Top Ten Japanese Dishes to Try
When you think about Japanese food, the first thing that comes to mind is sushi. It’s the one dish you find at an Asian restaurant and the rest is Chinese or Thai food. Well, if you ever stumble upon a Japanese only restaurant, here’s a list of dishes that you should try.
- Donburi [dawn-bury]: This are literally translated as “bowl”. It’s a rice bowl dish that has meat, fish, or vegetables along with other ingredients that are simmered together and served over rice! They’re pretty much stews on rice. They come in a big rice bowl (coincidentally called donburi). The sauce is dashi flavored with soy sauce. My dad makes it with soy sauce, water, and some dashi flavoring. There’s a ton of ways to make donburi so please, if you want a great meal, try this.
- Udon [oo-dawn]: This is a thick wheat flour noodle. You can eat udon in a soup or with a “hibachi style” meal. Udon is normally served as a hot noodle soup with dashi, soy sauce, and mirin topped with scallions. But there’s so many ways to make a soup with these noodles. I have to say this is my favorite dish from Japan. My dad introduced this to me as a child and I just had fun eating the the thick noodles and the broth is always so good. This also comes in a package like ramen noodles if you want it instantly.
- Curry: Curry is a dish you’d find in different countries. In Japan, curry has a different taste than you’d find in Indian or Thai food. It is still made from curry powder that you’d find in Indian spices, but it’s usually thicker in texture, tastes sweeter and less spicy. The most popular way it’s made is with deep-fried pork cutlet on top of rice. The usual ingredients added in the curry beside meat are potatoes, carrots, and onions. Luckily, if you visit the Asian section in your supermarket or an Asian Market, they have boxes of curry “instant roux” that you can cook with. The instructions are in both English and Japanese. Also, there are different spice levels to choose from: mild, medium, hot.
- Tempura: Tempura are pieces of lightly battered and deep fried seafood or vegetables. It can be served as the main dish or a side dish. I normally see it as a topping for rice bowls, udon or soba noodle dishes. Also, if you ever order a Bento Box, these are generally involved. They often come with a sauce that you can dip into before eating.
- Bento: Bento is a single portion take-out meal. Oddly enough, most of the Japanese restaurants I’ve been to in the United States have Bento “boxes” as part of their lunch menu. There are different types of Bentos out there, but the ones I see my parents usually order comes with hibachi chicken or steak with white rice, tempura, and a little salad. There’s usually sushi or raw fish that comes with it. When perusing through the menu and you happen to come across this, don’t glance over. There might be several dishes you like in one meal. I’d rather pay for that, than a bunch of orders that I’d just pick from.
- Ramen: I know, there’s instant ramen you can just buy in the store, but if you go to an authentic ramen noodle “bar” you should try it. I recently went to one in NYC and was appalled that someone would order something else that wasn’t ramen because they were to afraid to try it. Ramen comes in several different kinds of broth. Miso and Shoyu (soy sauce) are the most popular ones, but there are also Shio (salt) and Tonkotsu (pork bone). The best is to eat at a place where you can watch the chefs at their work. It’s amazing how much precision it takes to make the presentation of the soup look so good. When you get your bowl you almost don’t want to eat it, because it looks so pretty. That’s when you know you’re getting authentic ramen.
- Japanese BBQ (Yakiniku): Japanese folks love a barbeque just as we do here in the United States. This originated in Korea. The difference from getting BBQ here and there is that they bring out the meat and a tiny grill. There are sauces you can put on after you cook your meat. A common sauce is called “tare [tah-ray]” made from Soy Sauce mixed with sake, mirin, sugar, garlic, fruit juice, and sesame. But there can be other sauces made from garlic or miso as well. Along with the meat there are vegetables that are brought to you to grill. The kinds of meat they usually offer are: beef, pork, chicken, seafood.
The last few are going to be appetizers or side dishes:
- Gyoza: This isn’t a main dish, this is usually listed in the appetizers, but my goodness they’re so good. You can normally choose between fried or steamed, so you health conscious people can enjoy this, too. Gyoza is filled with pork or chicken and has some vegetables packed in a dumpling. Enjoy this with a soy sauce or the little sauce mixture that it comes with and let your taste buds soar.
- House salad (with house dressing): Okay, so you’re thinking why is this on there? Because their house dressing, if asked and they say it is ginger based, is amazing. I didn’t think I would like it because of the ginger, but one bite changed my mind. Sometimes, I wish I could just ask the restaurant to give me a whole bottle of their dressing so I can take it home. It’s that good. Trust me; don’t ask for the creamy dressings or your healthy balsamic vinaigrette. You won’t regret it.
- Edamame: Soybean pods with salt. Steamed. One of the many appetizers that you can eat without feeling guilty. The trick is to stick the pod in your mouth close your teeth at the end by your fingers and pull the pod out, leaving the beans for you to eat!
Get out there, find the closest Japanese (only) restaurant nearby, and try one of them!
Dessert to try:
- Mochi: These are Japanese flavored ice creams in soft rice cakes. Japan has different kind of ice cream that what we’re used to. The three flavors I’ve seen are: green tea, red bean, and vanilla. I’ve seen them in Asian markets, if you want to try them without going to a restaurant, I’d go there.