Food in Japanese – All you need to know about Japan’s cuisine

Do you like Japanese cuisine? Then, this lesson about food in Japanese is perfect for you! What kind of Japanese food item have you tried until now, and which one is familiar to you? Well, sushi is probably the most famous dish from Japan, and ramen noodles might be one of your favorites.

Food in Japanese

However, there is a broad variety of flavors and food to try in Japan. Let’s discover some Japanese food today!

How do you say “food” in Japanese?

The Japanese word for “food” is たべもの (tabemono | 食べ物). It comes from the verb たべる (taberu | 食べる), which means to eat, and もの (mono | 物), meaning thing. It literally means “things to eat.” In Japan, food culture is a big thing.

How you cook, what you eat, how you serve, locals care about a lot of these things. Having three meals in a day is standard in modern society, and it’s common to have a lunch box prepared with care.

Japanese Words for Food and Related Vocabularies

Even for the words related to food in Japanese, there are a few variations. For example, ごはん (gohan | ご飯) is common among women and children, but めし (meshi | 飯) is a little cruder.

Here, I’m introducing you to the basics for everyday use.

meal食事、ご飯しょくじ、ごはんshokuji, gohan
breakfast朝食、朝ごはんちょうしょく、あさごはんchoushoku, asagohan
lunch昼食、昼ごはんちゅうしょく、ひるごはんchuushoku, hirugohan
dinner夕食、夜ごはんゆうしょく、よるごはんyuushoku, yorugohan
school lunch給食きゅうしょくkyuushoku
lunch boxお弁当おべんとう、べんとうobentou, bentou

They have a lot of variety. わしょく (washoku | 和食 ) means traditional Japanese food while ようしょく (youshoku | 洋食) means Western food. Let’s learn more food vocabulary!

“Meat” in Japanese

The Japanese word for “meat” is にく (niku | 肉). Starting from Kobe beef, Japan is also a well-known producer of some quality meat. Especially Japan’s bred beef is called わぎゅう (wagyu | 和牛), and many foreign tourists are often amazed by its tenderness and rich fatty flavor.

There is a variety of meat-based dishes using beef, pork, and chicken brands all over the country. All of them are written with the kanji for meat which is niku (肉/にく) like this:


Other Protein Foods

Here are other sources of protein or たんぱくげん (tanpaku-gen | たんぱく源) in Japanese.

egg 卵、玉子たまご / タマゴtamago

“Seafood” in Japanese

“Seafood” in Japanese is ぎょかい (gyokai | 魚介) or かいさんぶつ (kaisanbutsu | 海産物/).

Japanese food すし (sushi | 寿司) has become world-famous, but since the country is an island surrounded by various seas and oceans, they offer a wide selection of seafood. They often appear in kanji or katakana.

Usually, the name of fish has radical さかな (sakana | 魚) and shellfish has むし (mushi | 虫/むし) in its kanji name. Here are some seafood-related words:

tuna fishまぐろ / マグロmaguro
salmonさけ / サケsake
bonitoかつお / カツオkatsuo
eelうなぎ / ウナギunagi
octopusたこ / タコtako
squid烏賊いか / イカika
shrimp海老、蝦えび / エビebi
crabかに / カニkani

“Vegetables” in Japanese

The word for “vegetables” in Japanese is やさい (yasai | 野菜).

In their supermarket, one can see the name of vegetables in hiragana or hiragana-kanji mixed form. Some of them might not be typical in your country, though they’re essential in Japanese cuisine, such as Tempura and Shabu-Shabu. See below for more information:

potato馬鈴薯、じゃが芋ばれいしょ、じゃがいもbareisho, jaga-imo
sweet potato 薩摩芋、さつま芋さつまいもsatsuma-imo
lotus root蓮根れんこんrenkon
shiitake mushroom椎茸しいたけshiitake
bamboo shoot筍、竹の子たけのこtakenoko

“Fruits” in Japanese

Fruits are called くだもの (kudamono | 果物) in Japan.

Thanks to the varied climates, the country produces a unique range of fruits, from cold-weather-suited to tropical fruits. Fuji apple is probably the most popular and widely known Japanese fruit since the 1980s.

Also, you might be surprised to see numerous kinds of かんきつ (kankitsu | 柑橘 | citrus or orange) and いちご (ichigo | 苺 | strawberry) in season. Here are some of the other Japanese words for fruits:

apple林檎りんご / リンゴringo
mandarin蜜柑みかん / ミカンmikan
grapes葡萄ぶどう / ブドウbudou
peachもも / モモmomo
Japanese plumうめume
water melon西瓜すいか / スイカsuika
strawberryいちご / イチゴichigo

Common Cooking Ingredients in Japanese

ちょうみりょう (choumiryou | 調味料) are condiments or seasoning used when cooking.

Just like Italian cuisines are based on olive oil and garlic, Japanese cuisine also requires its specialties. だし (dashi | 出汁), full of うまみ (umami | 旨味), is a key for most of Japan’s recipes, and みそ (miso | 味噌 ) adds a tangy and savory flavor.

Here are other commonly used cooking ingredients:

soy sauce醤油しょうゆshouyu
Miso, fermented soybean paste味噌みそmiso
stock in general出汁だしdashi
honey蜂蜜はちみつ / ハチミツhachimitsu

Japanese dishes at home

Japanese Food Names

In this next section of the Japanese food vocabulary, you’ll learn about the names of popular Japanese food. These lists of traditional Japanese food are categorized from the ones you’ll find at home to those you can order at Japanese restaurants.

Japanese Dishes at Home

Typically, わしょく (washoku | 和食), the Japanese traditional style meal, consists of a main dish and a variety of side dishes. Since Washoku sets their ideal to いちじゅうさんさい (Ichiju Sansai | 一汁三菜/いち), meaning one soup and three side dishes, it’s common to serve the main dish with rice, soup, and pickled vegetables. Here’s what they’re called:

rice米、ご飯こめ、ごはんkome, gohan
Japanese rice粳米うるちまいuruchimai
main dish (typically fish or meat-based)主菜しゅさいshusai
side dish (typically soybean or vegetable-based)副菜、おかずふくさい、おかずfukusai, okazu
miso soupお味噌汁、味噌汁おみそしる、みそしるomisoshiru, misoshiru
picklesお漬物、漬物おつけもの、つけものotsukemono, tsukemono

Traditional Japanese Cuisine at Japanese Restaurants

Japanese people love to focus on the food’s mild, flavorful taste. They aren’t particularly fond of spicy food. If you haven’t been to Japan yet and you’re wondering what food items are typically served, here they are:

Sushi (seafood with vinegared sushi rice)寿司すしsushi
Sashimi (raw fish)刺し身さしみsashimi
Tempura (fried seafood)天麩羅てんぷらtenpura
Shabu-Shabu (hotpot with thin sliced meat and vegetables)-しゃぶしゃぶshabushabu
Okonomiyaki (savory pancake)お好み焼きおこのみやきokonomiyaki
Teppanyaki (grilled meat/fish/vegetables on a hot plate)鉄板焼きてっぱんやきteppanyaki

Japan’s Noodle Dishes

Japanese noodles are loved by many – locals and foreigners alike! Wheat flour is the most important component in making noodles. Common noodle types are:

Ramen, generally served hot, wheat-based noodles拉麺らーめん / ラーメンraamen
Udon, wheat-based noodles-うどんudon
Soba, buckwheat noodles蕎麦そばsoba
Soumen, thin slices, fragile little wheat noodles: 素麺そうめんsoumen
Chukasoba, Chinese noodles, ramen without soup中華そばちゅかそばchuka soba

Fusion Dishes

European and Asian cuisine influenced a lot of Japan’s cooking over time, and many fusion menus were created. Adapting to Japanese tastes, they like to make their own Japanese versions, like teriyaki burgers or green tea milkshakes.

As we mentioned above, these are called ようしょく (youshoku | 洋食) and are loved by all generations. Here are some of the favorites:

Tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet)-とんかつtonkatsu
Karaage (deep fried food)唐揚げからあげkaraage
Yakiniku (grilled meat) 焼肉やきにくyakiniku
Curry-rice (Japanese curry and rice)-カレーライスkareeraisu
Omu-rice (fried rice cover in omellete)-オムライスomuraisu

Japanese Sweets Names

The Japanese word for “sweet foods” are おかし (okashi | お菓子), かんみ (kanmi | 甘味), and デザート (dezaato).

Western confectioneries are in general written with katakana using English-based words. But traditional Japanese sweets called wagashi have a variety of names. The most common wagashi is with sweetened red bean paste, and many of them look like refined artworks.

Japanese sweets

Traditional Japanese Sweets

Traditional sweets are called わがし (wagashi | 和菓子). Seasonal components like fruits and flowers are often added when making these sweets. Here are some of the popular sweets:

Nerikiri, a type of confection練り切りねりきりnerikiri
Dango, rice flour dumpling: 団子、お団子だんご、おだんごdango, odango
Manju, stuffed pastry饅頭、お饅頭まんじゅう、おまんじゅうmanjuu, omanjuu
Daifuku, stuffed rice cake大福だいふくdaifuku
Dorayaki, pancake-like pattiesどら焼きどらやきdorayaki
Youkan, jelly candy羊羹ようかんyoukan
Warabimochi, bracken starch sweets蕨餅、わらび餅わらびもちwarabimochi
Karintou, deep-fried snack花林糖かりんとうkarintou

Western confectionery

Western confectioneries are called ようがし (yougashi | 洋菓子). These are a variety of European/Western sweets with a twist of Japanese. Ice cream is a very popular dessert in Japan. Sometimes, the locals like to eat it as an afternoon snack.

chou à la crèmeシュークリームshuukuriimu
ice creamアイスクリームaisu kuriimu

Adjectives to describe food in Japanese

How does it taste? Is it yummy? Here’s a short list of adjectives that describe the taste of the cuisine. How many of them did you know already?

Adjectives Describing Taste

Here’s how you can explain how you find the food’s flavor:


Adjectives Describing Food Temperature

How do you like your drinks? There are noodles served cold, too. Here are some temperature-describing words:


Adjectives Describing Food Textures

Food will always be one of the most common topics out there. Describe your fantastic lunch or dinner using these:

hard 硬いかたいkatai
sticky粘粘ねばねば neba neba
crispy-かりかりkari kari
chewy-もちもちmochi mochi
fluffy-ふわふわfuwa fuwa

If you’d like to know more about these descriptive words, we have an article dedicated to Japanese adjectives.

Japanese Food is Much More Than Sushi!

Once you learn some Japanese words for food, you won’t get lost in Japanese supermarkets or get confused about finding a specialized restaurant. We know how many countries in the world have Japanese restaurants because their cuisine is just delish!

There’re also many authentic Japanese food recipes available online. So, why don’t you find out your new favorites?

がんばってください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

    2 replies to "Food in Japanese – All you need to know about Japan’s cuisine"

    • Vijay

      Thanks for complete information.

      • 90 Day Japanese

        Thanks for your comment, Vijay! ^^ If you want, you can visit the 90 Day Japanese Blog to find more great content on learning Japanese. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel for video lessons. You’ll get updated when our latest videos become available.

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