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As a younger man, I had the wonderful experience of living and teaching in Japan. When I wasn’t working I was in tourist mode, experiencing the sights and sounds of one of the world’s busiest countries, along with its food, arts, and culture.

Japan was one of the first experiences I had of another culture and lifestyle. I still hold fond memories of my time there, and still enjoy Japanese cuisine nearly two decades later.

The thing is though… I don’t like sushi. Sure, it’s the first thing people identify when talking about Japanese food. I’ll eat it as a change of pace, or if I’m really hungry, but I’ll never be a fan, and that goes doubly so for sashimi (raw fish). Luckily for the sushi-averse, there’s a dazzling array of interesting Japanese dishes, flavors, and food experiences on offer.

If you are new to Japanese dining or looking for options other than sushi, then these dishes are sure to be worth trying out!

Japanese Restaurant
Image by djedj from Pixabay

1. Okonomiyaki

Image by pen_ash from Pixabay

The famous Japanese savory pancake Okonomiyaki translates roughly to “grilled however you like.” Okonomiyaki batter is made from wheat flour. You can put pretty much anything in one and put it on a griddle; however, meat, chicken, cabbage, and vegetables are the likeliest fillings.

Okonomiyaki tastes absolutely delicious, especially with spicy mayonnaise and a Japanese sweet brown barbecue sauce, and cooking it yourself with friends on a hot plate is an awesome social dining experience.

I once visited a five-story building in Hiroshima dedicated to crafting amazing okonomiyaki and could have stayed forever.

2. Kobe Beef

kobe beef
Image by 4638844 from Pixabay

Can a cut of meat be both overrated and underrated simultaneously?

Kobe is the most expensive cut of wagyu beef in the world, which means prices north of $200USD for a steak. My budget doesn’t extend to being able to afford Kobe beef, however, I’ve been lucky enough to try it once or twice at functions in very small quantities. The meat is rich with flavor and marbled delicately with fat, that when seared makes it taste almost irresistibly juicy.

If you love top-quality steak and the opportunity comes to try it, then of course you just have to give Kobe a-go! Be sure if you’re buying a Kobe cut to get it only from authentic meat purveyors, so as to avoid copies, fakes, and frauds that try to take advantage of the Kobe beef name.

3. Katsudon

Katsu Don
Image by Jason Goh from Pixabay

Katsudon is a breaded pork cutlet (tonkatsu) that’s served with a fried egg over rice (donburi). You can add some veggies and condiments if you’re looking for variation. It’s the Japanese equivalent to fried chicken as a staple on restaurant and household menus across the country, as a cheap, cheerful, and filling meal. Katsudon is a great way to either eat on the go or buy from your local supermarket to take home and cook or heat up.

Most of the pigs produced for meat in Japan get to roam across the snowy north Island of Hokkaido, a hands-off farming method that puts their pork products squarely at the top of the taste rankings.

4. Teriyaki

teriyaki chicken
Image by Larry White from Pixabay

Teriyaki is a marinade sauce based on a combination of mirin (cooking sake), shoyu (soy sauce), and sugar. I use teriyaki in everything from noodle stir fries to grilled chicken steaks and salads, or as a slightly sexier dipping sauce than soy.

Teriyaki is the epitome of Japan’s commitment to umami, the savory flavor characterized as one of Japanese cuisine’s six main flavors (the others being salty, spicy, sour, bitter, and sweet). You can make it yourself but I’m pretty lazy so make sure I grab a bottle whenever I go shopping.

5. Udon Noodles

Udon Noodles
Image by syu syu from Pixabay

Udon noodles are my favorite Japanese noodles, although there are a lot of cool ones to taste and try out. Udon are soft and delicious fat wheat noodles that are usually served hot in simple soup broth (known as kakejiru) or stir fry dishes.

Udon’s ability to soak up the flavors of herbs, spices, and sauces makes it a perfect noodle for versatility, and they are exceptionally filling. You’ll find that any time you order a bento box or lovely mixed Japanese set that there will be Udon in there to enjoy.

6. Shabu Shabu

shabu shabu
Image by DUKE NG from Pixabay

One of my colleagues at the time summed up shabu shabu as “the sound the meat makes when it moves through the broth,” which I think is bang on.

An awesome hotpot meal best experienced with friends, shabu shabu’s umami broth is pre-prepped for you to add the meat and vegetables you like. Great with traditional ceramic pitchers of sake, shabu shabu is a lot of fun, you can even try it at home.

7. Teppanyaki

Image by Rajeesh T K from Pixabay

As much fun as shabu shabu is, there’s nothing quite like getting eggs thrown at you by a professional Japanese chef with a cleaver and a cheeky sense of humor.

Teppanyaki is one of the most enjoyable interactive dining experiences you can have, regardless of the type of cuisine. Chicken, meat, rice, eggs, veggies – they all go on the hot plate for theatrical yet brilliant cooking, complete with crowd participation.

8. Japanese Curry

Japanese Curry
Image by chilllinwitme0 from Pixabay

If you’re looking for an unexpectedly delightful dish, Japanese karē is it. Curry has only been part of Japanese cuisine since it was introduced after the island-nation withdrew from isolation in the middle of the 19th century.

Japanese curry usually only has two or three vegetables – onions, potatoes, and carrots – and the curry comes straight out of a packet (unlike most slow cooked Indian and sub continental curries). Take a crumbed tonkatsu (pork cutlet) and a serving of rice, then add to it the unique, sweetly warm Japanese curry sauce for arguably the least well-known but best executed Japanese meal.

9. Tempura

Image by Mami Miyashima from Pixabay

Tempura is simple to make, but when done perfectly it’s a batter that is a cut above any other, as it’s light, fluffy, and tremendously crispy. It’s a simple combination of egg, flour, and iced water that is coated over seafood and/or an interesting range of vegetables and is then fried or deep fried.

Whenever you eat out in Japan at an Izakaya (traditional bar) a bowl of tempura is a cheap, great-tasting option to share with friends over a few drinks.

10. Yakitori

Image by lens_sekai_no_hikari from Pixabay

While yakitori may translate to ‘grilled chicken,’ generally speaking everything you can poke onto the end of a skewer falls under the yakitori umbrella. Meat, seafood tofu, and even other more mysterious items such as gizzard and urchin can find themselves on a stick of bamboo.

The Japanese delight in yakitori grilling, whether it’s done at home on a purpose-built grill cooker, enjoyed at a street stall on the run, or at a restaurant or izakaya with other share plates.


You need not be a sushi fan to enjoy the variety of dishes, tastes, and flavors that Japanese cuisine covers.

Given the cultural capacity for food as entertainment, plate sharing, and style mixing, getting friends and family together for a Japanese-inspired feat is an activity I highly recommended.

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