Explore 5 Lesser-Known Dishes From Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is renowned worldwide for its exquisite flavours, meticulous preparation methods, and artistic presentation. While sushi, ramen, and tempura often steal the spotlight, there are numerous lesser-known Japanese dishes that are equally deserving of attention. 

Okonomiyaki: Okonomiyaki, often referred to as "Japanese savoury pancakes," traces its roots to the Kansai and Hiroshima regions. The name itself translates to "grilled as you like it," which encapsulates the essence of this versatile dish. Okonomiyaki begins with a base batter made from flour, grated yam, water or dashi stock, and eggs. To this mixture, finely shredded cabbage is added, followed by a range of ingredients such as seafood (shrimp, squid, or scallops), thinly sliced pork, or an assortment of vegetables.

The preparation of Okonomiyaki involves cooking the batter on a hotplate or griddle until it achieves a golden-brown hue. The regional variations add depth to the dish's flavour profile. Kansai-style Okonomiyaki is typically topped with a sweet and tangy "okonomi sauce," a drizzle of creamy mayonnaise, a generous sprinkling of bonito flakes, and a scattering of dried seaweed. 

Takoyaki: Originating from the vibrant city of Osaka, Takoyaki has gained worldwide popularity as a beloved street food. These delightful octopus’ balls are made from a batter consisting of flour, eggs, dashi stock, and green onions. The batter is poured into specialized half-spherical moulds, each containing a tender piece of octopus, and cooked until the exterior turns crispy and golden.

The true allure of Takoyaki lies in its presentation and accompanying toppings. Once cooked, the fluffy balls are traditionally garnished with a luscious combination of okonomi sauce, creamy mayonnaise, dried bonito flakes that dance with the heat, and a sprinkle of vibrant green seaweed powder. 

The contrast between the crisp outer shell and the soft, flavourful interior, punctuated by the tender octopus morsel, creates an enticing textural sensation. Takoyaki embodies the spirit of Japanese street food, providing a burst of umami and a delightful on-the-go snack experience.

Chawanmushi: Chawanmushi, translating to "steamed in a tea cup," is a traditional Japanese appetizer that showcases the finesse and delicacy of Japanese cuisine. This savoury egg custard is crafted by whisking together beaten eggs, dashi stock, soy sauce, and mirin, which lends a touch of sweetness. The mixture is then steamed in small cups or bowls, resulting in a silky-smooth texture.

The beauty of Chawanmushi lies in its versatility. While the custard base remains consistent, a variety of ingredients are added to enhance its flavours. Shrimp, chicken, mushrooms, and ginkgo nuts are popular choices, offering both visual appeal and taste.

The umami-rich dashi stock and the gentle sweetness from mirin interplay to create a harmonious balance, elevating the dish's overall flavour. The delicacy and refinement of Chawanmushi make it an integral part of traditional Japanese cuisine, often enjoyed as an appetizer in kaiseki (multi-course) meals.

Yakitori: Yakitori, a staple of Japanese street food and izakaya (Japanese gastropub) menus, showcases the art of grilling bite-sized pieces of chicken on skewers. The preparation begins with marinating the chicken cuts, which can include thigh, breast, liver, or other parts, in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, and other seasonings. The marinated chicken is then skewered and grilled over charcoal or an open flame.

The beauty of Yakitori lies in its simplicity and focus on showcasing the natural flavours of the chicken. The grilling process imparts a smoky char to the succulent meat while the marinade caramelizes, creating a savoury-sweet glaze. The skewers are often served with a sprinkle of salt or brushed with tare sauce, a sticky glaze that enhances the umami notes.The variety of cuts used in Yakitori offers a diverse range of textures and flavours, providing a delightful and satisfying experience for both meat lovers and enthusiasts of Japanese cuisine.

Sukiyaki: Sukiyaki is a traditional hot pot dish that provides warmth and comfort during the cold winter months in Japan. The communal nature of this dish adds to its charm, as friends and family gather around a shared pot to enjoy the experience together. Sukiyaki features thinly sliced beef, tofu, shirataki noodles (made from konjac yam), and an assortment of vegetables such as napa cabbage, mushrooms, and green onions. The dish is prepared by simmering these ingredients in a shallow iron pot, typically at the table, in a flavourful broth.

The broth for Sukiyaki is made from a combination of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake, which infuse the ingredients with a rich umami flavour. As the ingredients cook in the broth, they absorb the savoury essence, creating a delightful amalgamation of flavours.

One unique aspect of Sukiyaki is the practice of dipping the cooked ingredients into beaten raw egg before eating, adding a silky texture and an extra layer of richness to each bite. Sukiyaki not only warms the body but also nourishes the soul through its communal spirit and the heart-warming flavours it imparts.

Conclusion: While sushi may have gained international fame, Japanese cuisine offers a vast array of lesser-known dishes that showcase the depth and diversity of flavours the country has to offer. From the versatile Okonomiyaki to the delightful Takoyaki, the delicate Chawanmushi, the simple yet flavourful Yakitori, and the comforting Sukiyaki, each dish has a unique story to tell.

By venturing beyond sushi, you embark on a culinary journey that reveals the hidden gems of Japanese cuisine, inviting you to savour new flavours, textures, and traditions. Embrace the opportunity to explore these lesser-known Japanese dishes and discover the true essence of Japan's rich gastronomic heritage.