After catering to people from over 15 countries at events, there are some clear winners and losers in the world of Japanese cuisine.

When you take your taste buds on a journey into the world of foreign cuisine, you’re bound to discover some dishes that are easy on the palate while others may take a bit more getting used to.

That’s what our Japanese-language reporter Miho Kazuki found when she moved to Ireland to study. Not only did she learn about her own likes and dislikes; after preparing traditional Japanese dishes for numerous cultural exchange activities she discovered some things about how foreigners respond to food from her home country as well.

During her time overseas, Miho has served Japanese food to foreigners from over 15 countries across Europe, Asia and America, and after repeated trial and error to cater to their palates, she’s found the top five dishes that foreigners want to eat. So let’s get to it and look at the results below!

5. Nikujaga

This dish of simmered potatoes, carrots, onions and meat is a combination people from a lot of countries are familiar with, so there’s nothing that stands out as too unusual here. Even the salty sweet seasoning of soy sauce and sugar is one that’s pleasing to a wide range of palates, so if you’re looking for somewhere safe to begin your journey into Japanese food that’s slightly less well-known, this is a great place to start.

▼ The warm and homely flavours of nikujaga.

4. Ramen

Noodles exist pretty much everywhere, but Japanese ramen is particularly loved for its tasty broth, the most popular of which is soy, miso or tonkotsu (pork bone). Hearty and delicious, a big bowl of steaming hot ramen is another popular choice for foreign palates.

3. Okonomiyaki / Gyoza

Despite being separate dishes, these Osaka-born staples have an equally strong likability factor. Okonomiyaki (okonomi translates to “as you like it” while yaki  means “grill”) is often described as a “savoury pancake”, due to the fact that it’s made with cabbage and a milk-egg-flour batter. Add in the fact that the diner gets to choose additional ingredients like pork or cheese to add to the cabbage-and-batter base, and you have a plate of fried goodness with wide-ranging appeal.

Gyoza, or “pot stickers” as they’re known in some countries, are another crowd pleaser, with their pork-and-vegetable filling providing a juicy counterpart to the chewy texture of the dumplings.

▼ Gyoza (top) and okonomiyaki (bottom).
Note the okonomiyaki is missing the usual mayonnaise, seaweed and katsuoboshi fish flake topping, but the BBQ-sauce-like okonomiyaki sauce is well-loved by all.

2. Karaage

Once you learn that karaage refers to deep-fried chicken, it’s easy to understand why this comes in at number two on Miho’s list of popular foods. Japanese fried chicken is typically served with a wedge of lemon to cut through the oiliness of the delicious crunchy coating.

1. Sushi

Coming in at the number one spot on the list is…sushi! In Japan, the word “sushi” brings images of nigiri sushi (“moulded” sushi, with rice on the bottom and a morsel of seafood on top) to mind, but Miho quickly learned that “sushi” to foreigners usually means “norimaki” (“seaweed roll”). The fillings loved by Miho’s overseas friends aren’t what you’d usually find in Japan either, with ingredients like smoked salmon and cream cheese, and teriyaki chicken being some of the most popular.

Just as there are favourite foods, Miho found there are some dishes and ingredients that don’t quite hit the mark for foreigners. Surprisingly, although norimaki is hugely popular, Miho says seaweed on its own is not. After asking her friends about it, the reasons for its unpopularity stem from its black appearance and paper-like texture, which makes it look “ugly”. In Japan, the crispy texture is what makes it so popular, with strips of seaweed commonly eaten with rice at breakfast.

Another dish that’s yet to get a rave response from all the people she’s catered for is Dashimaki Tamago. This rolled omelette, flavoured with a sweet dashi fish soup stock, has a subtle flavour which foreigners have described to Miho as “flat”. This indicates to Miho that people from abroad respond better to dishes with a punchier sauce or soy sauce flavouring.

So there you have it–the best Japanese dishes for foreigners, with a couple of duds thrown into the mix as well. Like all best and worst lists, this ranking will no doubt spark up some heated debate amongst foodies so let us know what you think in the comments section below!

And if you’re looking to recreate some of these traditional Japanese dishes at home, these easy-to-follow instructional videos by actor Hiro Mizushima will help you achieve that authentic flavour you’ve been looking for.

Photos © SoraNews24
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