Eating lots of sushi is great, but it isn't quite an accurate representation of the wide variety of cuisine Japan has to offer. Below are 10 popular Japanese household and restaurant foods that you have to try if you have any interest in the food of the Land of the Rising Sun.
Okonomiyaki, meaning "grilled as you like," is a savory "pancake" typically made with a batter of flour, grated nagaimo (a type of yam), water, eggs, and shredded cabbage. The batter is fried, then pork belly is added. It's topped with mayonnaise, dried bonito (fish) flakes, green onions, and a delicious sauce. Like any popular food, there are some great variations of this one.
Onigiri are said to be as common as apples in Japanese schools. An onigiri is a soft rice ball that can be coated in seasoning, filled with sweet pickled plums (umeboshi), salty pork, or eaten plain with seaweed wrapped around to avoid the sticky rice. The possibilities are endless, so any kind you see, you have to try.
3. ラメん (Ramen)
At least once in your life, you have to try authentic Japanese ramen. With a rich, meat-based broth, fresh ingredients, and boiled eggs with yolks still runny. It's so much better than the cheap stuff, you might just cry. It's okay I won't tell anyone. Just find a good ramen shop in the US pronto.
Usually made with thinly sliced beef, sukiyaki is slowly simmered along with veggies and other ingredients in soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine. It is made at the table in hot-pot (nabe) style, meaning it's cooked right in front of you. I don't know how I'm supposed to deal with that when I'm hungry.
Tonkatsu is breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. Need I say more?
6. 饂飩 (Udon)
Thick chewy udon noodles can be put into soups with tofu and seaweed (nori), or coated in sauces and fried in a pan—either way they're a whole different game from the pasta I've eaten in America.
Yakiniku literally means "fried meat," and that alone gets my mouth watering. The pieces, typically beef but often fish, or pork, are grilled fresh. You might even get to grill it yourself at your in-table grill!
There are all kinds of Japanese croquettes (korokke). Try them filled with potatoes or ground beef, maybe even tuna! It often has a light crispy outside and steamy, flavorful insides.
The Japanese contribution to fried food is tempura, a light and crispy batter that anything from shrimp to veggies get coated in! Again, it's refreshing because it's different from American deep-fried foods.
10. 団子 (Dango)
These little round treats are made of glutinous rice flower, making them puffy and chewy when cooked. Even better, dango is often grilled to make a crunchy outside, then coated in savory or sweet sauces and powders.
I realize us college students are busy, but after reading this, you'll be extremely keen on finding a great Japanese restaurant next time you're going out for a nice meal or hey, maybe now you want to pack your things and move to Japan, because I kind of do.