The Most Bizarre Foods I Ate in Japan
Do you love to eat fish? If so, definitely put Japan on your list of places to visit. Japan was overflowing with fresh fish dishes cooked (or un-cooked) up in innovative ways.
My only problem with this is that I don’t like fish. Unpopular opinion, I know, but I’m from north Mississippi and just didn’t grow up eating much fish other than catfish. I was already out of my comfort zone with sushi, but Japan served up some truly bizarre food. Lesson learned: Chase any unfamiliar dishes with some sort of alcohol and you’ll be fine.
Also, one of the dishes we tried is now ILLEGAL in Japan. Yeah.
During our first week of our six week stay in Japan in 2011, our Japanese friends took us to a local restaurant in a non-touristy area.
Apparently, it’s great entertainment to order the strangest menu items for the Americans just to see the reactions. Of course, we attempted to be courteous and try everything presented to us respectfully.
Luckily, we were also given Japanese beer, saki, and shochu as well, so it washed any unpleasant tastes away. Or burned it away in the case of the shochu. That stuff is like moonshine!
1. Liver Sashimi (Raw Liver)
I recently found out that this particular dish is now illegal in Japan. That’s right, no more raw liver because people were getting sick with food poisoning and dying. I am SO thankful that I didn’t know this before-hand!
To be honest, I actually liked the raw liver better than any cooked liver I’ve ever tried. It didn’t have the chalky texture, which is my biggest issue with liver in general.
Seeing the bloody chopsticks after sliding a piece in my mouth didn’t help my gag reflex any though. I can’t remember if I tried more than one piece. It wasn’t terrible, but now I’m thankful that none of us got sick. Sorry you missed out on this one, adventurous eaters!
2. Raw Cow Stomach
Keep in mind that we didn’t really have a clue what we were eating until someone offered to tell us. There’s no way we could read the menus. After looking through photos, we may have actually tried two different cow stomachs, one raw and one cooked.
The raw one is the one that I will remember forever. Apparently, this is the third stomach of the cow, or the omasum. I picked through the pile trying to find the smallest piece to try. It just seemed so rubbery and the look of it was totally un-appetizing. Actually, it wasn’t bad. Not much of a taste, but the texture was the tricky part to get over.
3. Cow Tongue
The cow tongue we had was sliced super thin and grilled just right on the little stove in front of us. It had a very normal texture and beef-like flavor. No problem. I’d actually eat it again, given the chance.
4. Oxtail Soup
I had to look up the actual name for this soup since we were told it was “cow tail soup” and that Mark was about to take a bite of “cow butt.” Oxtail soup sounds much better somehow, and it was delicious!
The tail had a great flavor, much like a roast beef. Maybe this one wasn’t so strange after all!
5. Salad, Noodles, and Fish for Breakfast
Sometimes, it’s not the food itself that’s strange…more like the time of day it’s served. Our hotel offered a full buffet breakfast and a dinner every night. The weird part, for us, was seeing salad, spaghetti, rice, and fish every morning for breakfast.
This is coming from someone who doesn’t enjoy very hearty breakfast anyway. I love cereal, oatmeal, pancakes, doughnuts, toast…all things sweet and bread-y. On occasion, I can enjoy bacon, biscuits and gravy, and maybe eggs, hashbrowns or grits. Maybe. Sound like a “Southern” enough breakfast for ya? So, yeah, salad, fish, and spaghetti wasn’t happening.
The novelty of the meal being so different wore off after the first day for me, and I couldn’t stand to smell the fish cooking downstairs when the elevator doors would open for us upstairs. It finally got to the point that I didn’t even go downstairs for breakfast.
My solution? The grocery store across the street had an AMAZING bakery. All of the doughnuts. All of the scones.
6. Baby Sardines on White Rice
Have I mentioned that I don’t really eat fish? For lunch, while out with a group in Kyoto, we were taken to a beautiful restaurant. My lunch order included simple white rice. That’s easy for me to eat, right? No surprises there, huh? Think again.
I opened the cup of rice to find hundreds of little faces staring back at me. After the initial shock, I look closer to see that these were little baby fish. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the fish flavor, but also…those faaaaccess. They were baaabbbies.
So, what happened? I could not draw attention to myself, so I attempted to push the fish babies to the side and eat just the rice.
7. Raw Fish and Fish Eggs
I fully realize that roe, caviar, sushi, sashimi, and the like are popular dishes for many. This probably isn’t a big deal for a lot of you. For me, just trying these things was pushing myself so far outside of my comfort (food) zone. Ha! See what I did there?
The taste of fish, or even seaweed, is not one that I have developed. I’ve tried sushi probably twenty times or more, just waiting on the day that my taste buds and brain go, “Oh, hey! This is great!” Hasn’t happened yet.
Also, I want everyone to know that, in Japanese, the words for “eel” and “rabbit” are similar, sooooo….don’t mess that one up. Unagi is eel and usagi is rabbit. Just a little FYI for ya.
See Related: 5 Beautiful Sites in Japan
So many people have loved and laughed at our stories of eating foods so different than what we eat here in Mississippi. I would not trade the experience for anything in the world.
I definitely don’t mean to sound disrespectful about ANY of these dishes. They were all beautifully prepared and presented. Did you know that blowfish is eaten in Japan? It has to be cooked absolutely perfectly or else it’s deadly poisonous. I definitely respect these chefs and cooks.
Did you notice that I DID try all of these things? I didn’t miss out on anything. I fully believe that you have to try new foods or you’ll risk missing out on a treat that may be your new favorite!
Now, when we’re presented with something we’ve never tried before, it’s no big deal. We simply look at each other and say, “It can’t be worse than raw liver or cow stomach!”
Have you tried any of these dishes? Are you a sushi-lover? Is it a taste you acquired over time? What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten and where were you? Let us know in the comments below!
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Jennifer is the founder of Just Chasing Rabbits travel blog. She lives in Mississippi with husband/travel companion, Mark, and three fur babies. After obtaining a BA degree in studio art and working in the field of photography for years, Jenni has combined her love of travel and photography to form this blog. Mark and Jenni share their experiences in hopes of inspiring others to have wonderful adventures and see the world.
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