Taiyaki, yakitori, and ramen are all foods to try in Japan.

For students

8 foods to try in Japan based on YOUR everyday eats

Trying new foods is one of the best ways for travelers to get outside of their comfort zones and immerse themselves in new cultures. Whether you’re looking for a more authentic version of a familiar treat (Cup Noodles, we’re looking at you), or ready to sink your teeth into something you’ve never seen before, check out this list of the top 8 foods to try in Japan based on foods you already know and love.


Okonomiyaki is a food to try in Japan

01 / If you like omelets, try okonomiyaki

A popular street food from Osaka, this crowd favorite falls somewhere between a frittata and a savory pancake. Much like omelets, the dish is highly customizable—in fact, it comes from the words okonomi, meaning “to one’s liking,” and yaki, meaning “grilled.” Variations aside, the dish usually includes wheat flour, eggs, dashi stock, cabbage, and either meat, seafood, or mochi cheese. (Choose the latter if you like chewier textures.) Lastly, the dish is topped with the diner’s choice of bonito flakes, dried seaweed, scallions, Japanese mayonnaise, and/or a sweet, umami-flavored sauce that tastes similar to Worcestershire sauce.



Taiyaki, which are similar to danishes, are a food to try in Japan

02 / If you like Danishes, try taiyaki

Seafood is everywhere in Japan, so you’d be forgiven for assuming taiyaki, a cake that’s shaped and named like the tai fish, is filled as such. But bite in, and you’ll get a sweet surprise of red bean paste, custard, or chocolate. So why the maritime moniker? It all started in 1909, when a baker was struggling to sell his standard, circular cakes. To increase sales, he tried molding the batter to look like tai, because the animal is a Japanese symbol of good luck. Lucky for him, the new shape paid off and reeled all the customers in.



For a popular food to try in Japan, look out for daifuku.

03 / If you like mochi, try daifuku

Mochi, a sweet and chewy Japanese treat made from glutinous rice flour, is already very common in the U.S.A. Daifuku is simply mochi with a filling inside, usually red bean paste or fruit. This wagashi, or Japanese candy, can be found year-round in Japanese grocery stores, bakeries, and outdoor stalls. However, fillings change based on the season. Depending on when you visit, look out for favorites like ichigo daifuku, a springtime variety that has a whole strawberry inside, or ume daifuku, a Japanese plum-filled mochi popular in late winter and early spring.


If you're a fan of chicken kebabs, you should look out for yakitori as a food to try in Japan.

04 / If you like chicken kebabs, try yakitori

Like kebabs, yakitori is made up of small pieces of chicken that are skewered and grilled on a stick. You can choose from several different cuts of the meat, ranging from thighs and breasts to livers and skin. “When I was on tour, I tried the chicken heart yakitori,” says EF staff member John C. “It isn’t something I’d readily find back home, and I like that the restaurant didn’t waste any part of the animal.”

A top food to try in Japan is sea bream nigiri, which has a somewhat similar taste and texture to tuna nigiri.

05 / If you like tuna sushi rolls, try sea bream nigiri

You can find multi-ingredient sushi rolls all over the United States, but you might be surprised to learn these aren’t actually as popular in Japan. Instead, you’ll see more sashimi (thinly sliced raw fish, seafood, or even meat) or nigiri (sashimi on top of a small mound of wasabi-smeared rice). If you’re already a sushi connoisseur, you probably can’t wait to visit Japan and sample everything from eel to uni. But for anyone who’s a little intimidated by raw fish, we recommend trying sea bream. It’s a popular choice, and relatively similar in taste and texture to tuna.


Matcha annin tofu is an excellent food to try in Japan if you like pudding.

06 / If you like pudding, try matcha annin tofu

Silky smooth with a somewhat gelatinous texture, this chilled dessert is a refreshing way to end your meal. It has a multilayered flavor that’s both sweet and bitter—thanks to its inclusion of matcha powder, the ingredient that also lends the treat its bright green hue. As for its name, this is another Japanese food that’s a little misleading. While it’s called tofu, the recipe doesn’t use soybeans, tofu’s main ingredient. Instead, the dessert is simply named for its similarities to silken tofu’s texture and appearance.


Similar to croissants, melonpan is a delicious food to try in Japan.

07 / If you like croissants, try melonpan

Despite its melon shape (and melon name), this popular Japanese treat doesn’t actually have any fruit in it. Instead, it’s a sweet bread that, like croissants, is soft and fluffy on the inside, is crispy on the outside, and gets very flaky if you attempt to share it by breaking off pieces on an otherwise pristine indoor bench—as EF staff member Will C. learned firsthand. Melonpan comes flavored with syrups ranging from chocolate to maple to, yes, melon, but Will suggests the traditional. “Melonpan is already coated in a thin layer of cookie dough,” he explains. “It’s already perfect as-is.”

A top food to try in Japan is ramen.

08 / If you like Cup Noodles, try (better) ramen

Last but certainly not least: ramen. Really, could any list of the top 8 foods to try in Japan be complete without it? There are many different regional varieties, but the four most popular types are shoyu (which is made with soy sauce), shio (made with salt), miso (made with…miso), and tonkatsu, which is made from simmered pork bones and is incredibly rich and creamy. Plus, you just can’t miss out on the experience of dining at a ramen shop. Sure, the lines often stretch out the door, but ramen truly is a fast food that lets the line move quickly, and you’ll get the opportunity to sit side-by-side with locals of all ages.

Expand your palate

Challenge yourself to sample one (or all!) of our top 8 foods to try in Japan, then let us know your favorites.

Sarah McLaughlin

Sarah is a senior copywriter at EF Education First. When she isn’t writing, you can find her browsing through bookshops, trying to cook, or going to improv class (which is basically just an excuse for adults to play make-believe).