; therefore, zaru soba is mainly considered a Summer dish. Soba noodles have a smooth and chewy texture, and to preserve their unique flavor, they are usually enjoyed just by being dipped in a soy sauce-based soup. Still you can also add green onions, ginger, and wasabi to adjust it to your palate. Buckwheat flour is known for being rich in nutrients, and soba is a particularly appreciated dish among health-conscious people. For this reason, you may be served "soba yu" when you go to a soba restaurant: the water used to boil the noodles, and we highly recommend you try drinking it! Fun fact: the name "zaru soba" derives from the fact that it was served over a bamboo filter, called "zaru", in the Edo period.
Zaru soba

Underrated Japanese meat

Basashi

"Basashi" is a raw dish that consists of thin sashimi of horse meat, mainly served with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. It might sound quite dangerous to eat raw meat. Still, horses have a higher body temperature than other animals, and therefore it is more difficult for bacteria to breed, so horse meat is safer than beef and pig meat. The history of basashi is still a mystery: it is said that when Japanese samurai were dispatched to Korea; they ran out of food and had no choice but to eat war horses. They discovered that horse meat was very delicious, so they continued eating basashi after returning home.
Basashi

Underrated Japanese seafood

Namero

"Namero" is a dish that is said to have been originally made on boats by fishermen: it consists of grated fresh fish mixed with miso and flavored vegetables, and today, it is mainly served as a snack for alcohol. Its name, namero, is derived from the word "nameraka," which refers to the smooth texture of this dish.

Underrated Japanese nabe

Houtou

"Houtou" is a local meal from Yamanashi prefecture: it is made by adding ingredients such as pumpkins, potatoes, mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, meat, etc., to flat noodles kneaded with flour and stewed in miso soup. It is said that Shingen Takeda, a famous Sengoku warlord, also used to eat houtou during the war. Houtou might look just like udon, but its flat noodles have a characteristic chewy texture; since it is a local dish, we recommend you try houtou while visiting the Koshu region.
Houtou

Underrated Japanese donburi

Oyakodon

Have you ever heard the term "donburi"? This word has two meanings: first of all, it refers to a thick and deep container, and also, it is the name of a meal consisting of rice with various ingredients on top of it. There are many donburi dishes in Japan, and "oyakodon", meaning "parent and child donburi", is one of its most popular versions. Oyakodon is a dish in which chicken seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and sake, is mixed with a raw egg and placed on top of rice; in fact, the reason why it is called "parent and child" comes from using chicken meat and eggs together. Eating raw eggs is a unique custom, and it can be done because Japan has extremely high hygiene standards and stringent quality controls. You can eat oyakodon both at ordinary restaurants and in high-end Japanese restaurants.
Oyakodon

Katsudon

Another popular donburi dish is "katsudon": it is cooked by frying meat with eggs, soy sauce, sugar, and alcohol to make a cutlet, then put it on rice. Its seasoning and appearance are relatively similar to oyakodon. Still, the combination of fried cutlet and rice is also considered an auspicious dish to eat when you're studying to pass an exam.
Katsudon

Underrated fried dish

Goya champuru

"Goya champuru" is a local dish of Okinawa and, although nowadays it can be found in restaurants, it is Generally, it is not something that can be eaten at home. "Champuru" means "mixed" in the Okinawan dialect: goya champuru is made by mixing tofu, various ingredients, and, most importantly, bitter melon (Nigauri, called "goya" in Japanese). Goya itself is a pretty unfamiliar ingredient, consisting of a bitter melon covered with a lumpy, hard green skin;. At the same time, many people dislike the unique flavor of goya, it is a vegetable containing many vitamins, and it may be the reason why Okinawan people have a high life expectancy.
Goya champuru

Underrated grilled dish

Yakizakana

The most popular Japanese dish is sushi, but have you ever tried Japanese style-grilled fish? Since many fish species are harvested in Japan, seafood is one of the main ingredients of the Japanese culinary tradition: it can be eaten raw, grilled, boiled, fried, or smoked. You can also add salt, soy sauce, and miso seasonings. In addition, fish can provide omega three and have low-calorie levels, too! So why don't you try these "alternative" Japanese fish recipes?
Yakizakana

Underrated Japanese sweets

Yokan

Yokan is a traditional Japanese sweet made from agar-agar and red azuki beans. It looks like a red bean paste block, and since its expiration rate is not as early as other Japanese sweets, it is often given as a gift to colleagues and friends. Yokan is often served during tea ceremonies, too: its sweetness goes well with the bitterness of Japanese green tea, and because of its popularity among people of all ages, it can be easily found in confectionery shops and local supermarkets. Yokan can be colored and decorated differently based on seasonal motifs.
Yokan

Manju

Manju is a confectionery consisting of steamed (or baked) flour wrapping containing bean paste: a typical Japanese confectionery you can see anywhere if you come to Japan, even in convenience stores! There are two main types of manju, baked and steamed: thanks to its variations and seasonal flavors, manju is one of the most popular souvenirs for many occasions.
Manju

Monaka

Monaka is a kind of Japanese confectionery consisting of bean paste wrapped between two wafers; it may contain chocolate and ice cream as well, and today, it has become one of the most popular treats among tourists, as it combines Japanese and Western culinary traditions. Monaka also has many seasonal variations like other sweets, and chefs use only high-quality products.
Monaka

Underrated Japanese fruits

Nashi

Nowadays known globally as the "Japanese pears", nashi is pretty different from the typical Western pears: they are way sweeter, and their smooth texture will remind you of apples! Nashi were traditionally collected between Summer and Autumn, but nowadays, they can be found all over Japan at any time of the year. Their natural sweet flavor makes nashi great for juices, cakes, sweets, and even liquor!
Nashi

Yuzu

Yuzu is a citrus fruit that has been cultivated since the Nara period. It looks like an intermediate between oranges and tangerines, and their unique acidity and aroma are enjoyed in quite unusual way: in fact, rather than eating the yuzu itself, it is a popular method to use the peel to scent Japanese mainly cuisine and sweets. In addition, just like plum wine, which is widely known in the world, Japanese restaurants often serve a yuzu-based liquor called "yuzu sake". Also, on the day of the Winter solstice, there is a custom in Japan to enter "yuzu-yu", a bath with floating yuzu: this tradition started in the Edo period when public baths were built. According to a popular belief, on the Winter solstice, the power of the Sun revives, and therefore it is an occasion to cleanse yourself to exorcise evil spirits.
Yuzu

Ume

Ume, or Japanese plum, is known for its intense sourness and high antibacterial effects. It has been used in China as an acidulant since BC, and it is considered to be the oldest seasoning along with salt; it is also said that it was introduced to Japan as a medicinal tree in the Nara period. This plum is often eaten as an "umeboshi", meaning it is dried and salted; you can easily find onigiri or bento boxes containing umeboshi, thanks to the fact that, due to its high salt concentration, the umeboshi guarantees an antiseptic effect even on hot Summer days. In addition, note that Japanese people enjoy the sourness of ume: there are many candies, sweets, salty snacks, and liquor that are ume-flavored. While Japanese food has become a global boom, many dishes have yet to be discovered elsewhere. Japan has a very complex and unique history, and finding the "unknown" side of its culinary culture will be an exciting and tasty experience that will allow you to get a glimpse of the traditions handed down from the ancients for hundreds of years.
Ume

Author Bio

Author Bio

Hideo Takahashi

Hideo Takahashi

Born in Tokyo in 1990. Founder of JAPANBITE and CEO of its operating company, GRID Start, Ltd.
Established the company in 2023 after being an IT engineer.
Inspired by his travels to 15 countries and a deep love for Japanese food, he launched a service to contribute to small local Japanese manufacturers' businesses and allow many foreigners to enjoy Japanese culture.

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