13 unusual Japanese foods you didn’t know existed 

As we know, unusual foods exist in every corner of the globe. However, as a country that is renown for shunning outside influences, visitors to Japan are shocked at just how different food is here compared to the west. Many visitors to Japan expect sushi to be as out there as it gets, especially as sometimes it is so fresh, you can still see it move on your plate. However, this article will aim to explore foods that are less famous, yet still warrant tasting in Japan. Many of these are incredibly delicious while others should be reserved for the more adventurous among us.

  1. Basashi 

Considered a delicacy in Japan, umeboshi is essentially raw horse meat sashimi. This is a practice that surprises many foreigners, particularly of whom never had horse meat in their country. However, horse meat is surprisingly delicious. Here in Japan, umeboshi comes in many forms with different cuts of the horse. The pieces range from full muscle meat to full fat meat. Here, I can unequivocally suggest muscle meat, particularly if it is your first time enjoying the delicacy. Unlike many other forms of sashimi, the condiments for umeboshi are surprisingly familiar with much of it resembling what you would put with a steak. Salt, garlic, soy sauce or ginger. As umeboshi itself isn’t too flavourful, these condiments go a long way in improving the flavor profile.  Overall, it is definitely an experience worth trying as once it is eaten, it is actually quite delicious!

  1. Shiokara 

This one is personal, for many foreigners who go to traditional Izakayas on their first few days and point at random Japanese kanji on the menu in a weird game of roulette, I definitely pulled the short straw. Shiokara is seafood viscera, commonly organs such as the placenta, intestines or any other lovely ‘delicacies’ that are left to ferment inside the originating animal before being liberally seasoned with salt. Although of course I didn’t know this when I ate it which helped considerably. Overall, I couldn’t say it was my favorite food, I would also have a hard time describing it as tasty. All I can say is that it is most definitely an experience and it will definitely encourage the drinking of sake.

  1. Kujira 

Whale meat in Japan can be enjoyed in many forms from sushi to steak, or in my case, fermented bacon. As you can tell, I’m not the most lucky in choosing random items from a menu. At first, it looks like a sort of presunto or prosciutto, albeit a bit fatty and yellow. However, upon tasting it I could quickly confirm it was no such thing. The flavor is very subtle, however the texture is very rubbery. It took me quite a while of chewing to get through my piece, although the flavor itself was neither unpleasant or pleasant.  However, it should be noted that I have heard many great things from my colleagues who recommend visitors to try whale steak as it is considerably less chewy. It is not a dish commonly found in Japan, but it is definitely worth a taste.

  1. Taraka & mentaiko 

At first glance, this red tube almost looks like a chorizo, the only give away was the veins running along the membrane. Taraka & mentaiko are both forms of pollock or cod roe and are very common in Japan making an appearance in every convenience store. In Izakayas, it is a common drinking food due to its cheap price and salty taste. The membrane is filled with tiny fish eggs, each filled with salty juices. Eating the membrane whole is common practice in Japan and the dish is nearly always served raw. Although, this does not sound appealing, it definitely sounds worse than it is! Although it is nothing mind blowing, the taste is much like mini caviar and the texture a bit more slimy. The salt makes you thirsty so you tend to drink more which is probably why it is such a great drinking food.

  1. Torisashi 

This may be baffling to those of us in the west of whom have grown up with severe warnings from parents and loved ones to never eat raw chicken. But in Japan eating most things raw is considered a delicacy because it is fresh. Although eating raw eggs is a lot more common, eating raw chicken is no stretch by any means. Raw chicken sashimi uses the chicken not exposed to the air to minimize risk of contamination. It is usually seared for a few seconds to clear the outside of bacteria. Although this might create some dissonance with us travelers, it is quite delicious when dipped in soy sauce and doesn’t taste too different to regular sashimi! If you’re not too squimish, I would definitely recommend trying this in Japan.

  1. Natto

Natto is simply fermented soybeans and is a common food in Japan making a number of appearances in Japanese rice dishes. Unlike the other things on this list, in my opinion it sounds a lot better than it is. However, much like marmite in the United Kingdom, this is a highly contested topic with many travelers either loving it or hating it. The texture itself is incredibly slimy and it smells a bit like feet. However, it is the taste that puts me off as it tastes of fermentation but not much else. Although, it is not inedible by any means, it is not something I would choose for myself. But as a traveler I think it is worth trying to see which side of the love it or hate it spectrum you fall on.

  1. Shirasu 

This dish resembles grated horseradish, I got to about halfway through my bowl at the izakaya until I realized that these ‘radishes’ had eyes and were in fact baby whitebait fish. While the idea of eating hundreds of baby fish whole may unsettle some. It is actually incredibly delicious, especially with the variety of sauces they come in. The taste is not too fishy at all and quite refreshing while the texture is snappy and enjoyable. It is commonly served as an appetizer or a topping and it is something I thoroughly recommend!

  1. Kare pan

Taking a break from the less enticing things in life, one of the most surprising yet delicious foods I have found in Japan came from a japanese shop selling doughnuts! However, these are no ordinary doughnuts. Here, in Japan, savory doughnuts are not rare in the slightest and are incredibly delicious. Kare pan, is in fact a curry filled doughnut, sometimes filled with fried pork cutlet. While this may seem strange, for those that like katsu curry, this is a must try. It is an incredibly convenient snack while traveling and is one of my favorite snack foods along with onigiri.

  1. Grilled tongues

While Yakiniku is an incredibly popular and tasty way to eat food in Japan, many travelers looking through the menu to find coveted wagyu are surprised to find a large selection of beef and pork tongues. While these pieces are not coveted in the west, they are commonplace in Asia. While this cheap cut may seem like an easy way to save money, it is also very flavorsome. While wagyu is definitely worth a try, it is very rich and may be hard to eat a large amount of, especially with the strain it places on your waller. Grilled tongues offer a cheap way to balance the meal and get your fill while still enjoying delicious Wagyu. I would even argue that it is a very good pairing of flavors. While slightly chewy, especially after wagyu, it is usually marinated and dipped in special sauces, soaking up many delicious flavors. Definitely a must try if you find yourself at Yakinikku!

  1. Fugu

Fugu, otherwise known as a blowfish, is one of the most poisonous fish in the world. Therefore, it is understandable why some question its viability on a dinner plate. However, I can assure you, it is incredibly safe and can only be made by incredibly trained chefs in select restaurants. There is no danger involved. As a bonus, it is also incredibly delicious and melts in your mouth. It is often served fried, in a hotpot or as sashimi. For a full experience, many restaurants offer course menus so travelers can get a holistic experience. However, it should be known that it is quite pricey and so while it may be worth it, it is probably a food you will only experience for one special evening in Japan.

  1. Nankotsu

Nankotsu, while seeming like popcorn chicken, is actually a dish made of fried chicken cartilage. Many of us will already have had experiences with chicken cartilage, whether in your own culture or when eating chicken wings. However, eating chicken cartilage in Japan is next level. This delightful snack can be enjoyed while drinking or at a restaurant as an appetizer. It is incredibly crunchy and rich, providing a very satisfying food. It can be found at most Izakaya’s in Japan making it a very accessible and delicious snack in Japan.

  1. Neba Neba

Neba Neba accounts for a wide variety of sticky, snot like food found in Japan. However, as the saying goes, you should not judge a book by its cover. Neba Neba is actually incredibly tasty, my favorite of which is made with Okra. While it may be quite hard to eat with chopsticks as it can be quite small and incredibly slippery, it is  definitely worth a try. It has a subtle taste, often taking the taste of its suce, usually ponzu or soy sauce. It is usually eaten raw but can easily be cooked or boiled. Other varieties includes Japanese mountain yam, seaweed or mushrooms.

  1. Shirako

Last and probably the least appetizing, Shirako is a fish sperm sack. It is an incredibly rich, buttery and creamy food that can be cooked or eaten raw. Many visitors I have encountered draw the line here and refuse to try this delicacy. In my opinion, it is more of a mental game as its taste is not too different compared to that of salty tofu. If you are feeling adventurous, this is definitely one way to experience something you can probably only find in Japan. It will also make an incredibly interesting story back home.

share this Article:

Still Curious? Here’s more

Contact Us

What should we call you?
What company do you represent?
Where can we reach you?
What would you like to discuss?

Request Meeting

Have a meeting directly with the company and start building a business relationship!
What Supplier are you interested in?*
Are there any products you are interested in specifically?
What Time/Day would you prefer to have a meeting?*
If this Time/Day is unavailable, what other dates would you prefer?
Do you require further information?

Please Confirm Your Details

What is your company's name?*
Where are you located?*
What is your phone number?*
What is your company website (Or SNS page)?*
What categories are you most interested in?*
What products are you interested in specifically?*
What is your company's main business?*
Which countries do you purchase from/sell to?*
Where do you sell your products?*

Sign in