zenDine Logo
exotic japanese food

Exotic Japanese Food: 10 Surprising Dishes You Need to Try

13/08/2023 3:00 PM

Beyond sushi lies a realm of exotic Japanese food waiting to be explored. From the creamy allure of shirako to the daring thrill of fugu, discover a culinary adventure rich with tradition and flavor. Dive deep into Japan's lesser-known dishes and savor a world of exquisite surprises.

Table of Contents

Japan is like a big treasure box when it comes to food. Everyone knows about sushi and tasty noodle dishes, but there's a whole world of flavors waiting to be discovered. Beyond the usual meals, there is some exotic Japanese food that many people outside the country haven't even heard of. These aren't just everyday meals, but special dishes with unique ingredients and flavors. In this article, we're going to dive deep into these unusual dishes, sharing stories behind them and why they're so loved in Japan. So, if you're a food explorer or just someone who likes to try new things, strap in and get ready for a mouthwatering journey through some of Japan's most unique dishes!



What is fugu and why is it considered exotic?

Fugu, also known as pufferfish, is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. What makes fugu so exotic is not its taste or texture, but rather the potential danger it poses. It contains a deadly neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, which can paralyze a person's muscles and, in severe cases, cause respiratory failure and death. Due to this toxicity, the preparation of this fish requires highly skilled and specially licensed chefs. The process involves meticulously removing the poisonous organs, such as the liver, ovaries, and eyes, to ensure the safe consumption of the fish. In Japan, fugu has become a renowned and expensive dish due to its unusual nature and the elaborate precautions taken during its preparation. The thrill of indulging in such a high-risk food combined with the rarity and exclusive licensing required to serve it contributes to fugu's status as an exotic delicacy for adventurous food enthusiasts.

What are some alternative dishes to try if you can't eat fugu?

If you are unable to eat fugu, there are several alternative dishes that you can try. One option is to sample other types of sushi or sashimi, such as salmon, tuna, or yellowtail. These fish are widely available and do not carry the same level of risk as fugu. Additionally, there are numerous variations of seafood dishes that you can explore. Grilled or steamed fish, lobster, crab, or shrimp are all delicious alternatives. If you are looking for a more vegetarian-friendly option, you can try vegetarian sushi rolls that are made with ingredients like avocado, cucumber, or asparagus. Another alternative is to indulge in a variety of other Japanese dishes like ramen, udon, or tempura. These dishes showcase different ingredients and cooking styles that will surely satisfy your taste buds. So, even if fugu is off the menu, there is no shortage of delectable options to try in Japanese cuisine.



What is natto and what makes it a unique dish?

Natto is a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans. It is known for its distinctive flavor and slimy texture. The fermentation process creates a stringy and sticky consistency that may not be appealing to everyone. However, natto has gained popularity due to its many health benefits. It is rich in probiotics, which promote a healthy gut and aid in digestion. Natto also contains high amounts of vitamin K2 that can improve bone health and reduce the risk of heart disease. What sets natto apart from other soy products is its unique taste and smell. It has a strong and pungent aroma, often compared to a combination of cheese and ammonia. Its flavor is described as nutty and savory, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Natto is typically enjoyed with rice and various condiments, such as soy sauce and mustard. Despite its acquired taste, natto remains a popular dish in Japan and is appreciated by those who value its distinctiveness and health benefits.



What is basashi and why is it considered exotic?

Basashi is a traditional Japanese delicacy that is made from raw horse meat. It is considered exotic because it is not commonly consumed in many parts of the world, especially in Western countries. The meat is typically thinly sliced and served raw, similar to sashimi. Basashi is often marinated in soy sauce, ginger, and onions to enhance its flavor. While it may sound unusual to some, basashi has a long history in Japanese cuisine and is enjoyed by many locals. The meat is lean and tender, with a slightly sweet and gamey taste. It is usually served with a side of grated garlic and soy sauce for dipping. Basashi is often associated with special occasions and festivals in Japan, where it is served as a delicacy. Due to its rarity and unique taste, basashi is considered exotic by many who are unfamiliar with it.



What is sashimi and how is it different from sushi?

Sashimi is a traditional Japanese delicacy that consists of thinly sliced raw fish or seafood. Unlike sushi, which includes rice seasoned with vinegar and other ingredients, sashimi focuses solely on the delicate flavors and textures of the raw fish. The quality of the fish is crucial because it is consumed in its purest form. Common types of sashimi include salmon, tuna, mackerel, yellowtail, and octopus. Sashimi is typically served with soy sauce for dipping, wasabi, and pickled ginger. The presentation of sashimi is also important, with chefs meticulously arranging the slices on a platter. The freshness and texture of the fish are main factors in sashimi, and it is often considered a high-quality and luxurious dish. Sushi, on the other hand, incorporates rice as a base and is often rolled with various fillings using seaweed or served as individual pieces with toppings. While both sashimi and sushi feature raw fish, they differ in their preparation, presentation, and inclusion of ingredients beyond the fish itself.



What is shirako and why is it considered exotic?

Shirako, also known as "white roe" or "milt," is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. It refers to the sperm sacs of various fish species like cod, anglerfish, and pufferfish. Although it may sound bizarre to the uninitiated, shirako is highly sought after and treasured for its creamy and delicate flavor. The texture of shirako resembles soft custard or silky tofu, and it is often enjoyed raw or lightly cooked in dishes such as sushi, tempura, or even as a hot pot ingredient. Despite being highly valued in Japan, this unique seafood delicacy is considered exotic in many other parts of the world due to its unconventional nature. The idea of consuming reproductive organs may be seen as strange or off-putting to some, but for adventurous food lovers, shirako offers a rare and luxurious gastronomic experience. Embracing such exotic ingredients allows culinary enthusiasts to explore different cultural traditions and expand their palates beyond the ordinary.



What is takoyaki and why is it considered exotic?

Takoyaki is a popular Japanese street food that consists of small, round balls made from a batter of flour, eggs, and dashi broth. The balls are typically filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger, and green onion, and then cooked in a specialized takoyaki pan. The dish is topped with a savory sauce, mayonnaise, dried seaweed flakes, and bonito flakes. Takoyaki is considered exotic for several reasons. Firstly, octopus is not a common ingredient in many Western cuisines, so for those unfamiliar with it, eating takoyaki can be a unique experience. Additionally, the cooking process is quite fascinating to watch as the balls are continuously turned in the pan until they become crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside. Furthermore, the combination of flavors and textures in takoyaki is unlike anything typically found in other cuisines, making it a standout dish for adventurous eaters. Overall, takoyaki offers a delightful and exotic taste of Japanese street food culture.



A Skewered Delight in the World of Exotic Foods

Yakitori is a traditional Japanese dish consisting of skewered and grilled chicken. It is often made by marinating the chicken in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, and other seasonings before grilling it over charcoal. Each skewer typically holds bite-sized pieces of chicken, which are cooked until they are tender and juicy. Yakitori is considered exotic for a few reasons. Firstly, the cooking method and flavor profiles are unique to Japanese cuisine, making it intriguing to those unfamiliar with Japanese food. Additionally, yakitori showcases a wide variety of chicken parts, including the liver, heart, and skin, which may be considered more exotic cuts in other cuisines. Lastly, yakitori often incorporates various seasonings like tare (a sweet and savory glaze), salt, or shichimi (a seven spice blend), enhancing the complexity of flavors and making it a delightful and adventurous eating experience.
Overall, yakitori, found in many towns across Japan, provides a unique and tantalizing glimpse into the country's rich culinary traditions, appealing uniquely to various tastes.

Whale Meat

whale meat

Japan's Controversial Exotic Delicacy

Whale meat has long been a controversial delicacy in Japan. While some view it as a cherished part of their culinary tradition, others argue that it is an unnecessary and cruel practice. Japan has a history of whaling that dates back centuries, and whale meat has been a staple in their diets for generations. However, the international community has condemned Japan's whale hunting, considering many whale species endangered or protected. In recent years, Japan has faced increasing pressure to halt its whaling activities, and in 2019, it announced its withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to resume commercial whaling. This decision stirred even more debate, and conservationists worldwide criticized Japan for its lack of commitment to protecting marine life. Regardless of the controversy surrounding it, the consumption of whale meat remains legal in Japan, and it continues to be served in select restaurants as a traditional exotic delicacy.

Tako Wasabi

tako wasabi

A Spicy Octopus Adventure in Japanese Cuisine

Taco wasabi is a unique and exotic fusion dish that combines elements of Mexican and Japanese cuisine. It consists of a traditional taco filled with ingredients like grilled meat or seafood, fresh vegetables, and a special wasabi-infused sauce. The addition of wasabi, a pungent and spicy Japanese condiment made from horseradish root, gives the dish an unexpected and exciting twist. Taco wasabi is considered exotic because it is a combination of two distinct culinary traditions that are not typically paired together. The use of wasabi in Mexican cuisine, which is more commonly associated with sushi and other Japanese dishes, adds an element of adventure and novelty to the dish. The bold flavors and unique combination of ingredients in taco wasabi make it a standout choice for those seeking out new and daring food experiences.



Japan's Intriguing Bee Larvae Delicacy

Hachinoko is a traditional Japanese delicacy that is considered exotic due to its unique and somewhat controversial preparation. Hachinoko is made from the larvae of honey bees, which are harvested from their hives and cooked in a soy-based sauce. This delicacy is known for its distinctive sweet and tangy flavor, as well as its chewy texture. Although eating insects is not uncommon in many cultures, Hachinoko stands out because of its rarity and the meticulous process of collecting the larvae without harming the hive. Additionally, the idea of consuming bee larvae may be perceived as unusual or unappetizing by those who are unfamiliar with this particular dish. Hachinoko is often regarded as an exotic food because it pushes the boundaries of culinary exploration, challenging diners to venture outside their comfort zones and experience new flavors and textures. However, it is worth noting that Hachinoko is not widely available and is typically reserved for special occasions or for those seeking truly unique gastronomic experiences.

Tips for Adventurous Eaters in Japan

  • Approach every dish with an open heart and curious palate. Japan’s culinary landscape is vast and varied, with each dish narrating a story of its own.
  • Engage with locals or the ever-helpful restaurant staff. Their insights can guide you to the most authentic and enjoyable versions of exotic dishes.
  • Enhance your food journey with local beverages. The nuanced flavors of Japanese drinks, from fragrant sake to fruity umeshu, can elevate every meal.


Japan is like a treasure box full of amazing and unique foods waiting to be discovered. From fish that requires special care when preparing to snacks made from bees, there's always something new and exciting to taste. These dishes tell a story about Japan's history, its relationship with nature, and the creativity of its people. Exploring these foods is not just about trying something new, but also about understanding a different culture and its traditions. So, the next time you're curious about food or planning a culinary adventure, remember the surprising dishes of Japan. Dive in with an open mind and a hungry stomach, and you might just discover a whole new world of flavors and stories.


Q: What is "fugu" and why is it considered one of the most exotic foods in Japan?

A: Fugu is the Japanese term for pufferfish, and it's considered one of the most exotic foods in the country. This delicacy in Japan can be deadly if not prepared correctly, as certain parts of the fish are inedible and highly poisonous. However, trained chefs in Japanese restaurants serve fugu in a way that's safe to eat. When visiting, adventurous diners should definitely try fugu, but only at reputable places in Tokyo or across Japan to ensure safety.

A: Natto consists of fermented soybeans and is a traditional Japanese breakfast food. Many Japanese enjoy it on top of rice or even on top of other dishes. However, it has a slimy texture and a pungent smell, making it a challenge for many foreigners. Despite its unique characteristics, it’s a must-try for anyone looking to discover new aspects of Japanese cuisine.

Q: Can you explain the difference between "sashimi" and "sushi," and where can one find the freshest versions in Japan?

A: Sashimi refers to thinly sliced raw fish, often served with wasabi and dipped in soy sauce. Sushi, on the other hand, involves raw fish, vegetables, or other ingredients placed on or wrapped in vinegared rice, often accompanied by seaweed. For the freshest sashimi and sushi, the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is a top recommendation, though many sushi restaurants across Japan serve top-quality dishes.

A: Basashi is the Japanese term for raw horse meat, which is usually served cold and thinly sliced, often with garlic and wasabi. It's a delicacy in places like Kyushu and Nagano Prefecture. Eating raw horse might sound unusual to many, but it's a part of the Japanese culinary landscape and a dish many locals enjoy.

Q: "Shirako" sounds intriguing. What is it, and how is it commonly consumed in Japanese cuisine?

A: Shirako is the sperm of cod or other fish and is considered a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. With a creamy texture and a mild taste, it can be served in various ways, such as in tempura, or even raw as part of sashimi dishes. When on a trip to Japan, adventurous food enthusiasts might want to add shirako to their list of Japanese foods to try.

Q: What are "takoyaki" and "yakitori," and where are the best places in Japan to try these street foods?

A: Takoyaki are ball-shaped snacks filled with octopus, usually seasoned with sweet and savory sauces, and topped with seaweed and bonito flakes. Yakitori, on the other hand, refers to skewered and grilled chicken. Both are popular street foods in Japan, with Osaka being famous for its takoyaki and many restaurants in places like Tokyo and Kyoto offering delicious yakitori. If you’re on a Japan travel guide, these are must-try dishes.

Q: There's been a debate about whale meat in Japanese cuisine. Is it still consumed, and if so, where can one try it?

A: Yes, whale meat is still consumed in certain parts of Japan, though it's more of a traditional dish and not as widespread as other meats. It's a controversial food outside Japan due to concerns about whaling. Those curious about tasting whale meat can find it in some restaurants in cities like Tokyo and Hokkaido, but always be informed about the ethical concerns surrounding its consumption.

Basic Japanese Dishes

zenDine blog author

Haru is a food writer from Tokyo who writes for the company zenDine. He loves to explore all kinds of Japanese food, from simple home dishes to fancy meals at top restaurants.

Popular Tags
Kyoto Restaurants
Samurai Cuisine
History of Japanese Cuisine
Yokohama Restaurants
Japanese Desserts
Basic Japanese Dishes
Japan Dining 101: Questions and Answers
Affordable Restaurants Tokyo
Osaka Restaurants
Tokyo Restaurants
Fukuoka Restaurants
Nagoya Restaurants
Kobe Restaurants
Hiroshima Restaurants
Recent Posts
Two cups of Japanese green tea, one matcha and one sencha, on a traditional Japanese mat
Matcha vs. Sencha: What is the Difference Between These Japanese Teas?

20 May 2024

Latest Posts

View All