Japan is known for having both bizarre and delicious cuisine. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t just put things into your mouth all willy-nilly. Pay special attention to these six foods, and you may just find a new favorite flavor—and avoid an upset stomach!
Try: Real Ramen
Forget the 20-cent noodle bricks that college students thrive on and try some real Japanese ramen. There are many varieties and each ramen shop has its own way of doing things. For a truly unforgettable ramen, step into a dedicated ramen shop. Pork-based, chicken-based, and soy sauce-based ramens are the best for beginners to try. Make sure to order one with meat (pork is the best) and hard-boiled egg. Beware, once you try the real stuff, those noodle bricks aren’t going to look very appetizing. (But honestly, did they ever?)
Avoid: Pocari Sweat
This inexplicably popular sports drink is ubiquitous in vending machines and convenience stores. It’s like the Japanese version of Gatorade, except that Gatorade actually tastes good. Pocari Sweat tastes like it sounds: sweaty. Like Gatorade, it contains electrolytes and helps rehydrate after exercising or sweating on a hot day, and it’s low in calories and sugar, so it’s a much healthier choice than soda. It tastes a little like watered-down gatorade if someone forgot to add the flavoring. However, many people come to enjoy the taste and it’s said to be a great remedy for a sore throat, so try it at your own peril.
Try: Okinawan Taco
No trip to the Okinawan islands is complete without an Okinawan taco. The Okinawan taco seems to have been created by someone with only a loose understanding of the word ‘taco.’ It has no tortilla, just a heaping white rice base covered in seasoned ground beef, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and crushed Doritos. You can also order with bacon, cheese, avocado, and so on. They’re cheap and delicious, and easy to replicate at home!
Let’s be honest, Game of Thrones fans: you want to be a khaleesi. The beautiful blonde Daenerys Targaryen is the coolest contender for the throne, and that’s a fact. But remember the scene where she had to eat a raw horse heart? Gross, right? In the event that you wanted to test your stomach’s mettle, you can undergo the same stomach-turning ritual in Japan by trying basashi. Basashi is raw horse meat and is almost universally described as vile and nauseating. Avoid at all costs.
Matcha is powdered green tea, and it’s extremely popular in Japan and abroad. Matcha powder can be bought and added to many things: matcha cake, matcha lattes, matcha cookies, and so on. It has a light flavor and pairs very well with sweet things. It’s healthy, so don’t feel bad about trying matcha this, that, and everything. Matcha milk is surprisingly delicious, and a bag or two of matcha Kit Kat bars will make a great taste of Japan to bring back to your friends at home.
Natto is fermented sticky soybeans. Every non-Japanese person you meet with unequivocally tell you not to try it. In the event that your curiosity gets the better of you and you simply must try it, make sure to leave it for the end of the meal, as the taste will stick in your mouth and befoul everything else you eat for hours. Remember: if it smells bad, it will probably taste bad.