It’s so easy to think that Japanese food is all about sushi, but this is easily dispelled when you travel to the culinary destinations in Japan. Japanese cuisine is probably the most unique in the world and it is recognized as such because it and French cuisine are the only cuisines on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Although at first some foods may be strange to Western palates, I urge you to try as many items as possible when you visit the best culinary destinations in Japan.
It is hard to find a better place than Tokyo to taste some of the most extraordinary Japanese cuisine. As the country’s capital it follows that food culture is immensely rich here and a heaven for the foodies who will enjoy several surprises here. While you can easily find deep-dish Chicago Pizza and Oregon steak at American-style cafes, restaurants, and bars in Tokyo, pass them by. Take the opportunity to taste some local Japanese dishes, and what could be better than sushi, or as they call it, Edomae Sushi in Tokyo. Just head straight to the market called 'Tsukiji' to test out this dish – and other seriously fresh fish products. Other popular dishes like izakaya, tempura, ramen, and teriyaki make Tokyo one of the finest culinary destinations in Japan.
Hakodate on the island of Hokkaidō is one of the nation’s favorite Japanese foodie destinations. Best foods here include a variety of ramen dishes along with jingisukan, a Mongolian-inspired barbecued lamb dish. Interestingly, a hearty bowl of ramen, with its special flavor, is not something you can call light fare, as in Hakodate, some restaurants make it so delectably unctuous that a lunchtime bowl can keep you full until the evening. Fish is high on the menu of course, and you can enjoy several types of scallops, squid, crab, and tuna. Many restaurants here specialize in 'kaisen donburi,' which may look like fresh seafood on rice, but the taste will blow your senses for sure. Don't forget to visit the "Asa ichi" morning market, as that's where you can find some of the best and most appealing seafood restaurants.
The best dish of Osaka is probably Takoyaki, and that's not only because it's tasty, but also because it's exciting. It seems like a ball but with a little twist – every ball has an octopus cooked inside it. Okonomiyaki is another popular choice, which is more of a batter pancake with toppings of meat, squid, and shredded vegetables – the use of dried tuna fish, powdered seaweed, and sweet brown sauce makes okonomiyaki of Osaka a different flavor to elsewhere. The availability of other dishes like udon, sushi, and kushikatsu, and Shoyu ramen makes Osaka one of the best places to enjoy Japanese cuisine.
The old capital is definitely one of the best culinary destinations in Japan and especially for vegetarians. Don’t like tofu? The many ways it is prepared and served in Kyoto can change your mind. A visit to the 400-year old restaurant Nakamura-ro will give you a chance to enjoy the best kaiseki-ryori. For vegetarians, a variation of the same dish is on offer at Izusen – it is called shojin-ryori. The taste of these dishes will linger even after you've finished your share.
The first thing you'll notice soon after you arrive in Matsumoto is that it has a surprisingly metropolitan atmosphere with a perfect mix of historical sites and traditions. The Soba noodles that people in Matsumoto make from buckwheat should always be on your list of must-try foods here. Once there, don't forget to try Tsukune, if you love chicken; it's a dish consisting of chicken-skewered meatballs and quail eggs stylishly placed on sides.
If you are looking for one of the best places for food in Japan, Nagoya should be one of your stops. This fascinating food city has many incredible regional specialties that outnumber other cities in Japan. Grilled eel, or Unagi, as the locals call it, is one of the best dishes you really don't want to miss trying in Nagoya. Those folks at the famous Atsuta Horaiken restaurant definitely know some trick to make this dish even more special – they offer the sauce-basted strips of eel that they use as a topping on rice with wasabi paste and spring onion, or dried seaweed.
This food town is quite popular for its sake breweries, but you're definitely going to get some impressive opportunities to taste special and extraordinary dishes, like hoba miso. This dish is a perfect mix of beef or vegetables with miso paste – the chefs in Takayama roast it on magnolia leaves to give it an authentic taste that is hard to find elsewhere in Japan. Be sure to hit the Suzuya restaurant to taste the best Japanese cuisine and Sansai-Ryori, the dishes made from local mountain wild plants, vegetables, and ferns.
For any adventurous foodie, the culinary destinations of Japan are incomparable when it comes to dishes that intrigue, fascinate, tempt, and yes, sometimes revolt. It truly is the food experience of a lifetime. Have you tried Japanese cuisine (other than sushi – and California rolls don‘t count!)?
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