Planning a trip to Japan this winter? I guess you might have already started thinking about the foods that you want to try along with experiencing lots of activities on your next visit to Japan. Here in this post, I have picked the 10 most popular treats that the Japanese people prefer to eat in the winter. As Japanese cuisine is rich and diverse from hot pot dishes to seasonal fruits, you should taste its traditional and seasonal foods as much as you can. And to get a real taste of the country’s cuisine, you must do it.

Osechi Ryori, traditional Japanese New Year foods. Photo Credit: dnak at Flickr.

Japan is one of the best winter holiday destinations in the world, attracting millions of tourists including adventure seekers and food lovers alike every year. When you are in Japan, the best advice to you would be to taste the different kinds foods served both at restaurants and the ones (street foods) that can be purchased from food stands.

Japanese cuisine is greatly influenced by local history, traditions, and seasonal ingredients. So don’t you think that you can enjoy and experience Japanese culture with eating the most popular winter foods? Let’s take a look at the top 10 foods you can try while you are in Japan this winter.

1) Oden

Wanna try this oden?! Photo Credit: Hykw-a4 at Wikimedia Commons.

Oden is one of the famous Japanese winter dishes to warm you up during the winter weather. Cooked in a soy sauce based broth, this delicious hot pot dish is a perfect treat to make your soul satisfying when the weather gets chilly. Seeing people enjoying oden during winter in front of a yatai (food stands) is a common scene here in Japan.

The dish consists of a variety of ingredients such as tofu, fish cakes, konbu, shirataki, boiled egg, squid balls, daikon radish, konnyaku jelly, and so on. Its flavor is quite unique and tasty! Even though often Oden is considered a popular street food, it can also be found at convenience stores and oden restaurants throughout Japan.

2) Fugu

Fugu is served! Photo Credit: Peter Kaminski at Flickr.

Possibly one of the top dangerous foods in the world, Fugu (pufferfish) is a special Japanese winter delicacy that is very delicious to eat, but poisonous at the same time. It’s usually prepared and served by a highly trained and licensed fugu chef. A little mistake in its preparation can kill someone who consumes it. So a certified chef must remove toxic parts from the meat of a fugu fish before it’s served.

Fugu is one of the expensive delicacies in Japanese cuisine. It can be eaten only at the fugu restaurants found across the country as it’s dangerous to prepare at home. There are a number of fugu dishes, and the most common type is called fugu sashimi. To prepare it, a chef carefully slices the flash of fugu very thinly. And then the slices are beautifully arranged in circle to resemble a chrysanthemum flower on a large plate. Finally, it’s served with yuzu, daikon, sudachi citrus, edible flowers, and ponzu (citrus-based sauce.)

If you travel for food, fugu is definitely a kind of unique dish that you have to try in Japan.

3) Ramen

A bowl of Sapporo ramen at a restaurant at Susukino neighborhood, Sapporo City. Photo Credit: 663highland at Flickr.

Ramen is eaten all year round. Surprised knowing it?! There are many types of foods you can try in Japan, and eating ramen during winter is a great experience. Northern part of Japan including Hokkaido is harsh during winter, and when you are in there for sightseeing, don’t forget to have a bowl of hot ramen. That definitely will keep you warm in chilly weather.

What is ramen? You can take a look at the picture above to get some idea. It’s a Japanese noodle soup dish, served in a fish or meat-based broth, flavored with miso or soy sauce, and topped with sweet corn, green onion, boiled egg, chashu, fresh ginger, menma, butter, negi,  seaweed, bean sprouts, and mushrooms.

Hokkaido is known for its regional ramen. One of its kinds is called Sapporo ramen. It’s very appetizing as it’s topped with sweet corns, creamy butter, fresh vegetables and seafood including slices of pork. If you are going to visit Sapporo this winter, try this! I think a bowl of delicious Sapporo ramen will not be satisfying, you will want to have some more! Sapporo, the capital of the Hokkaido region is itself a great place to take a food tour for many foodies.

4) Ozoni

This ozoni dish looks beautiful! Photo Credit: Toukou Sousui at Wikimedia Commons.

Eaten in the morning on New Year’s Day in Japan, this special dish is what you will have to eat to bring good luck and hope for a good year. Ozoni is a traditional Japanese soup, filled with mochi and different ingredients. Please note mochi is the main ingredient of Ozoni and it provides a lot of calories with free gluten and cholesterol!

Just like ramen, Ozoni also comes in different varieties. You can even see round and square mochi; on the other hand, in some part of Japan, they are grilled and simmered. In Hokkaido, locals enjoy the soup (sumashijiru) with grilled mochi including several types of vegetables and fish.

As its flavor and ingredients varies by region and household, you experience a wide variety of ingredients. Carrot, daikon, fish, chicken, spinach, mushrooms, seafood, yuzu peel, kamaboko and other vegetables can be added to the soup. Hokkaido style Ozoni is quite different to the variety that people usually consume in the Kanto region of Japan.

5) Nikuman

These buns are appetizing. Photo Credit: hirotomo t at Flickr.

There are many dishes in Japan that were originally imported from China. Nikuman is a Chinese-style steamed hot bun filled with ground pork and other ingredients. It’s a popular Japanese winter snack enjoyed by all. Besides, eating Nikuman in the fall is also enjoying and part Japanese food culture.

The texture of the buns is chewy and soft. It does make feel good when you take a bite of Nikuman. The ingredients used to make nikuman are chopped finely, which include pork, scallion, cabbage, dried shiitake mushrooms and ginger. Sometimes beef is used instead of pork. So if you think that pork is not your cup of your tea, then use beef.

Upon arrival of winter, convenience stores located throughout Japan start selling yummy Nikuman. Want to try how to make Nikuman at home? Learn the recipe here.

6) Nabemono

Sukiyaki nabe and other condiments. Photo Credit: M S at Flickr.

It’s very hard to choose one or two specific types of Nabemono dishes because it comes in many varieties! It’s a Japanese hotpot dish, and mostly eaten in autumn and winter. Here, nabe simply refers pot (clay pot), and mono means things. When you visit Japan in the winter, don’t leave the country without trying this special winter dish.

Eating nabe is always fun. This popular winter hotpot dish is usually cooked in a portable stove at the dining table. The clay pot is filled with plenty of fresh vegetables, noodles, meat (slices of pork or beef), seafood, tofu, and egg. All these ingredients are cooked together in a miso or soy sauce based broth. Nabe is either eaten with the broth or with a dipping sauce or sometimes dipped into beaten row egg. Those who are vegetarian can also enjoy the dish if they don’t add the slices of meat and fish into the pot.

A few famous nabe varieties that you can try in Japan are Shabu shabu, Crab (kani) nabe, Yosenabe, Sukiyaki, Ishikari nabe, Mizutaki nabe, Chanko nabe, and Motsu nabe. Among these, Ishikari nabe (made of salmon and vegetables) is a very popular hot pot dish in the Hokkaido region. You must try this out on your next voyage to the region.

7) Nikujaga

Nikujaga has been cooked! Photo Credit: eiko at Flickr.

Nikujaga is a simple Japanese stewed dish, served throughout the winter months in Japan. The word “Nikujaga” literally means meat and potato, which is stewed in sweetened soy sauce broth and served with freshly boiled white rice. The dish is usually simmered until most of the liquid has been reduced and vegetables get tender.

It’s kind of a Japanese version of beef stew. Please note slices of beef are used only as a source of flavor. It takes less time to prepare with adding only few ingredients such as slices of beef, potatoes, carrots, onions, snow peas, soy sauce, mirin, dashi, sugar, and sake. If you want then you can also add other seasonal vegetables of your choice.

8) Yudofu

Yudofu (boiled hot tofu). Photo Credit: hiro kobashi at Flickr.

Yudofu, another kind of Japanese hot pot (nabe) dish, is very simple to make. Originated in Kyoto, Yudofu simply means hot tofu and is considered one of the precious dishes in zen cuisine. Traditionally Buddhist monks prepare and eat this vegan nabe at temples during the winter months. Please note most of the hot pot dishes in Japan are full of vegetables, meat, and fish, but Yudofu contains only tofu, though.

Making yudofu is very simple, just warm up tofu pieces in kombu flavored dashi broth and usually served with tangy ponzu sauce or soy sauce for dipping. You can also add green onion, chopped scallions, and shredded daikon as part of condiments. It tastes good, healthy, and perfect to warm you up in the harsh winter weather.

9) Oshiruko and Zenzai

Zenzai, a traditional Japanese dessert. Photo Credit: Tomomarusan at Flickr.

Whether you call it Oshiroku/Shiruko or Zenzai, the name of it can varies from region to region throughout the country, but the process of making is similar except some people prefer eating it with mochi, while others prefer to enjoy the dish with dango as topping. This is a very simple dish which is perfect to have on a cold day indeed!

Shiruko is a sweet-flavored traditional Japanese dessert soup made of anko (azuki bean paste). Although zenzai and oshiroku may have some difference, you should not bother with that much. You may experience the dish where beans are crushed into paste and has a more watery consistency. On the other hand, you may find that beans are not crushed and less watery. The dessert soup tastes better when it’s served hot.

10) Yakiimo

Yakiimo! Photo Credit: Haruo.takagi at Flickr.

Winter is actually the best time to travel to Japan. There are many reasons why I am telling you this. With enjoying delicious winter foods in the country, you will have plenty of things to see and do in the winter.  Let’s take a look at the final one, which in fact, one of my favorite autumn and winter snacks, it’s called Yakiimo!

Yakiimo, the roasted sweet potato, is a healthy snack/street food that you can eat during autumn and winter. Yakiimo vendors freshly back sweet potatoes using an oven that’s placed in the back of their trucks/carts. These days a very few yakiimo trucks can be seen out on the street as these sweet potatoes can easily be found at most supermarkets.

That’s it! The above are highly recommended to you to taste when you take a trip to Japan this winter. I am sure you will not be disappointed by trying these mouth-watering dishes. Oh, I have a request to you, please drinks hot sake! And finally, if you are going to celebrate the New Year in Japan, try Osechi Ryori (a collection of foods), are the traditional foods eaten on New Year’s Day. Thank you!