The Best Places in Japan for Food Lovers

Head to Shimoda for some of the best seafood in the world
Head to Shimoda for some of the best seafood in the world | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lucy Dayman
2 September 2021

When it comes to food specialities, nobody does it better than Japan. Though Tokyo has everything and Kyoto is the home of traditional dishes, there are so many other places to try along the way. Taste buds tingling? Here are the best places in Japan for food lovers to visit.

Trying unfamiliar food can be fun, but it can be daunting too! Join our guided 12-day trip to Japan to ensure you always know what you’re eating, and the best places to eat it.

Shimoda: seafood wonderland

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Shimoda, Japan on Perry road at twilight.
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Sitting on the southern point of the Izu peninsula about four hours from Tokyo is the humble port town of Shimoda. As well as being a scenic retreat from the manic energy of city life, it’s also where you’ll find some of the best seafood in the world. The town is home to a number of fish markets, while local restaurants specialise in squid, baked fish and kinmedai – a crispy golden eye snapper that’s quickly gaining popularity internationally.

Hokkaido: dairy, especially cheese

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If you head up to the more northern area of Japan you’ll get to Hokkaido prefecture. The capital is the chilly city of Sapporo, home to some of the most exciting winter festivals and the best dairy products in Japan. Though Japan may not be know for cheeses, Hokkaido does produce delicious world-class cheese. One food you cannot miss is the Hokkadio cheese tart – consider it the smaller flavour-packed cousin of the cheesecake. It’s a warm bed of gooey sweet cheese lava contained by a crispy, buttery pastry and potentially the most delicious sweet you haven’t yet tried.

Morioka: wanko soba, aka little tiny bowls of soba

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In Japan soba noodles (buckwheat) are not unique, however the city of Morioka in Iwate Prefecture does soba a little differently. Known as wanko soba, this dish is essentially an eating competition disguised as a meal. In the local dialect wanko means bowls, and here in Morioka soba is served in stacks of tiny bowls. If you go to a special soba restaurant, you’re designated a server who waits for you to finish your bowl before restocking you with another mouthful of fresh warm noodles. Once you’re filled to the brim simply cover your bowl (the I’m done sign) and the meal is finished.

Osaka: takyoyaki octopus balls

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Sometimes considered the cool grittier cousin of Tokyo, Osaka has a lot going for it. But it’s their takoyaki that really brings the masses. Often referred to in English as ‘fried octopus balls’, takoyaki is the perfect on-the-go, after drinking, during drinking and everything in-between snack. It’s like a traditional form of fast food. Consisting of fried crispy batter containing tiny chewy pieces of octopus formed into golf ball-shaped bites and covered in sauce and mayonnaise.

Okinawa: umibudo, little salty sea grapes

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Sea grapes / Green caviar (Caulerpa lentillifera) a healthy seaweed food
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Okinawa is a fascinating island. It’s home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world and some of the longest living locals too, so they must be doing something right. The one food you have try here is umibudo, also known as sea grapes. Considered a common snack, this strange seaweed consists of tiny beads that bust and release a slightly salty taste of the sea.

Kobe: kobe beef, of course

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Kobe is probably the most famous beef in the world, and is a prized Japanese delicacy and probably the most widely known regional speciality food in Japan. One of the many breeds of wagyu, aka Japanese cattle, kobe beef is always tender, and flavourful and marbled with fat. The most common way to enjoy kobe beef is in shabu shabu (a soup filled with boiled meat), sukiyaki (Japanese hot pot) or teppanyaki, where the chef grills the meat in front of his guests.

Yokohama: ramen

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A display shows noodles surviving an apocalyptic explosion while such items as cell phones are destroyed at the Cup Noodles museum in Osaka.
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Located only 40 minutes from Tokyo, Yokohama is the often overlooked cousin of the capital. But if you’re visiting Tokyo don’t miss an opportunity to pop by. Yokohama is arguably home to the most food museums in the country, one of which includes the ramen museum. It makes sense because it’s one of the most underrated ramen centres of the world. Legend has it that the first Japanese ramen shop actually opened here in Yokohama.

Nikko: yuba, weird but delicious tofu skin

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When in Nikko the one food you have to try is yuba. Basically a version of tofu, or more graphically, a food made from the surface skin that forms on top of soy milk when it gets hot – it sounds disgusting but tastes delicious. The greatest appeal of yuba is versatility – like tofu, it reflects the flavours in which it’s cooked but with a much more interesting, chewy texture. The best way to eat it is as the locals suggest, in a bowl of hot noodles.

Fukuoka: infamous but delicious fugu

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Fugu sashimi served with chives, fugu skin and yuzu sudachi citrus, Otsubo fugu restaurant, Tokyo, Japan, October 24 2009.
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Fugu is a bit of an urban legend on the culinary scene, and the best place to find it is in Fukuoka. This delicious (though deadly if you don’t cook it right) blowfish is easily accessible for a decent price here in the capital of Kyushu Island. Whether you want it in a hot pot, sashimi style, or fried, you can get it in Fukuoka.
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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