“Why is there corn on my pizza?”
Let’s talk about food in Japan! Not to sound cliché but the best way to experience somewhere is food and Japan doesn’t disappoint. I’m a firm believer in trying things out (within your dietary restrictions, obviously). I’m a longtime vegetarian (20+ years) and eat a mostly vegan diet at home but sometimes I flex with dairy & eggs when I travel (triggers collective vegan *gasp*). I definitely paid for this on my last trip but that’s another story.
Here are a few things that might catch you off guard about food in Japan but are totally legit:
What is on my pizza?
Need I tell you that pizza isn’t a traditional Japanese food? The most Japanese thing about foreign foods like pizza are the twist they put into it to make it their own. Some unusual toppings might include: corn, baby spinach leaves in place of basil, mayo (Kewpie), potatoes, all manner of seafood & more. Don’t be put off by it, just try it out!
What is sweet bean paste & why is it in everything?
If you’re not familiar with Asian food then this one can be a bit odd, but I really love it! Sweet red bean paste can be found in pastries, mochi & more. Slightly earthy and sweet, my favorite is eating this in taiyaki (fish shaped cakes).
Why do people buy meals at 7-Eleven?
Biggest shock of all: you can get a decent meal at 7-Eleven, Lawson & Family Mart (all convenience stores) in Japan. I don’t know your stance on it but here in America I wouldn’t ever entertain the idea of buying prepared food at a convenience store. Maybe I’m a snob, maybe I wouldn’t find anything that I could even eat, whatever. The point is that you can get a good (and cheap) meal or snack at a convenience store. Soba, tempura, buns, tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and sandwiches. I would recommend the tamago sando (egg salad sandwich – even Anthony Bourdain got down with these, RIP) and the onigiri (rice balls) – just watch the filling ingredients if you’re not eating fish (they contain everything from seaweed to red beans to tuna with mayo).
Wait, are people lifting their bowls to their faces when they eat?
Totally fine! You’re better off slurping your noodles and it’s considered decent table manners to lift the bowl to your face with rice or noodles. Just take a peek around and follow suit.
What is up with this teapot looking thing they brought out after my soba dish?
So I’ll open with this: soba is my jam! I like the cold soba best and could probably eat it everyday….topped with nori….yum! Anyways, if you order soba at a restaurant you’ll usually be given a teapot looking vessel towards the end of your meal. This is actually part of the cooking liquid from the soba and is thought to contain high levels of nutrients. You’re supposed to take this and pour it into your leftover sauce (when you’re done!) and drink it like tea. It’s very salty and earthy but it’s tasty.
Why did my dinner companion pour my beer for me?
If you’re dining with others in Japan it’s considered proper manners to pour for others and let them do the same for you. Kampai!
What’s with the mayo?
It’s just…a thing. And it’s not just any mayo, it’s Kewpie. The Japanese take their mayo seriously and it’s used fairly liberally as a topping for things like pizza & okonomiyaki and can also be a filling for onigiri.
What’s being said at the table?
You’ll notice Japanese people saying something before they eat – Itadakimasu. It’s a way to recognize, show respect & appreciate the food that’s about to be consumed. Also very good form if you’re dining with others, FYI.
If you’re wanting to read more on some Japanese customs you can check out my Know Before You Go: Japan post. Looking for a place to stay in Tokyo? Read more about Machida here!
What food related customs/practices have you come across on your travels? I’d love to hear about them!
LinaAugust 2, 2019 at 11:53 am
You don’t have idea how much I enjoyed reading this blog post! It seems that Japan not only has amazing things to do but there is too much to eat! Japan is on my bucket list, I hope I can vivist there soon
MorganAugust 5, 2019 at 1:07 pm
I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Lina! I would highly recommend Japan for a bucket list destination (and there’s certainly a ton of unusual & delicious things to eat!). Thanks for commenting!
MariaAugust 2, 2019 at 7:13 pm
Food customs around the world are so fascinating. I had know idea about most of these. What an immersive post!
MorganAugust 5, 2019 at 1:06 pm
Hi Maria! I agree about food customs – it’s so interesting how vastly different they are from place to place. Glad that you enjoyed the post!
TaylorAugust 2, 2019 at 7:17 pm
I would love to visit Japan some day! A few years ago I spent a lot of time with some Chinese people from my church when I lived there in California. They taught me so much about there different customs and all about their food, which I really enjoyed eating and learning more about their culture.
MorganAugust 5, 2019 at 1:05 pm
I hope that you get to visit someday! It’s incredible and especially interesting due to the cultural differences and deep history. Thanks for commenting!
MamaAugust 2, 2019 at 11:47 pm
Looks interesting! And the thing about convenience stores at gas stations… I seriously thought the same thing until I moved to Texas. For whatever reason, there’s GOOD gas station food here, y’all! And I’ve had the bean paste before… it’s pretty good.
MorganAugust 5, 2019 at 1:04 pm
Glad they have decent food in Texas gas stations – here in the Northeast that is NOT the case! It definitely makes it easier to grab a quick bite when the options are reliable.
Adriana ReneeAugust 3, 2019 at 8:14 pm
I love Japanese food! I always get snacks shipped to me.
MorganAugust 5, 2019 at 1:03 pm
I like your style! I also get some snacks shipped (some things you just can’t find!) – what are your favorites?
StephanieAugust 26, 2019 at 8:07 pm
Ummm okay this was beyond fascinating to read through. I never knew of some of the foodie traditions and customs of the people in Japan. How interesting that they use mayo (Kewpie) with everything, or enjoy red bean paste so much (though I will say this is good in mochi for sure)! Thanks for sharing.
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