Sukiyaki, teriyaki, tempura, and sushi are only some of the many foods eaten in Japan. In this article, I would like to suggest three Japanese dishes for you to try. I love these dishes, but I had never heard of them before visiting Japan.
1. Cold ramen
Cold ramen is served in restaurants from May through September. Ramen is boiled and then chilled in cold water. The ramen is then poured into a bowl without any broth. Sometimes the ramen is served over ice cubes or with a few ice cubes in it. A soy-sauce based or sesame seed sauce is generally used for the cold ramen and a dash of hot Japanese mustard is on the side of the bowl to mix in with the ramen. The ramen is then covered with cold toppings. Cucumbers, eggs, and ham or pork are the most common. They are served cut in long strips, but you can also find other toppings on your cold ramen.
Okonomiyaki is a giant Japanese pancake, but this unique pancake is not to be confused with the pancakes we eat for breakfast in the states. In Japanese, okonomi means what you like and yaki means grilled. Okonomiyaki has two parts: the batter and the ingredients added to it. The batter includes eggs, flour, and shredded cabbage. The ingredients added to the batter vary widely and can be one or more of the following: pork, octopus, squid, shrimp, clams, scallops, oysters, vegetables, natto, kimchi, mochi, and cheese.
While okonomiyaki is made and eaten at home, eating it in restaurants is far more common. Some restaurants serve a standard okonomiyaki. That is, the table server brings you a plate with an okonomiyaki on it, but most Japanese prefer to eat their okonomiyaki in restaurants specializing in it, restaurants where you cook it yourself. The server will bring you the batter and the ingredients. You can mix the batter and add the ingredients, cooking at your table on a hot grill in the middle of your table. You can cook, play with, and eat your okonomiyaki.
The word takoyaki uses the same yaki as you can find in okonomiyaki and many other Japanese foods. If you look yaki up in a Japanese to English dictionary, you will find it defined as roast (for pork), broil (for fish), grill (for chicken), bake (for bread), and do (for meat, fish, and chicken) as well as a host of other definitions. Like okonomiyaki, takoyaki also uses a batter. Octopus and a few minor ingredients are mixed into the batter. The batter is then poured into a mold that cooks the batter into small balls while evenly heating them. You could think of takoyaki as miniature octopus muffins, although they are a little heavy to be muffins. Takoyaki, unlike the okonomiyaki and cold ramen, is not a meal, but a snack. You will often find it sold at festivals. Poorly cooked takoyaki is heavy, doughy, and sits in your stomach like lead. Properly cooked, the hot dumpling tastes of octopus and a bread-like dough covered with a thick soy sauce like sauce.
As Japanese food continues to disseminate around the globe, you are more likely to find these three tasty foods. I recommend that you try each of them. If you cannot find any of the three where you live, you might want to think of coming to Japan for a food trip.