By Nathan Roberson
It is easy to overlook Japanese cuisine here at NYU. With the world’s best pizza available by the slice on every block, it is understandable that the $5 sushi at All About Food isn’t wowing anyone. But the food in Japan easily ranks as the country’s second most impressive invention—just behind the Tamogachi pet and right ahead of all other technology. A visit to the country is worth it for the food alone, provided you aren’t afraid to branch out from white rice and soy sauce or Macudonarrudo (McDonald’s for the English challenged). Here are the top 5 foods a visitor to Japan needs to try:
- Okonomiyaki – From a “Japanese pizza” and “Japanese pancake,” to, even, a “Japanese omelet,” the forced cultural equivalents abound for this food. Rather than some horrific omelet-pizza-pancake blend, this is a delicious pan-fried batter cake stuffed with assorted veggies, shrimp and meat. The name literally means “cook what you like,” making it perfect for Westerners who want to cherry-pick the ingredients of their food without seeming rude.
- Onigiri – A ball of rice wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with ingredients like cod roe or pickled plums. It sounds like something out of Fear Factor, but this popular snack is as compulsively munchable as a bag of chips – and much healthier.
- Hakata Ramen – In the west, we think of ramen as something you eat when you are down to whatever loose change you can find between the couch cushions. In Japan, it is more like pizza. It’s not exactly fine dining, but it’s extremely popular, with numerous specialty restaurants throughout the country each selling their own regional variation. The best of these is Hakata Ramen, the specialty of the city of Fukuoka, which comes in a thick pork broth and fills you up in a way that only 500 percent of your daily value of sodium can.
- Toro – This is the Ferrari Enzo of sushi. If you’ve ever wanted to spend half a paycheck on a few bites of uncooked tuna, this is the food for you.
- Natto – This consists of fermented soybeans that look like chickpeas in snot and taste like the bottom of the East River—at least, to 90 percent of us. A mysterious 1 in 10 people seem to love it and swear by it, so give it a shot. Either you love it or you hate it so much that you automatically love whatever you eat next simply because it’s not natto.