10 Alternative Eats to Try in Japan for the Curious Foodie

10 Alternative Eats to Try in Japan for the Curious Foodie

If you find yourself quite the adventurous eater, why not give these a try the next time you’re in Japan?

From funky fashion trends to mind-blowing technology, Japan is overflowing with the quirky, bizarre and unconventional. This celebrated culture also seeps into the kitchen, and one can easily find seemingly strange local foods on top of the usual fare. So move aside, ramen and sushi! If you are fearless when it comes to what’s on your plate, quell that curiosity by giving these ten alternative eats a try!

1. Ramen in Chocolate Broth

Image credits: Mensho Tokyo Instagram (left);  @mintomaple (middle); @yuta110tokyo (right)

To up the ramen game a notch, Mensho Tokyo came up with a quicky ramen combination that uses a chocolate and pork broth concoction instead of the usual soup broth. The dish is then topped off with scallion, pork slices, and even MORE chunks of chocolate. 

Other wacky ramen versions include Aroma Café’s coffee ramen that features a bowl with coffee broth and noodles topped with fruits, salami and cheese. It is even finished with a brazen scoop of vanilla ice cream! Ajito Ism in Tokyo also serves a peculiar amalgamation – pizza ramen. With noodles soaked in tomato sauce and served under a bed of traditional pizza toppings such as tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and garlic, it is by no means an ordinary bowl of ramen! Would you give these bowls a go?

2. Nattō

Image credit: Party Lin

If you like Taiwan’s stinky tofu, then perhaps you might relish Japan’s version of stinky food – Nattō. This stringy dish is made of soybeans that have been fermented with nattō-kin bacterium. A funky dish native to Japan, nattō is usually consumed during breakfast by many locals.

Although it is said to contain numerous health benefits, you don’t see crowds making a beeline for this! Due to its pungent smell and slimy-sticky texture, Nattō requires an acquired taste.

3. Hachinoko (Candied Bee Larvae)

Image credit: merec0

For those who have tried fried insects on sticks in Thailand, the sight of hachinoko probably won’t faze you. Hachinoko are bee larvae that have been candied with sugar and soy sauce. Its exterior is a little crunchy – probably due to the exoskeleton – but is mostly chewy on the inside.

The Japanese usually have them mixed in with their rice or snack on them straight out of the jar itself! Hachinoko is regional to the Nagano Prefecture, so if you’re interested in popping a few of these babies, make sure to give it a go when you’re in the area.

4. Wasabi Beer

Image credit: Rakuten Japan

Fancy a pint to wash it all down? We’d gladly take it after tasting all the weird Japanese dishes! Here is something less bizarre yet strange all the same – wasabi beer.

One popular brand is Baird Beer’s Wabi-Sabi Japan pale ale, which is a unique hybrid version of alcohol with a tinge of uniquely-Japanese flavour incorporated into it. Local Japanese wasabi and green tea are combined into the smooth light profiles of Pale Ale and India Pale Ale, giving it a bold flavour with a slightly spicy kick.

Wasabi beer can be found in most restaurants or craft beer pubs around Japan, so give it a shot for a refreshing spin on drinks night!

5. Shirako (Fish Sperm)

Image credit: Koji Horaguchi

Do not be deceived by its appearance Shirako is not one for the weak! Shirako refers to milt, which are… the sperm sacs of fish. Yes, you heard us right! They’re literally fish testicles.

Described to have a mushy texture and a milky, briny taste, this odd dish pushes one’s palette to the extreme. Would you dare to give this a try?

6. Horse Meat Sashimi

Image credit: y_ogagaga

Tired of the salmon or tuna sashimi? Why not swap it for basashi (raw horsemeat) sashimi instead? Basashi is often served raw à la sashimi style, with thin slices dipped in soy sauce, ginger and onions. For those we prefer your meats cooked, you can also try yakiniku (grilled) horse meat.

Although horse meat can be found at most sushi restaurants, it is most popular in the Kumamoto Prefecture off Western Kyushu. Just try not to think about pony rides you enjoyed as a kid while chowing down on this!

7. Cream Stew and Spaghetti Napolitano flavoured Ice Cream

Image credit: Akagi Nyugyo website

Everybody loves having a good ol’ classic ice cream cone for dessert. However, make sure you check out what flavour you’re getting before absentmindedly purchasing your sweet treats in Japan! The ice creams in Japan can come in wacky flavours, such as corn soup, cream stew, squid ink, miso, and even spaghetti napoletano!

8. Horumon (Variety of Grilled Innards)

Image credit: pelican

Horumon or Horumon-yaki refers to barbecued beef or pork offal. Think they’re just the usual intestines or kidneys? You’re wrong! It’s a whole bunch of other grisly parts entirely.

Common horumon items include gari (esophagus), haatsu (heart), shibire (pancreas) and even teppō (rectum). We don’t know about you but it will definitely take a lot of guts for us to stomach this!

9. Shiokara (Salted Fermented Fish Guts)

Image credit: ayustety

Shiokara is another dish that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. A popular snack during drinking sessions, it is made from heavily salted and fermented fish guts. You can easily find this dish at most traditional izakayas and sushi shops.

Described as viscous and pungent, Shiokara is a challenge even for the most adventurous of foodies. It is often consumed with a shot of straight whiskey or saké to counter the umami (saltiness). Order extra bottles of saké for a much-needed boost of courage and you’re good to go… or not.

10. Soft Serve in Corn Cobs

Dominique Ansel Bakery sells this unique creation known as Crème de la Corn, which is a freshly grilled corn cob topped with a swirl of homemade caramel sweet corn soft serve and corn caramel. Veggies for dessert? How novel!

Indeed, variety is the spice of life, particularly to the Japanese! This list has different levels of queerness that cater to the mildly intrigued to the wildly dauntless of foodies. So, what do you say? Are you ready to give these curiosity-evoking gastronomical delights a go?

About Author

Beatrice Tan
Beatrice Tan

Beatrice absolutely loves stargazing and often fantasises about going into space one day. However, since she won’t be an astronaut anytime soon, her heart is set on being a globetrotter instead. She is always craving for a new adventure, and believes that travel nourishes the soul. You can most likely find her strolling around the museum, or in a quiet café with her nose buried in a book, and a soy latte in hand.