Japan is a culinary paradise. From fine dining to quick bites at convenience stores, the country is brimming with some of the world’s most delectable dishes. You can’t be squeamish if you want to experience everything Japan has to offer in the cuisine department, especially when it comes to how your dishes look. Sure, sushi is pretty, but the country is full of wonderful yet unappealing goods – here are a 11 Japanese dishes.
Most people are familiar with okonomiyaki, sometimes known as “Japanese pizza” or “Japanese pancake” depending on where you live, which is essentially a pancake-looking mixture of batter, meat, fish, and veggies fried on a hotplate. Now it’s time to meet monjayaki, the ugly cousin of okonomiyaki. In the simplest terms, this meal looks like vomit and is most popular in the Kanto region. This fried delicacy, with a runny, almost paste-like consistency, may not win any beauty contests, but give it a try the next time you see it on the menu at an okonomiyaki restaurant and you’ll be pleasantly pleased.
A slightly more controversial addition, natto is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of food, and the love-to-hate ratio is split down the middle. Known as a Japanese superfood, these slimy soybeans have been fermented with a bacteria that’s meant to do wonders for your digestive health. Covered in a stretchy film of bacteria, the beans look like the frothy little eggs of an alien insect. Beyond the texture, many people can’t quite handle the smell, which has been described as somewhere between dirty feet and hot garbage. Typically over a fresh bowl of hot rice, it’s been a Japanese breakfast staple for eons.
Umibudo translates to “sea grapes” in English, but it’s actually a variety of seaweed found in Okinawa’s tropical region. It’s a very unique delicacy that bursts in your tongue, producing tiny small flavor explosions that taste like the salty sea. It’s also frequently dubbed “green caviar.” The ideal way to eat them is as a salty little beer snack, as the natives do.
Shirako is a fish’s seminal fluid, or, to put it another way, fish sperm sacks. It is both visually and descriptively repulsive. Many Japanese izakayas (bars) and sushi restaurants serve it with a creamy, almost custard-like flavor. Consider it the masculine equivalent of caviar for a more digestible experience.
Have you ever consumed a snake? Why not try an eel? If you’re in Japan, don’t pass up the opportunity to eat unagi, grilled freshwater eel that’s a somewhat costly local delicacy. It’s not the prettiest of dishes, but it’s very popular in the summer. Unagi is often eaten plain, with a sauce on top and served over white rice. Unagi is so popular in Japan that it has two widely celebrated eel-eating days, July 25 and August 6. It is famous for its stamina-giving characteristics and unusual taste.
Have you ever felt compelled to eat the coagulated skin from a hot bowl of milk? Probably not, however after trying yuba, your opinion may change. Yuba is a form of tofu that looks like pale wrinkly strips of soft skin and is commonly found in more traditional-style eateries. It’s essentially simply the skin that forms on top of a boiling pan of soy milk, and the flavor is delicate, so it’s best appreciated with a savory sauce-type topping.
Tako means octopus in Japanese, and senbei means rice cracker, but tako senbei isn’t your average cracker. Tako senbei is, in fact, a crispy sheet made from the dried out, extremely flattened carcass of an octopus. Excited visitors queue up in beachfront villages like Kamakura, not far from Tokyo, to watch the senbei experts compress and squeeze an octopus into a virtually impossible paper thin sheet on which the octopus’ tentacle outlines can still be seen. It’s unlike any other rice cracker you’ve ever had. It’s mellow and almost sweet.
Nankotsu are fried balls of chicken cartilage that look like chicken nuggets gone bad and are generally savored with a beer at a local hole-in-the-wall izakaya. If you eat meat in Japan, be prepared to savor every part of the animal. Many yakiniku (cooked meat) restaurants have a section dedicated to unknown delicacies, and nankotsu is one of the more conservative selections.
Gokujyo Brown Sugar Karinto
These traditional Japanese delicacies resemble small poops or fat brown worms, but they’re actually a crispy chip version of a doughnut. They’re simple and deceptively easy to consume, made with flour, yeast, and brown sugar. These are more of an omiyage (souvenir gift) snack than a grocery staple, and may be found in a number of popular tourist spots across the country.
These tiny little baby sardines are almost too cute to eat, and putting them over your steaming dish of rice feels like a crime, but you won’t regret it once you taste them. These salty and crispy semi-dried fish are said to be high in calcium and have a slew of other health benefits.
Tarako, which resembles strange red, uncooked, gooey sausages, is salted roe that is commonly served in ongiri, with pasta, or on its own. Cod roe is the salty and fishy ripe fish eggs that are quite popular in a variety of Japanese recipes. Though salty fish eggs blended into creamy pasta may sound like a culinary nightmare, it is one of Japan’s strangely delicious culinary combos.