Okonomiyaki are large, savory pancakes cooked on a flat grill or griddle. Traditionally, cabbage or other firm vegetables make up the bulk of the batter but you can also order a thinner version and really do whatever you want with it. At an okonomiyaki restaurant, patrons cook the food to their liking right at the table, okonomi means ‘what you want’.
A thick white noodle made of wheat flour, udon can either be served cold with a dipping sauce, stir-fried, or, most frequently, in a hot, mild broth made of mirin, dashi, and soy sauce. Accompaniments range from sweetened deep-fried tofu (kitsune udon) to tempura shrimp and vegetables. One of the best bowls can be found at Yamamotomenzou in Kyoto, where the silky smooth noodles are handmade and have the perfect amount of chewiness to them. Make sure to finish off your meal with their homemade almond jelly, it will not make you disappointed.
Gyoza are moon shaped dumplings. Another one of those dishes that can be found in almost every Japanese restaurant, regardless of their style, but that many people miss. Although Chinese in origin, the varieties you will discover during your Japan stay are often quite distinct from the original.
Gyoza come in several varieties in Japan. One of the most popular is "yaki-gyoza", the dumplings are prepared with a filling of minced pork meat, cabbage, garlic, onion, and ginger. They are then lightly fried, until they become crunchy and of a nice dark-gold color.
If your only experience of tempura is re-constituted prawns smothered in greasy batter and accompanied by a watery chili sauce, you are in for a treat. Japan's tastiest tempura comprises meaty prawns, soft tofu and green goodies like okra and seaweed coated in a fluffy batter and served with soup. Try Tsukiji Central Fish Market in Tokyo for a taster or if you are planing a trip to Honshū, go to tiny back-alley joint Tenkin in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka.
Chances are that you will eat at least one noodle soup while visiting Japan. Slurped in stations, gulped at stand-up restaurants and with so many variants, these omnipresent thick broths are a cheap and filling way of eating while in the country. For a full-flavoured feed and some world-class people-watching, sit yourself down for a steaming bowl of noodles entwined with slithers of pork, battered tofu, bean-sprouts and vegetables at Shin-Umeda Shokudo-gai station in Osaka.
Boiled eggs, daikon, fishcakes, shirataki (noodles made from konnyaku), and different sorts of tofu are stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi broth to create this ultimate Japanese winter comfort food. Pick and choose which ingredients you want, add a few ladles of soup, and enjoy. You can find it in markets, but convenience stores like Lawson and 7-Eleven have some pretty impressive oden as well.