18 Japanese Foods That Americans Don't Understand
You might think you're an adventurous eater, but even with your intrepid palate you'll find certain Japanese foods confusing. There are quite a few widely enjoyed 'chinmi,' meaning 'rare-taste delicacies,' from this island nation, and they take some serious courage for Americans to gulp down.
Here's a snack that people are really buzzing about. These light, crispy rice crackers are fortified with some extra protein, but there's a catch: that protein comes in the form of wasps. Japanese digger wasps reportedly have the highest protein content of any insect. You'll find these delicacies in boutique groceries throughout Honshu, the country's largest island.
Fermentation is big when it comes to Japanese treats, much to the dismay of your nostrils. Natto is one of the country's most beloved, enzyme-laden foods. Made of soybeans and various bacteria, the dish develops a mucousy texture and pungent, cheesy smell after it sits for a week. People typically consume it for breakfast atop white rice.
Pig Placenta Drink
This drink isn't just some delicious, peach-flavored concoction; Japanese women believe that it keeps their skin looking youthful and wrinkle-free. And while the fruit flavor might come as a pleasant surprise, that shouldn't distract you from the fact that the beverage is made with pig placenta. People consume it so frequently that you can find it in almost any mini-mart across the country.
Forget enjoying crackers with your beer. In Japan, people snack on tiny dried crabs with their cold brews. Fortunately, these tiny crustaceans have soft shells so they're easy to chew, and they come with a wide variety of seasonings, including garlic and seaweed.
Chicken Wing Ice Cream
Nagoya is the center of the country's poultry universe, producing most of Japan's chicken products and creating unique breeds of the bird. It sort of makes sense, then, that people here love eating chicken in just about anything, and that includes ice cream. Locals all around the southern areas of the country enjoy chicken wing ice cream; it tastes just like fried chicken, but it's cold and creamy instead of hot and crispy.
If you've ever eaten at a sushi restaurant, you've probably tried raw sashimi once or twice, and it was probably made of fish. In Japan 'sashimi' refers to any thinly sliced raw meat, and basashi is one of the most popular, but here's the catch: it's horse. Horsemeat is a true delicacy that's lower in calories and fat than beef and pork, and people believe it's the secret to longevity. In case you were wondering, yes, basashi ice cream is also a popular treat.
Americans love their desserts sweeter than sweet and covered in chocolate, but it's a different story in Japan. One of the most popular desserts, umeboshi, is a type of pickled, salted plum. They're extremely sour without a hint of sweetness. People also use them as a folk remedy to treat colds.
Chicken wings and jalapeno poppers are great snacks to enjoy while you're out at the pub with your friends, but don't expect to find these goodies in Japan. Japanese bar-crawlers prefer nankotsu, or grilled chicken cartilage on a skewer. While the barbecuing process does impart a nice charred flavor, the texture is akin to hard, meaty bubblegum that you eventually have to just stop chewing and swallow down.
Don't have time to chop and toss all your veggies for a quick lunch? Grab some Water Salad like Japanese eaters on the go. These cans of liquefied lettuce come in six different flavors, including octopus and curry, and they're a common lunch substitute that still provides some nutrition.
Fugu is one of Japan's most infamous delicacies. This dish, made of paper-thin slices of raw pufferfish, can cost upwards of $200 a plate. Much of the dish's prestige comes from the fact that fugu is highly poisonous, and chefs who sell it must participate in a three-year-long apprenticeship program to earn a license to serve the meat. About 30 people contract fugu poisoning each year.
If you're the guest of honor at someone's home in Japan, expect your host to serve you hachinoko, or honeybee larvae. People save these insect babies for special occasions because they're only available during summer. They taste like smoky honey with some crunch mixed in for good measure.
Red Bean Soup
Judging by the name, this traditional dessert sounds like it might be similar to chili, but it's definitely not. Shiruko, or Japanese red bean soup, is a syrupy-sweet winter porridge made with adzuki beans, candied rice cakes, and sweetened condensed milk. People often eat it with umeboshi to temper the sweetness a little.
Most Americans usually throw out fish organs and stick to the meaty fillets for meals, but Japanese people consider ankimo, made of steamed monkfish liver, one of their most prized delicacies. Preparation involves massaging the livers in salt and soaking them in sake before steaming them in sweet vinegar. It doesn't help that the monkfish is probably one of the ugliest sea creatures out there, either.
This delicacy doesn't actually contain any dairy. Instead, people know it as one of Japan's rarest types of sushi. Chefs prepare carp by stuffing the fish with their own eggs and pickling them in salt and vinegar for seven months. When it's ready, this dish (known as funazushi) has a Velveeta-like texture, but a very sour, fishy taste.
Eel Ice Cream
Here's another cool treat that's quite puzzling to American palates. In Japan, eel is a summertime delicacy, and, not surprisingly, so is ice cream. Futaba, one of the country's largest ice cream manufacturers, combined the two into a snack that people can't get enough of during the hotter months.
With such easy access to the ocean, it makes sense that plenty of Japanese delicacies involve seafood. However, they're not all made with tender fish fillets and delicate oysters. The awabi is a type of giant sea snail with a chewy texture that the Japanese revere, and the part that they eat is actually the creature's foot muscle, which it uses to travel along rocks. Grilled awabi with soy sauce and sake are most popular, but you'll also find them served raw as sashimi.
This special-occasion dish involves some interesting preparation techniques. The chef adds a big block of tofu to a pot of boiling broth, and immediately dumps in some mud loaches, which resemble small eels. To get away from the heat the fish burrow into the cool tofu, where they eventually cook, to create a pretty extreme fishcake.
This delicacy also happens to be quite the novelty at restaurants around Japan. It consists of a raw, barely dead squid atop noodles and fish eggs that appears to dance when you pour soy sauce over it. The salt in the soy sauce stimulates the creature's muscle cells, making it wave its tentacles as they contract. Diners often have to wait several minutes for the squid to stop moving so they can actually eat it. ling broth, and immediately dumps in some mud loaches, which resemble small eels. To get away from the heat the fish burrow into the cool tofu, where they eventually cook, to create a pretty extreme fishcake.
This delicacy also happens to be quite the novelty at restaurants around Japan. It consists of a raw, barely dead squid atop noodles and fish eggs that appears to dance when you pour soy sauce over it. The salt in the soy sauce stimulates the creature's muscle cells, making it wave its tentacles as they contract. Diners often have to wait several minutes for the squid to stop moving so they can actually eat it.