Japanese Delicacies That Surprise Foreigners and Where to Find Them in Tokyo
This article will feature exquisite delicacies that are eaten in Japan. Get ready for a stream of dishes that will surely shock you and make you unintentionally utter, “They eat that in Japan?!” Read on to learn more about these delicacies and the restaurants in Tokyo where you can eat them.
Basashi is a dish in which raw horse meat is sliced thinly and then eaten after a quick dip in soy sauce together with spices such as ginger and garlic. Horse meat has long been eaten in Kumamoto, a region that boasts the largest production of horse meat in Japan. It is a well-known fact that Japanese people often eat raw fish, such as sushi, which is loved worldwide. However, we actually eat raw meats often, too, as long as they meet our strict food hygiene standards.
I frequently order basashi as a snack for alcoholic drinks when I go to any izakaya (Japanese-style tavern). It has no smell, tastes sweet, and is tender, so it’s really delicious. Basashi is a dish that is so familiar to Japanese people that you can even find restaurants that specialize in this delicacy.
If you want to try basashi, then you should check out Baka Uma. Its bestseller “Select Basashi 5-Piece Platter" (2,490 JPY (incl. tax)) is an excellent assortment of fresh and rare horse meat cuts! Here, you can enjoy exquisite basashi that you won’t find anywhere else.
Access: Approx. 2-minute walk from Nishi-shinjuku-gochome Station on the Toei Oedo Line.
Shirako is the sperm of fish, often taken from puffer fish, cod, and monkfish. It is a versatile ingredient that is used in various Japanese dishes, including pickled dishes, soups, hot pot dishes, and grilled foods. While it is commonly served in sushi restaurants, izakaya, and restaurants in Japan, many foreigners apparently hesitate to eat it, as they claim “it looks gross” and “it looks like a brain.” When I saw it the first time, I didn’t have the courage to eat it either, but I still ate it because it was recommended by a friend. I thought it had an extremely smooth and rich taste, and I was instantly hooked!
Gin is a restaurant where you can sample Japanese cuisine that incorporates the finest seasonal ingredients. Here, you can relish superb shirako dishes that are painstakingly created by skilled chefs. If it’s the first time you’re trying shirako, then you should order the Matara Shirako Ponzu (900 JPY (incl. tax)). It uses homemade ponzu (a sauce that is made primarily of soy sauce and citrus juice), and will let you enjoy the simple taste that is inherent to shirako.
Access: Approx. 3-minute walk from Kasai Station on the Tozai Subway Line.
3. Karashi Mentaiko
Karashi mentaiko is cod roe that has been marinated in chili pepper sauce and other ingredients. A specialty of Fukuoka, it can be eaten many different ways, such as on top of rice, grilled, or in a hot pot dish. I see it a lot at supermarkets, so I often buy it. There are plenty of theories on when it became popular and came to be a part of Japanese cuisine, but what is clear is that it spread far and wide in Japan after Fukuya, a long-established shop of karashi mentaiko, started to produce and sell it around 1949.
Motsufuku Marunouchi Building Branch
If you feel like eating karashi mentaiko, then you might want to visit Motsufuku Marunouchi Building Branch. Here, they have a selection of dishes unique to Fukuoka, a region that is famous for its production of karashi mentaiko. This restaurant’s popular Japanese Black Beef Steak and Hakata Uchikawa Mentaiko-zukushi Course (5,000 JPY (incl. tax)) will treat you to an assortment of karashi mentaiko served in various ways, including grilled, in a hot pot, and deep fried!
Access: Approx. 1 minute walk from Tokyo Station on the Marunouchi Subway Line.
Suppon is a type of soft-shelled turtle that has been eaten in Japan since ancient times, especially in the western regions, and has now become a popular dish throughout the country. Considered as an extremely precious ingredient because it is very nutritious and boosts the body’s immune system, you can only eat it in a limited number of places, including high-end restaurants and dining spots that specialize in suppon dishes. I have never eaten suppon, but it is one of the fancy delicacies that I definitely want to try.
Den'ichi Minami Shinjuku Branch
At Den'ichi Minami Shinjuku Branch, you will get to taste exquisite dishes that use suppon that have been raised in an excellent natural environment. Try to order the Premium Suppon Course (12,500 JPY (excl. tax)) and savor suppon cooked several ways, such as hot pot and fried.
Access: Approx. 1 minute walk from Exit 6 of Shinjuku Station on the Toei Oedo Line.
Hoya (sea squirt) is a type of chordate, which is considered to be a species close to animals. It may be often thought of as shellfish or fish because it lives in the ocean, but it is actually a marine animal that does not belong to either category. Regardless, it is a strange delicacy that has thick, sweet flesh that reminds you of shellfish. There are more than 2,000 types of hoya, but only a few of them are edible. While it is not an everyday dish in Japan, you will still occasionally see it in izakaya, supermarkets, and other places.
Fuwari Nihonbashi Branch
Fuwari Nihonbashi Branch is a restaurant where you can enjoy dishes that use hoya caught from the Sanriku coast (a coast that straddles the Aomori, Iwate, and Miyagi regions). Its menu is filled with fine hoya dishes such as Hoyasashi (prices start at 830 JPY (excl. tax)), or hoya sashimi in English; Hoya Tempura (900 JPY (excl. tax)); and Hoya Shabu-shabu, where ingredients such as fish or meat are thinly sliced and parboiled in hot soup stock before being eaten.
Access: Approx. 1 minute walk from Exit B1 of the Nihonbashi Subway Station.
Did you find a delicacy you would like to try? You will probably be surprised when you see the delicacies featured in this article up close, but they are all really delicious! So, if you ever visit Tokyo, make sure to try any of them.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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