A type of neba neba food, natto is contentious enough to get its own separate description. This dish of sticky fermented soybeans eaten over rice has its die-hard fans as well as plenty of people in Japan who can’t stand it. Natto is typically sold in individual portions which are whipped with tare sauce and spicy mustard using chopsticks until the mixture becomes frothy and then poured over hot rice. For the best results, some people say you need to stir the natto 100 times before eating.
Fugu is the Japanese name for the poisonous pufferfish, a delicacy that carries the risk of death if prepared incorrectly. Pufferfish contains a toxin even more deadly than cyanide and has no known antidote. In Japan, it’s prepared by experts who train for years on how to remove the fish’s highly toxic organs without contaminating the rest of the meat. For daring eaters wondering what to eat in Japan, fugu can be enjoyed in dishes such as fugu sashimi, called “tessa”; karaage (fried fugu); and fugu hot pot, called “tecchiri”.
"Chinmi” is the title given to unusual Japanese delicacies that are an acquired taste. It’s an easy way to identify which dishes even Japanese people find strange and unusual, as opposed to those foreign only to Westerners. The most classic example of chinmi is uni, the delicate orange or gold-colored reproductive organs of the sea urchin, which may be eaten raw, steamed, or cooked into a creamy soup or pasta. Two other examples of chinmi that may make even Japanese people squirm include karasumi, (mullet roe pickled in salt), and konowata (fermented sea cucumber guts). These are typically enjoyed alongside sake or beer, which may help the unusual bites go down a bit more easily.
Neba neba foods are a unique Japanese food that is very popular within Japan, but that some foreigners may find a bit strange or off-putting at first. These are foods that have a naturally sticky or slimy texture and are often eaten over hot rice such as okra, tororo (grated yam), and sticky nameko mushrooms. Several different neba neba items may be piled together on a bowl of hot rice for the dish “neba neba don”. These foods owe a lot of their popularity to the fact that they are seen as a restorative food that cools the body in hot weather—perfect for those humid Japanese summers.
Basashi, or raw horse meat, is a contentious food for some visitors to Japan as it is not only raw, but because horse meat is banned for sale for human consumption in some countries like the United States. If you have no qualms about eating horse or raw meat, however, you may find that you quite enjoy basashi. The meat is lean yet tender and offers more protein than beef, while also being less fatty. In Japan, it’s typically served with soy sauce or ponzu dressing and fresh ginger or garlic for garnish.
Shirako is a creamy delicacy that’s enjoyed during the wintertime in Japan. In English, the name means “cod milt”, or the sperm from male cod. Soft, white, and squiggly, shirako can be eaten raw with a bit of ponzu, a citrus and soy sauce dressing, or cooked in a hot pot dish.
“Wafu” and “yoshoku” may seem like two types of unusual Japanese foods to Western visitors, but these cuisines are very popular within Japan. Wafu means “Japanese-style” and refers to dishes like pasta and pizza prepared with local ingredients to appeal to Japanese tastes. Some examples include uni cream pasta and pizza topped with shirasu (baby anchovies). Yoshoku means “Western-style Japanese food” and include dishes like curry rice, hambagu (Hamburg steak), and omurice (omelette rice) which are not traditionally Japanese food but which became popular during the Meiji era as Japan sought to modernize and adopt a more Western-style diet.