Extraordinary Japanese Food to Try

Traditional Japanese food is a mixture of different types of staple foods in the region. It is usually made up of white rice with one or more side dishes and main dishes, miso soup, and something pickled. Japanese cuisine has had a strong influence from China and Korea for thousands of years. It was only fairly recent that foreign trade and religious influences made some impact on Japanese food and what it is known to be today.

Japan is popular for having the most interesting things from the kawaii (cute) to the unbelievably weird. This also holds true for some types of food that are unique to Japan and Southeast Asia. Check out some of them:

Okinawa Black Sugar

Okinawa black sugar has been around since the 17th century in Okinawa prefecture. Black sugar is slightly more unrefined in comparison to brown sugar, which is often a mix of molasses syrup and white sugar. It is made by boiling sugar until it becomes black syrup. The syrup is then made to cool until it becomes hard and dry, and formed into a block.

 

Okinawa black sugar, Japan. | Screengrab from Atlas Obscura

The blocks of sugar are a deep brown-black color and when broken into smaller pieces, appear much lighter. Okinawa black sugar is popularly used to enhance the flavor of milk tea, mochi, cake desserts, and sweet soups.  Black sugar is also crushed and used to dust sweets.

Sea Grapes

Caulerpa lentillifera is a type of seaweed that has many names and is found all across Japan and Southeast Asia. Umi-budō, meaning “sea grapes”, is also called “green caviar” because of the string of shiny balls that explode in your mouth when eaten, somewhat similar to eating fish roe.

Sea grapes. | Ria Tan

In Okinawa, locals love to eat a healthy helping of the seaweed also nicknamed “longevity seaweed”. Okinawans are known to live longer than most people on Earth. Sea grapes have become popular worldwide as a health food. It is low in calories and rich in minerals and vitamins A and C.

Buddha’s Hand

Buddha’s hand is a type of fingered citron fruit believed to have been brought to the country by Buddhist monks initially from India to China then to Japan.

The fruit smells like a blend of tangerine, lemon, and lavender when made into potpourri. The rind is used to create scented sugars and salts as well and may be infused with light spirits. More than half a dozen varieties are grown by farmers and are also used as a symbolic decoration, flavor enhancing ingredient, and as traditional medicine.

Buddha’s Hand. | Rachid H

Buddha’s hand is believed to represent long life and happiness if displayed in homes and temples, as believed by Chinese. The Japanese believe the fruit holds positive energy and is given out as presents during the New Year for good luck when displayed in homes.