Japan is a top place for food lovers but unfortunately most people only know about sushi and maybe tenpura or ramen. There is a lot more that Japanese families eat during their everyday meals and some flavors and textures are definitely to try!
I decided to collect 10 things eaten commonly in Japan that I didn’t know about before coming here. Try count how many you know!
1. Renkon (レンコン)
Believe it or not these are lotus roots, they can be prepared in various ways, shimmered, fried in tenpura batter or simply seasoned together with other vegetables. The texture is halfway between a potato and a pumpkin but the flavor is unique. It is one of my favorite foods in Japan so I put it at number one because it was the first thing that came to my mind when I decided to write this article.
2. Gobou (ごぼう)
In English this vegetable, or better root, is known with the name Burdock root and it is mainly used as a healing herb. In Japan it is cooked together with carrots and soy sauce to prepare a side dish known as kinpira gobou.
The Japanese expression gobou nuki is used referring to a person who runs passing many people, a common sight in Japanese train stations during rush hours. Probably the expression comes from the difficult activity of extracting gobou quickly from the ground.
3. Goya (ゴーヤ)
Again we are in the world of vegetables. Goya is typical from Okinawa and sometimes it is called bitter melon in western countries for its bitter flavor. Until some years ago it was eaten and known only in Okinawa but today it is famous all around Japan. I tried it during my trip to Okinawa and it is not bad stir fried together with, tofu, egg and sliced pork to form the famous Okinawan dish Goya Champuru.
4. Chiragaa (チラガー)
Chiragaa, or “pork face” is another food from the Southern Islands of Okinawa. In Okinawa they say that no part of the pork is wasted and literally everything can be eaten. Chiragaa is the result of this culture. Simply it is the skin of the pork face and it is cooked usually cut in thin slices and grilled together with vegetables. It is a bit chewy but very tasty.
5. Yamaimo (山芋)
Translated “mountain potato” or “mountain yam”. it is a root and it becomes slimy and sticky when grated to be eaten. It is one of those slippery foods loved by the Japanese but difficult to be appreciated by westerners. Yamaimo is often served together with soba and it is especially appreciated during summer. I tried it during my trip to Nagano but I confess I didn’t like it and my boyfriend was happy to eat also my portion.
6. Katsuobushi (鰹節)
This food is well known to takoyaki and okonomiyaki lovers. It is known as bonito flakes but it is not exactly what it is. The original katsuobushi is made by shaving thin slices of smoked skipjack tuna and bonito is used only sometimes as a cheaper alternative. It is sliced so thin that it seems like dancing when hit by the hot air produced by food.
Katsuobushi is a long lasting food therefore it is often given as a gift to couples who are getting married, as a wish for their long life together.
7. Yuba (ゆば)
Yuba is known as tofu skin, it is the result of boiling soy milk and let it dry in thin yellow sheets. It is sold dried, fresh or half dried. It can be eaten as main dish or used to wrap a filling. It is often used in restaurants that serve kaiseki dishes, especially in Kyoto.
8. Kuro Goma (黒ゴマ)
Kuro goma are sesame seeds but these are the black version. They are used often for baking to garnish and give flavor to bread and embellish snacks made with sweet potatoes. Japanese say that they are a powerful healing food that prevents aging. I love them on Japanese sweet potato fries called daigaku imo.
9. Funazushi (鮒寿司)
Funazushi is a special type of sushi made only in the area of Biwa Lake by the Kitamura family. It is made with a special type of fish, the crucian carp. The process to make this dish is really complicated and starts with the fish left decomposing for 4 years. Yes, it is not a typo, I wrote exactly that. To be precise it is left inside a barrel with rice for 4 years, every year the rice is changed, than the fish is dried for one day and put in a barrel with salt for other 4 years. As you can imagine it has a very strong taste and a very strong smell too. I cannot stand the smell and I don’t have the courage to taste it but my boyfriend dad likes it a lot and it is one of his favorite dishes.
10. Shirasu (シラス)
Known in English speaking countries as “whitebite” it is small young fish, usually anchovy in Japan but it can also be herrings, sardines or mackerel. They are entirely edible and they are often added to salads or fried and used as a topping for other dishes. It is very difficult for me to eat fish that is looking at me with its tiny eyes so, when I can’t refuse, I usually swallow it as quickly as possible and I don’t really know what taste it has.
Did you know some of these foods? How many? Tell me in the comments!
Cheers from Ichigo Soda o(*>ω<*)o