No fish for you? 15 non-fishy Japanese foods you didn't know existed!
No fish for you? 15 non-fishy Japanese foods you didn't know existed!
Many of us know that Japan is famous, among other things, also for its food - but what if you aren't too fond of it?
Surely you shouldn't feel like avoiding your dream vacation to Japan just for that!
While in Japan, you may change your mind about Japanese food - after all, there are so many different things to choose among that are usually not available abroad, but in the meantime, we compiled a list of alternatives to the Japanese dishes you know and may not like much, that should keep you content and full during your stay!
1. Ethnic food restaurants
In Japan in general, but especially in Tokyo, you'll find a large number of restaurants that serve food from all over the world. Tokyo is one of the food capitals of the world, and it's not so only because of the many choices available in terms of Japanese food, but also because it's home to restaurants specialized in dishes from virtually every country.
With not so much research you'll be able to find in Tokyo Italian food, French, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian, Indian, Pakistani, Korean, Chinese, Greek, and so much more (pretty much any country you can think of).
Furthermore, if you have any dietary restriction, in Tokyo you'll find restaurants that serve vegetarian food, vegan, halal, kosher, or gluten-free. Outside major cities, however, the range of choices may diminish.
2. Family restaurants
There's a kind of eatery in Japan referred to as famiresu - short for family restaurant. These restaurants resemble an American-style diner and have a very large menu with mostly western-style dishes, from hamburger plates to pasta, steak, different kinds of potatoes, grilled chicken, a host of salads and so on. They usually also have a very large dessert menu.
Depending on the restaurant they have different selection of dishes (and it's always a lot of them).
Furthermore, they are very easy to find and tend to be quite inexpensive as well.
8 Major Family Restaurant Chains in Japan
1. Bamiyan (Chinese)
2. Denny's (Diner)
3. Jonathan's (Diner)
4. Royal Host (Diner)
5. Saizeriya (Italian)
6. Pronto (Italian)
7. Bikkuri Donkey (Hamburg Steak)
8. Ikinari Steak (Steak)
3. Convenience stores
The whole territory of Japan is littered with the so called conbini (convenience stores). These are 24/7 stores that sell a little bit of everything (as well as offering a number of services, from processing payments, bank transfers, mailing postage, etc.). Of course, they also sell drinks and food.
Some of the items you'll find in a conbini will be Japanese food, but you can also find a very large selection of sandwiches, wraps, pasta dishes, chicken, cold cuts, bread, beef dishes, rice dishes, and so on.
Here it's also where most people go get their onigiri. Although strictly speaking a typical Japanese food, an onigiri is a rice ball, plain or seasoned, simple, or with a filling of fish, or vegetables, beef, chicken and more (all of this with different seasonings), allowing for a large range of choices.
Here you can also find pastries, cookies, chips, chocolate and various different snacks and a wealth of drinks.
8 Japanese Convenience Store Chains
4. Daily Yamazaki
5. Circle K Sunkus
4. Fast Food
Like everywhere else in the world, Japan doesn't lack western fast food chains. You'll find a McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken virtually anywhere. In larger cities you'll also find Burger King, Wendy's and a bunch of other fast food chains.
Patrons often say that fast food joints taste better in Japan than they do in the U.S. or other countries. It's hard to know if it's true, but this could be your chance to judge it yourself.
5 Japanese Fast Food Chains
1. Freshness Burger
2. MOS Burger
3. Lotteria (burgers)
4. First Kitchen
5. Mister Donut
5. British-style Pubs
5 Pub Chains in Japan
2. 82 Ale House
5. Rose & Crown
6. Skewered meats and other grilled foods
Regardless of your country of origin, chances are that you are familiar with some version of skewered meat. Japan has its own, called yakitori (lit. grilled chicken). Despite what the name suggests, yakitori come in many different combinations (chicken, pork, beef, vegetables).
Oftentimes, places that serve yakitori have an enormous selection, and some of the choices may look a little too unique, but if you don't feel adventurous, or you don't like sauces, or pre-seasoned food, you will always find simple varieties like salt, salt and pepper (spicy or mild), and certainly something that wouldn't look or taste too "foreign" to you.
9 Izakaya Chains in Japan
4. Kin no Kura
9. Wara Wara
7. Yakiniku - Japanese-style Korean BBQ
Similarly to what we said about yakitori, chances are that you're familiar with grilled food. A very popular type of food in Japan is yakiniku (lit. grilled meat). Yakiniku is a style of grilling meat inspired by the Korean one.
Yakiniku restaurants are very common and you can find places that will have an all-you-can-eat menu (you pay a fixed price and you eat all you can for 90 minutes, or two hours, usually). Others will not have an all-you-can-eat-menu. They tend to be of higher quality and a little pricier.
Regardless, these restaurants will have a very large selection of meat and veggies that you can choose from, with many different seasonings and dipping sauces (if desired – otherwise you can keep it as simple as you want to).
Yakiniku restaurants will serve raw meat and veggies that you will grill yourself at your table on a gas grill or on a charcoal grill.
While yakiniku is indeed a typical Japanese dish, it's no different from grilled meat from anywhere else in the world (assuming that you don't select typical Japanese cuts, or animal parts, or traditional Japanese seasonings).
Surely you know of ramen, a very popular Japanese noodle widely consumed also in its "instant" variety.
Unlike what you may find abroad, though, ramen in Japan is offered in a plethora of different flavors, soups, and hot or cold. Even if you're not a fan of Japanese flavors, chances are that there will be some kind of ramen that agrees with your personal tastes.
Furthermore, Japanese noodles are not limited to ramen. On the contrary there are a huge number of different kinds of noodles you'd be able to enjoy. Each one of them has many sub-categories. Some of the most popular are udon and soba.
Once again, the choice is seemingly limitless, as you can find noodles served with a number of soups (or without), with meat, fish, veggie, or bland soup or flavoring, all kinds of toppings and side dishes that are very accessible even (and especially) if you are not a fan of Japanese food.
9. Fried chicken
Save dietary restrictions, most people like fried chicken.
Japan is famous for its version of it, karaage. Don't get thrown off by its very Japanese name, though. While karaage is one of the most popular dishes in Japan, its name simply distinguishes it from its counterparts from the rest of the world.
Karaage can come in the simplest of forms, or with flavoring of cheese, soy sauce, spicy or mild (and more depending on the place serving it).
For those who have not acquired a taste for "too Japanese tasting" dishes, karaage is a sure shot that makes all Japanese food lovers and non agree.
Japan is famous for its seafood. For this reason, many visitors think that the largest majority of Japanese dishes is based on fish. This can be quite troublesome for those who don't really like seafood, or fish in general.
Actually, though, Japanese dishes are equally divided among fish and meats (probably leaning more towards the meats part). One thing that is ever-present, though is vegetables.
Side dishes, main dishes, snacks, and on-the-go meals, are often based on vegetables. You'll find dishes of grilled, boiled, raw, or steamed veggies almost anywhere you go.
Very much part of Japanese diet, they are very easy to find, and they rarely have a very distinctive Japanese-style flavor to them.
Some dishes you should try, are:
・Edamame: Soybeans served boiled, steamed, or raw, with or without salt.
・Pickled cucumber or okra: Usually served as an appetizer, these are light, flavorful, and not too adventurous dishes.
・Namatsu: Kind of salad made with raw veggies and sweetened vinegar.
・Potato Salad: Yep, Japan is indeed really big on potato salad. Chances are you're already familiar with some form of potato salad, but even if you're not, it's a very accessible flavor.
There are many vegetable dishes in Japanese cuisine. Some more unique, others more familiar to foreigners. Try a few.
11. Fried foods and tempura
We covered fried chicken, but, as healthy as Japanese cuisine usually is, it is also big on fried dishes.
In supermarkets, conbini, and restaurants, you'll often find a host of fried chicken, alongside lightly or deep fried vegetables, seafood, fish, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and more.
Once again, what you eat greatly depends on your personal tastes. You won't have to try something that tastes too unique to you, unless you choose to. There is such a large variety of possible dishes that you'll surely find something that you already know you're going to like.
Tempura refers to a particular way of frying food coated in a unique dough. The most famous tempura, at least abroad, is usually shrimp, but tempura actually comes also as mushrooms, eggplants, carrots, bamboo, chicken, or lotus root (and much more), and it's served with either salt, or a dipping sauce, or both.
If you're not a fan of Japanese food, tempura can easily be a good alternative to all the items in the list. Its crunchy and flavorful texture is its staple, but the flavor changes a lot depending on what kind of tempura it is, making it accessible to anyone, regardless of their passion for Japanese food (or lack thereof).
12. Rice bowls
A common misconception about Japanese food, among those who have never visited Japan, is that a lot of the food that populates Japanese culinary tradition is "very Japanese", meaning that it's something that you'd enjoy only if you have acquired a particular taste for certain flavors.
In reality, while in part this may be true, the vastest majority of Japanese dishes are accessible and easy to eat for anyone, regardless of their cultural background.
A prime example of this is the many dishes "over-rice" you'll find in Japan.
These are dishes of white rice, topped with beef, pork, veggies, or chicken in a variety of seasonings and flavors.
Usually they are meant to be a one-dish-meal. If you don't like rice, this is obviously not a good choice for you, but otherwise, you don't need to be too adventurous to find something you like (for example you can go for a topping of grilled beef, or teriyaki chicken, or steamed vegetables).
5 Rice Bowl Chains in Japan
Like some other dishes in this list, tonkatsu is a staple of Japanese cuisine, but especially by itself, it's a relatively simple and very flavorful dish that you're going to love if you're looking for something that won't push your comfort zone.
3 Tonkatsu Chains in Japan
Most Japanese cafes are quite similar to one another. If you're looking for something particularly familiar, then you may be right at home within one of the many Starbucks.
If you want to try something new, but without drifting too far away from the familiar, try one of these!
13 Japanese Cafe Chains in Japan
2. Excelsior Cafe
4. Caffe Veloce
5. Moriva Coffee
6. Ginza Renoir
7. Cafe de Crie
8. St. Marc Cafe
10. Komeda's Coffee
11. Cafe Colorado
12. WIRED CAFE
13. Miyama Coffee
Japan is really big on sweets. You can find the uniquely Japanese traditional desserts (called wagashi), or a number of desserts and cakes based on chocolate, vanilla, custard, fruit, different creams, ice cream, and so much more.
You could theoretically try a different kind of sweet for every meal, and you won't eat the same one twice during your stay in Japan.
If you want to have some more insight on Japanese sweets, look at the link below!
There you have it!
Whether you like Japanese food or not, you'll have plenty of options to choose from during your stay in Japan. Food here is part of the culture, but it's only a segment of the many things you'll probably love when you visit.
If you're searching around and still not finding exactly what you would like to eat, why not give a human a try! Located in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka, Gurunavi's Restaurant Information Centers have multilingual concierges who are happy to help you find something yummy to fill you up.
Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!
Follow us on social media!