Japanese cuisine is vast and interesting. There are so many different dishes and styles of food to try, from sushi to soba noodles. But what items are must-tries the first time you visit a Japanese restaurant? Here are some traditional selections that will help introduce your palate to the wonders of this cuisine.
Miso soup is a clear soup made with miso, which is a fermented soybean paste, along with dashi, green onions, mushrooms, and sometimes tofu. Some restaurants automatically bring a cup of it with every meal. It's worth trying since it's warm and delicious, and because it's so popular in Japan.
If you plan on ordering an appetizer, gyoza are a good choice for your first visit. These Japanese dumplings are very popular. They are steamed and then pan-fried, which gives them a lovely texture. Gyoza are typically stuffed with cabbage and pork, and you dip them in soy sauce before eating them.
Another appetizer worth trying, Harumaki are the Japanese version of egg rolls. They are thinner and crispier than Chinese egg rolls. The filling usually consists of pork, shrimp, mushrooms, carrots, and sometimes a little rice. They often come with a sweet dipping sauce.
Yakisoba is a very popular stir-fried noodle dish made with thick soba noodles. The noodles are combined with thinly sliced veggies, and sometimes also some pork or chicken, and then tossed in a sweet, teriyaki-like sauce. This is generally served as an entree and is a great dish for kids and picky eaters.
Ramen is a noodle soup. You've probably had the packaged variety, which is sold very inexpensively in most grocery stores. Real ramen from a Japanese restaurant is so much more complex than the packaged kind. It's made with rich broth and topped with tasty ingredients including mushrooms, hardboiled egg, and scallions.
Matcha Ice Cream
Most Japanese restaurants do not serve a long list of desserts. But they do generally offer matcha ice cream or green tea ice cream. This is definitely worth ordering on your first visit since it will give you an idea of what dessert is like in Japanese cuisine. It's creamy, flavorful, and like most Japanese dishes, only a little sweet.
If you order a few of the above dishes when you visit a Japanese restaurant for the first time, you'll be pretty much guaranteed an enjoyable and representative meal.