What to Eat in Japan if You Don’t Like Sushi

Actually, in Japan I discovered that I do like sushi. Living in Chicago, a place where “fresh fish” often means “thawed fish”, I have stayed away from sushi throughout my adult life.

However, towards the end of our trip Judy’s clients took us out for a feast that included many kinds of sushi. I knew it would be rude not to dig into all the dishes on offer, and was very pleasantly surprised with the result. Up until that point, though, we avoided sushi. But we did not go hungry. Here are some of the delicious foods we found.


Ramen. Before this trip, ramen brought to my mind those little compressed squares of dried noodles in cellophane. As a result, the ramen we ate in Japan was a revelation.


We stumbled on this place by chance – I was drawn inside by the logo with the happy noodle-eating baby. We returned at least three times during our stay in Tokyo. Actually, in each town we visited there was a place we kept returning to for meals.  It it ain’t broke, etc.


The broth had such depth and richness of flavor that it was almost a spiritual experience. The noodles were toothsome and comforting. The topping of thinly sliced pork, though fatty, added the savory essence of roast meat.


On her way out the door, Judy turned around and took a picture of the ramen place. Like a lot of places we went to, it was tiny. There was just a single row of stools surrounding a serving area that was an extension of the kitchen.


Here’s another noodle place, this one in Takayama, that’s a little roomier. I appreciate how slurping noodles is entirely acceptable in Japan.


Gyoza. Which is to say, dumplings. We found our favorite gyoza place, once again by accident, in Kyoto.


Gyoza are like the pot stickers you might order in a Chinese restaurant in the USA, but so much better. The wrapping is much thinner and crispier. Also you get to combine soy sauce, chili oil, and something called seven spice powder to make your own delicious dipping sauce.

yakitori-grillYakitori. This is basically little bites of meat or vegetables skewered and cooked on a grill.


The portions are small, but you keep ordering until you are full. We had mushrooms (above), peppers, eggplant, chicken, pork, and other stuff I can’t remember. Most of it was delicious, though there were exceptions. I was not wild about the chicken gizzards.



The yakitori place we ate at in Kyoto was dimly lit and crowded, but friendly.

Tonkatsu topped with fried egg. Photo from littletinysun.com.

Tonkatsu. Tonkatsu is deep fried pork cutlet, usually served on a bowl of rice.In Takayama we went repeatedly to a place that specialized in tonkatsu.


It was run by a husband and wife team who glided around each other like ballet dancers in a tiny kitchen. I figured they must have two hearts that beat as one, otherwise they would have killed each other by now. Very nice people, though they didn’t speak English.


This was absolutely the best dessert we ate while in Japan, though we ate it more as a snack. It’s basically a mound of shaved ice topped with a sort of citrus jelly along with bits of grapefruit and blood orange. We ate this after walking through the Ginkakuji garden and we were on verge of heat stroke. We tried unsuccessfully to find another place that served the same thing.

I’ll write more about our experiences with Japanese food – the good, the bad, and the very strange – in future posts.

52 Comments on “What to Eat in Japan if You Don’t Like Sushi”

  1. Wonderful post! My mouth was watering as I scrolled down through the pictures. I must say that all your shots look exactly like what we have seen in Japanese movies. Can’t wait to see more.

  2. I love sushi and since there is a significant Japanese population here, we not only have many sushi restaurants, but many grocery stores have sushi stations. My best experience was an invitation to dine with the Japanese envoy in Detroit at his home here. Best Japanese food ever.

  3. I’ve been reading through your great Japan posts, and it’s bringing back great memories. My husband decided he didn’t like sushi either after getting sick when he ate them in Chicago, where we lived for a while after college. But then we went to Japan for his brother’s wedding, and, like you, he realized he loved it! Thanks for posting all these fun pics and stories – we went to a number of the places you did, but my memory of them had faded.

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