When it comes to eating, I know plenty of people that are in the “I'll try anything once!” camp, and others who are card carrying members of the extreme fussy eaters club. The latter tend to stick to their comfort zones with food, which can sometimes be tricky in Japan. If you're planning a trip here but you're a little overwhelmed at the idea of raw fish or seaweed being normal cuisine, never fear – there are still Japanese foods that are similar enough to some beloved Western counterparts for you to enjoy. Here are five ways to experience Japanese cuisine if you're a fussy eater with these relatively simple substitutions.
Love a good burger?
Try Hamburger Steak
Hamburger Steak, or ハンバーグ, is a popular Japanese meal both as a home-cooked dish and out at restaurants. Think of a hearty burger patty without the bun – it's commonly served up with some rice and veggies on the side. Sometimes it will be topped with a demi glace sauce, and you also often see it accompanying curries at chains like CoCo Curry. One good place to stop at if you're after a hamburger steak is the chain restaurant Pepper Lunch – you can find them across Japan (they're even in a lot of mall food courts!)
All about chicken nuggets?
Give chicken katsu a whirl!
Chicken Katsu is about as close as you'll get to a giant chicken nugget or chicken strip here in Japan. The chicken is breaded with panko breadcrumbs and fried, but it's not as heavy or greasy as what you might expect from fried chicken at somewhere like KFC, for instance. Often you'll see it served up teishoku style (in a set) with rice and miso soup, for instance. You may also see chicken katsu served up with Tonkatsu sauce, which can probably be best described as a bit of a blend of ketchup, worcestershire and soy sauce if you were trying to find a way to recreate it. Not so intimidating, right?
French fries your food soul mate?
Tempura could be your new love
Tempura was actually brought over to Japan by the Portuguese - and it consists of seafood and veggies that have been deep fried. The batter that coats the seafood or veggies is light, and still manages to taste fresh rather than heavy (like a lot of fried foods do). If you're not a seafood fan even when it's cooked, yasai tempura is what you'll need to ask for - which just means vegetable tempura. Some favorites amongst my non-seafood loving friends include sweet potato or kabocha (Japanese Squash) tempura varieties. You'll find tempura available at many restaurants - and even at most supermarkets!
Yakitori is a great substitute!
Yakitori literally translates to grilled chicken, so you can tell by the name itself that this one is a pretty safe bet! There are two main types of yakitori - shio and tare. Shio translates to salt, so think of it as chicken with a salt rub, then grilled. Tare refers to a sauce coating which is slightly sweet, a bit like a teriyaki sauce. The chicken pieces are placed on skewers, and the grilling is often done over charcoal - so it gives the yakitori a beautiful smokey flavor.
Ice cream your favorite sweet?
Try mochi ice cream!
Mochi is a bit of a Japanese dessert staple – but a lot of the time it's served with a filling of red bean paste, which many of my fussiest guests haven't been a huge fan of. However, if you take that mochi wrapper and fill it with vanilla ice cream, you're onto a simple winner that still has a uniquely Japanese spin to it. You can find this brand of mochi ice cream at just about every convenience store or supermarket in Japan, and they're rather addictive!
Hopefully these recommendations help you – or a member of your traveling party – still embrace Japanese cuisine without getting too far removed from that trusty comfort zone!
Happy Eating, and Enjoy Japan!
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