These are the slimiest, hairiest, chewiest and smelliest foods commonly eaten in Japanese households.
Natto are fermented soybeans notorious for their pungent smell, which reminds some of dirty old socks. These slimy beans are commonly slurped for breakfast with hot rice, with the optional raw egg mixed in for added nutrition.
2. Umeboshi Plums
If you thought Lemon Heads were the sourest food of all, try placing an entire umeboshi plum in your mouth—it’s salty sour flavor will be sure to pucker your face.
The potent red plums are rarely eaten on their own, used instead to season rice, vegetables and meats. I’ve even seen umeboshi flavored potato chips.
The Japanese believe that the umeboshi plums help ease nausea from motion sickness, and some carry around the freeze dried or individually wrapped version for air travel.
This stringy and soft seaweed may remind you of the handful of hair accumulated in your shower drain, but mozuku is far more nutritious.
The hairy seaweed has got fucoidan, a polysaccharide touted for its ability to enhance your killer T cell activity, giving your immune system an added boost.
Mozuku is usually served cold in a vinegar sauce to distract you from thinking that it’s the algae growing in the fish tank.
Imagine a skinny little smelt with its entire body cavity crammed with millions of small crunchy eggs. These small fish are grilled and served on a platter with their heads and tails still on.
No chopsticks here – shishamo is finger food. Rip the fish head and tail off and nibble everything in between.
The small brown crickets resemble roaches when viewed from far away, but I assure you that roaches aren’t a part of the Japanese culinary repertoire.
Inago are caught in rice paddies and either fried crisp or cooked in a sugary soy sauce broth and served as a condiment with steamed rice. Everything on the critter is devoured—including its sex organs and puny brain.
6. Dried squid or octopus
Dried squid is the Japanese equivalent to beef jerky snacks, but with more omega 3s and a fishiness that can be smelled from across the room once a package has been opened.
The squid or octopus is seasoned, then dried in shreds or rings. Try the jar of dried baby squid or dried octopus legs made extra chewy with its tentacles.
These dried cephalopods are usually served with some icy Sapporo beer.
Mochi is a chewy rice cake made by pounding sweet glutinous rice and forming it into discs—commonly served on New Years Day, which is also the day when mochi choking incidents are the highest.
If you’re tired of your regular bubble gum, you can blow and pop bubbles with mochi instead. I find mochi delicious when served as a dessert, stuffed with sweetened azuki beans.
Wobbly and low in calories, this rubbery rectangular lump is loved by dieters. Konnyaku is made from the wild Konnyaku potato. It’s very high in dietary fiber, which gets your system clean while expanding in your tummy and tricking you into feeling full.
You may identify konnyaku immediately in the nabemono (hot pot) because it’s slippery body is very difficult to grasp with chopsticks.
9. Koya dofu (freeze dried tofu)
Koya dofu is tofu which has been freeze dried, and sold in many Japanese supermarkets.
Don’t attempt to eat it uncooked as you may chip your teeth. When cooked in broth, its texture becomes that of a sponge that soaks up flavors—much like your kitchen sponge soaking up sink water.
10. Niboshi (dried anchovies)
When you see a pile of niboshi, it may remind you of a morgue for desiccated small fish. These dried, salted anchovies are used to make dashi, or fish stock commonly used in Japanese cooking.
The crunch of niboshi are also enjoyed as snacks when sold pre-seasoned with a sweet and salty coating.
If you’re going to the movies, they’re available at concession stands, and their crunch is similar to that of popcorn – but fishier.
11. Anko (sweetened azuki bean paste)
Most of us are used to eating our beans in savory dishes, and wouldn’t dream of eating them as a dessert.
Let this be an eye opener for you, as anko finds its way into many traditional Japanese sweets, ice-creams, popsicles and bread fillings.
You may forget that anko is made of beans, as the high sugar content often overpowers the bean flavor.
For beginners, visit a Japanese Dunkin Donut shop and have an anko filled doughnut with some coffee.
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