While Japanese food is definitely delicious and one of the most popular cuisines around the world, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its fair share of weird and (questionably) wonderful ones! We usually talk about delicious snacks, yummy places to eat, or local specialties you have to try. But today, we’re talking about the weirdest Japanese food!
Nattō is an infamous traditional dish made from fermented soybeans. It is slimy, sticky and stringy and this odd texture tends to turn foreigners off. The pungent smell doesn’t make it any better, often compared to stinky cheese or even old socks. If you can get past the texture and smell, many people describe nattō tasting like cheese, or even earthy bacon with a mild bitterness.
Despite its supposed acquired taste (or the lack thereof), natto actually has a wide range of health benefits. This includes reducing cholesterol, blood pressure levels, and decreasing the risk of heart disease! Nattō can be found throughout Japan, from convenience stores to restaurants. For the best nattō in Japan, head to Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture – the nattō capital of the world!
Horse sashimi, anybody? It can be hard to fathom why anyone would eat horse, since Western cultures tend to view them as companions. Originating from Kumamoto, horses were consumed due to a lack of food in the feudal era, and later on in the Second World War. Basashi is said to have a slightly sweet flavor, and its color can range from pink to deep red.
Some horse meat dishes include sakuranabe (horse meat hot pot) or baniku (horse barbecue). But more often than not, it is in sashimi form. Apart from Kumamoto, you can also find horse meat in the Tohoku region.
Fun fact: the Emperor of Japan is forbidden from eating fugu. This is because fugu, or blowfish, carries a deadly neurotoxin. The restaurant preparation of fugu is strictly controlled by law in Japan. Chefs have to go through three or more years of rigorous training before they can prepare the fish!
Most people describe the taste of fugu as delicate, but underwhelming. It seems that people are more taken in by the thrill of flirting with death than its actual taste! Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi is the fugu capital in Japan, although there are also several Michelin-starred fugu restaurants in other parts of the country. It might not be the weirdest Japanese food, but it sure is the most dangerous to consume!
The mottainai concept in Japan extends to its food, which means that parts like fish eyeballs and fish eggs are usually eaten too. Here’s one that might make most people shuffle uncomfortably in their seats and even take the crown of weirdest Japanese food: fish sperm sacs.
Shirako is usually served raw and you can also find it on rice, gunkan-maki style. The flavor is mild but fishy, and the texture is soft and disconcertingly creamy. If you’re adventurous enough to try shirako, you can find it throughout Japan in sushi bars and izakayas. It will no doubt give you some bragging rights, although your friends might be more horrified than impressed.
Here’s a dish much more controversial than horse sashimi – whale meat. Whaling in Japan dates back centuries, and whale meat was the primary source of protein in Japan after World War II. Today, whale meat is no longer a staple, much more of a novelty instead.
Apparently, whale meat tastes more like land animals and fish. It is thick, chewy with a gamey flavour. Only a few restaurants specialize in it and most of them are in Tokyo. One of them is Kujiraya in Shibuya.
Another sashimi dish that’s sure to raise a few eyebrows, torisashi is raw chicken sashimi. While consuming raw chicken is a big no-no in most Western cultures, you can actually find them in many restaurants in Japan.
The chickens come from small farms to ensure utmost quality and freshness, and reduce the risk of salmonella. The most common cut for torisashi is also the breast meat, as it is least likely to be contaminated with the bacteria. The chicken is sliced thinly, then seared lightly to give a slight char. Torisashi is very soft and chewy, and it goes with soy sauce, lemon, wasabi – like your traditional sashimi, except you’re eating raw chicken!