Japan, renowned for its rich cultural heritage and stunning landscapes, is also a paradise for food enthusiasts. From delicate sushi to rich, steaming bowls of ramen, Japanese cuisine offers an array of flavors and textures that are sure to delight the taste buds of adventurous travelers. Experiencing Japanese cuisine is just one of many facets of our student travel program in Japan.. Hopefully this introduction gets your mouth watering ahead of your travels.

Sushi: Beyond the Basics

No culinary exploration of Japan would be complete without diving into the world of sushi. You may be surprised to find that some of the ‘classic’ rolls we eat in the West, as well as certain ingredients (like avocado) are mostly unheard of in Japan. Instead, prepare yourself for a panoply of ingredients you’ve likely never heard of, and along with them, a multitude of textures, tastes and new favorites. Even at ‘casual’ sushi places, called “Kaiten” or “Revolving” sushi, you can sample classics like salmon, maguro tuna and the coveted king of umami: toro (fatty tuna) alongside more adventurous options like flying fish roe, fermented soybeans, or crab guts! It goes without saying that due to the geography of Japan and the prevalence of seafood in the traditional Japanese diet, this will be some of the freshest, most expertly-prepared sushi of your life! 

Ramen: A Comforting Bowl of Goodness

When it comes to comfort food, few dishes rival the soul-warming goodness of ramen. Made with chewy wheat noodles swimming in a rich, flavorful broth, ramen is a staple of Japanese cuisine that offers endless variations to explore. Whether you prefer the creamy tonkotsu broth of Fukuoka or the tangy shoyu base of Tokyo, sampling different styles of ramen is a must-do for any food-loving traveler. Don’t forget to customize your bowl with toppings like soft-boiled eggs, sliced pork belly, and nori (seaweed) for the ultimate experience.

Tempura: Crispy Delights

Tempura, a dish of lightly battered and fried seafood and vegetables, is another culinary gem waiting to be discovered in Japan. Known for its delicate crunch and subtle flavors, tempura showcases the freshness and quality of ingredients that define Japanese cuisine. Head to a tempura restaurant or izakaya (Japanese pub) to sample an assortment of tempura offerings, from plump shrimp to crisp vegetables like kabocha pumpkin squash and shiitake mushrooms. Tempura is often served as a side with udon noodles or buckwheat soba noodles. The chilled noodles and warm crunchy tempura make a perfect pair in the hotter months! 

Street Food Adventures: Takoyaki and Karaage, Taiyaki

For a taste of Japan’s vibrant street food culture, be sure to seek out stalls and vendors serving up classic snacks like takoyaki and karaage. Takoyaki, savory octopus balls cooked to perfection in a special molded pan, are a popular street food snack beloved by locals and visitors alike. Meanwhile, karaage offers skewers of perfectly-fried  chicken that has been marinated in a punchy ginger-soy concoction. Taiyaki is named for a fish (Tai means red snapper) but actually contains no fish. Taiyaki is a pressed wheat pastry, cooked in something like a waffle-iron that creates a fun pastry in the shape of the fish. This fish-shaped cake is typically filled with the sweet red bean paste known as anko. Summer festivals are full of stalls offering these staples, and you’ll often see couples in traditional yukata chowing down on these as they walk through the festival grounds.

Exploring Local Markets: Fresh Flavors and Hidden Gems

To truly immerse yourself in Japan’s culinary scene, take a stroll through bustling local markets like Toyosu Market in Tokyo or Nishiki Market in Kyoto. You’ll find an abundance of fresh produce, seafood, and specialty ingredients that are essential to Japanese cooking. Mountain aromatics, seasonal vegetables and staples like gobo, daikon and lotus are plentiful, as well as some handmade ‘ready-to-eat’ dishes! It is so fun to interact with local vendors to learn more about the ingredients and traditions that shape Japanese cuisine. 

Embrace the Journey of Taste

When embarking on any culinary adventure through Japan, remember that food is more than just sustenance—it’s a gateway to culture, tradition, and community. Whether you’re slurping noodles in a bustling ramen shop or savoring the delicate flavors of sushi at a high-end restaurant, each bite offers a glimpse into the heart and soul of Japan. The name for a ‘chef’ in Japanese is shokunin, which roughly translates to ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan.’ The seriousness and attention to detail that Japanese people bring to their food is readily apparent in every dish. From immaculate presentation to exceptional flavor, Japanese food is a stunning experience for all of your senses. So, embrace the journey of taste, savoring every moment and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

> Click here to learn more about our program in Japan.