Japan’s Hidden Culinary Gems

Explore the world of Japan’s secret eats!

 Tina Wu | Summer Intern

As avid fans of all things food and travel related, we at FoodieTrip have kept an eye on Japan’s unparalleled rise in the last few years, and not without good reason. An epicenter of culture, both old and new, Japan has continued to gain power and popularity on the global stage. With fast-paced advancements in categories ranging from technology to food innovation, Japan is definitely not a place you want to miss out on. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in this incredible country, make sure you don’t settle for mediocre, overrated foods that you can find in other countries - go straight for the hidden treasures!

We’ve compiled a list of Japanese hidden culinary jewels for you to indulge in. Forget fast food, cut the California rolls, and find yourself in foodie heaven with these delectable Japanese treats!


The beauty of onigiri lies in its pure simplicity. Made from two primary ingredients, rice and seaweed, onigiri leaves the rest of the recipe up to your own personal tastes. The filling can be anything you want, but traditionally ume (pickled plum), salmon, or some other fish or pickled food is at the center of this delicious rice ball. The rice itself is usually shaped into a triangular or cylindrical shape. A few layers of seaweed, or nori, holds the entire thing together. Onigiri has everything you could ever ask for in a snack - a crunch of seaweed, mixed with a bite of soft rice, and topped off with a glimpse of sour or salty from the filling. Easy to make, easily personalized, and easy to eat, onigiri is the perfect go-to snack for any type of eater, even the picky ones!



First popularized as a street food, takoyaki has really taken the food market world by storm. At its base is a batter that resembles pancake-level consistency. It is made using a specially molded pan that shapes the batter into small spheres, traditionally filled with octopus and green onion. Once cooked, the balls are taken out and grilled, then finally plated and covered with a mouthwatering sauce that leaves you wanting more. If you’re craving seafood after this, try our fish market experience, based out of Chūō-ku, Japan



When we say ramen, what comes to mind? If you’re thinking of convenient store-bought, 99-cent, college-diet ramen, then you are in dire need for some authentic Japanese noodles. Loaded with so much more than just microwaved, lukewarm water and some packaged powder, traditional Japanese ramen is both filling and nutritious. With a rich broth, perfectly stewed noodles, fresh green onions, and a protein punch of tender meat and a soft boiled egg, ramen is the perfect end to a long day. Especially if that day is filled with travel and adventure (perhaps exploring Japan’s Taitō-ku with an experienced local?)  Nothing beats relaxing and slurping some delicious ramen noodles and soup.


Shake no kobu maki

Shake no kobu maki is another little known Japanese snack that deserves a much bigger spotlight. Made from rolled kelp and held together by an edible ribbon, shake no kobu maki typically features fillings of fish, from salmon to herring. Each piece contains a refreshing burst of kelp and a savory addition of the fish inside. (speaking of feeling fishy - our Japanese experience can definitely help you out!) Both fun to make and fun to eat, shake no kobu maki is something you cannot miss out on if you find yourself in Japan. These bite-size finger foods are usually enjoyed as appetizers with sake, so all you need to add are some friends to create a perfect party. Instead of beer, chips, and a game, find yourself some sake, shake no kobu maki, and make some new friends to really live out your trip to Japan to the fullest!



To wrap up this list, what’s more fitting than some mouthwatering Japanese dessert? If you love mochi, you’ll love dango - a close relative to the well-known Japanese dessert mochi, dango is also made of rice flour and shaped into small round-ish spheres. Traditionally served on a skewer for convenient on-the-go lifestyles, dessert dango is sweet and chewy and can be served in a multitude of different ways. Some dango is mixed with beans or flavored with matcha. You can also add different toppings, from fruits to flavored pastes, for both taste and aesthetic purposes. These delectable desserts are perfect for your taste buds and your Instagram feeds, so what are you waiting for?


So now that you know what hidden Japanese treats to hunt for, start planning your trip! If you’re feeling intimidated by the prospect of being a foreigner in a brand new country, we’ve got you - check out all our Japanese experiences here. Find yourself a local guide who knows what they’re talking about and gives you the insight you never would be able to find otherwise!  

Can’t make it to Japan but still want to eat well? Don’t worry, we’ve still got you. Check out what local opportunities we have in store! With experiences in 116 cities around the world and counting, you’re sure to find something perfect for you.

Image credit: @itameshi365, @mao_sweet