Comfort food is an intrinsic part of a culture’s cuisine, and what constitutes comfort food is interpreted in different ways by different cultures. One thing that can be agreed upon is that comfort food influences senses of nostalgia, happiness, and connection, either with others or through the memories it conjures up.
Japan offers its own abundance of comfort food options either rich in tradition or cultural significance, both centuries-old and modern.
There are some comfort foods you simply must try on your next trip to Japan; rest assured, these dishes will become foods you cannot live without.
B-kyu gurume is the Japanese term most equivalent to comfort food. While Japanese culture views comfort food in a similar manner that other cultures do, they have a more simplistic approach to what they deem comfort food.
For Japan, it’s not necessarily about how indulgent or elaborate comfort food is, but it’s more about its relevance to the everyday person, as well as its overall deliciousness.
They are also accessible foods that are easy to find, whether at restaurants or convenience stores, or can be made at home by even the most amateur of cooks.
While some Japanese comfort foods might seem more healthful compared to Western comfort foods, there is no aim to make these foods healthy.
The focus is more on foods everyone can enjoy, that allows for sharing and making connections, and that focus on simple ingredients, preferably found from local sources.
If you have the privilege of being able to travel throughout Japan, you’ll also notice that different prefectures or regions have their own unique interpretation of what they consider b-kyu gurume.
Below are just some of the numerous types of comfort foods that you can find all throughout Japan, though this is definitely not an exhaustive list.
If you love pancakes, you’ll want to seek out okonomiyaki when you’re in Japan. This is a pancake with a savory flavor profile that often gets dressed up with some different toppings.
Some of these toppings might include scallions, pickled vegetables or regular vegetables, and some kind of sauce. Okonomiyaki is also usually made with a protein source, such as pork or seafood.
If you are able to travel to different areas of Japan, you’ll notice some differences between okonomiyaki from Hiroshima and okonomiyaki from Osaka.
In Hiroshima, these pancakes are made with noodle-based ingredients. In Osaka, they are made with flour-based ingredients.
Kara-age is a must-try appetizer dish served at almost any restaurant you’ll go to in Japan. It is made with dark meat chicken that gets tossed in a marinade before getting fried.
The marinade traditionally consists of garlic, soy sauce, ginger, sake, and mirin.
At most restaurants, your plate will have a lemon wedge on the side. It’s recommended to squeeze that fresh lemon juice on your kara-age before you eat it for more depth of flavor.
Anpan is a delicious Japanese dessert that has been enjoyed in Japan for a very long time. Anpan consists of a bready dough filled with sweet red bean paste, which is called anko in Japanese. However, anpan can sometimes have other fillings packed into them.
Anpan was actually conceptualized by a samurai who became a baker, and it has been a hit in Japan ever since. You’ll be hard-pressed to find somewhere in Japan that doesn’t serve this beloved dessert.
Spaghetti may not immediately come to mind when thinking of Japanese food. However, the spaghetti naporitan dish is popular in Japan, especially for those who are looking for a way to feed picky eaters.
Spaghetti naporitan is a pasta-based dish with cooked spaghetti noodles mixed in a ketchup-based sauce.
There are also a few vegetables mixed in, including onions and green peppers, as well as either ham or bacon.
Soba is a delicious dish that is thoroughly enjoyed in Japan for many occasions, and also just because it’s so delicious.
Soba consists of noodles that are made from buckwheat flour, which is nutritious and gluten-free. These noodles can also be enjoyed either hot or cold.
Soba noodles are usually served with an accompanying sauce and are sometimes topped with pieces of nori or shredded vegetables.
You can enjoy soba at restaurants of all price ranges, as well as find noodles you can cook at home with some hot water, similar to packaged ramen.
Soba noodles are traditionally eaten with chopsticks, and slurping up your soba noodles is encouraged. It is also usually served on New Year’s Eve in Japan.
Japan knows how to make fried food that is not overly heavy or greasy, as can be seen with tempura. Tempura consists of different types of vegetables, meat, or seafood battered with tempura batter and fried.
It’s worth trying tempura in Japan, even if you’re used to having it from Japanese restaurants in your home country.
Being that proper tempura batter is an art form, you’ll notice a difference in overall quality and flavor depending on where you have it.
Believe it or not, tempura has actually been enjoyed in Japan since the 16th century. It wasn’t originally made in Japan, but it was perfected after being introduced to the country.
Tempura is often enjoyed on its own as an appetizer of sorts and is usually accompanied by a sauce or dip. It can also add some crunch on top of different dishes, such as soups or noodles.
Yakitori is the perfect food to walk around with, being that it’s on a skewer. Yakitori is like Japanese street meat, but it can also be made at home or enjoyed right after you pick it up.
A yakitori skewer is made with chicken that is cooked over a charcoal fire and is topped with either salt or other seasonings or is sometimes dipped in sauce.
Sometimes vegetables will also get cooked on the skewer, while other times it’s all chicken.
Sometimes you can find yakitori at a shop or Japanese grocery store, and it is often served in izakayas in Japan. Additionally, yakitori is often served during festivals and through food trucks and stalls on the street.
Japanese curry is different in terms of flavors than other types of curry, but it features many of the same components as most curries do.
It is made with meat and vegetables; typically potatoes, carrots, and onions. Unlike Indian curries, Japanese curry is not spicy or full of heat.
The sauce used in Japanese curry will usually be thick and focuses on sweet flavors rather than spicy. However, everyone has their own take on what spices they’ll include in their own rendition of Japanese curry.
Japan also enjoys their curry served on top of a bed of rice, making for a filling and nutritious meal that is easy to throw together very quickly.
Curry is also sometimes baked into bread or bun for a tasty treat or can be served with different types of noodles.
Nabe is also referred to as a hot pot, which is often enjoyed in Japan when the weather gets cold. These are essentially stews or soups with certain common components that are cooked in either a cast iron pot or a clay pot.
The broth is what sets nabe apart, as the items added into the nabe can vary depending on where you’re enjoying it.
The broth could either be fish broth with miso and soy sauce, known as dashi, or kelp broth, also known as kombu.
The additional ingredients within the broth could be either meat or tofu, or a combination of both, and vegetables such as mushrooms, carrots, or cabbage.
Katsu is a breaded meat cutlet that is often cut up and served on top of rice or ramen. Depending on what the katsu is combined with, it can become a dish all on its own. Traditionally, pork is used, but it can be made with any type of meat.
The katsu is made by rolling the cutlet in a mixture of panko breadcrumbs and frying it and is subsequently topped with a sauce.
It’s a dish that many Japanese families will enjoy at home, being that it’s so versatile and easy to make.
One of the many ways katsu is enjoyed is in a dish called katsu-don, which is katsu cooked with onions, eggs, and broth with a soy sauce base. It is then served over a bed of rice.