I don’t eat seafood. Japan’s dietary cornerstone is seafood. You might think this makes things hard. You would be mistaken.
This has been a personal quirk of mine for as long as I can remember, and for most of my life it hasn’t given me any issues. But for most of my life I’ve lived in the American south, where everything is barbecue this and smoked that.
Here, there’s octopus balls, sushi, grilled eel, squids on sticks, and just as many ways to cook fish as there were extras in Finding Nemo. So obviously I’d have to change my diet, right?
For one thing, anything you can eat in America, you can probably find here in Japan.
Mexican, Italian, French, pizza, burgers, hell, even English food is available if you know where to look. Some most of it will be slightly different. Italian restaurants offer Japanese style dishes or have combinations you’ve probably never seen. Japanese pizza is notoriously weird (mayonnaise, roe, corn (don’t forget about our yellow friend), etc. are available), but there are plenty of more “traditional” options available. (Remember kiddies: Italian-Americans in New York City invented pizza, and it has slowly been more and more bastardized from its Mediterranean roots.) I haven’t tried all of these, but what I have tried has been pretty damn good. My dad says that when traveling, Italian food is always Italian food, and that holds true here…. except the Italian food I’ve had has almost been better than in the states.
Western food items in Japan often are better than their western countries of origin. Japanese Dr. Pepper, for instance, is phenomenal. It blows American Dr. Pepper out of the water, and even holds a candle to the now-impossible-to-find Dublin Dr. Pepper.
Pizza has been pretty good, no matter where you order it, even if the restauranteurs here seem more restrained in their topping options. I haven’t had a Japanese burger yet, though there are plenty of bars near where I live that offer the Original Navy Burger. (Reports often claim none of them are very good, let alone the true “original.”) Lots of menu items are in French, too, including pizza. Mille feuille, for example, is pizza offered by Dominos that has a thin layer of cheese between the crusts. French is fancy, and pizza could use an extra dash of classiness.
Of course Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indian food is everywhere too, as is Japanese food. Food items are often sold individually, so you have to order fried rice as an additional side dish. That caught me off guard when I had curry: I ordered my chicken tikka masala and my naan, expecting rice, and sat around for a few minutes as my dumb American brain pieced together the waiter’s inactivity with the knowledge that rice was indeed on the menu as a side dish.
As for Japanese food, there are all sorts of food options available, including dishes the average American probably has never heard of. Sure, there’s sushi, but there’s also all sorts of tonkatsu dishes, yakitori, yakiniku, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, okonomiyaki, and piles and piles of ramen. Just so damn much ramen. If you see a restaurant and can’t figure out what they serve based on the sign, assume it’s ramen. Most of these dishes have seafood-free varieties, and there are plenty of options that don’t even pretend to be based on seafood. The cook-it-yourself style foods are usually beef or pork, for example. Fried chicken is pretty common too, and that’s even disregarding the cult-like popularity of KFC here.
There are some weird food options available, too. Remember our good buddy, Colonel Kernel? He pops up all over, usually in places you wouldn’t expect. Like coffee.
If you want your candy bars to turn up, you have options.
Snack foods run the gamut. I don’t even know what some of this stuff is, but I do eat all sorts of green tea candies. If you have ever had a snack, there’s probably a green tea equivalent here, too. But why stop with green tea? If you want to have something unique to Japan, walk into the snack aisle and look for something like Sad Piglet Yum Yums:
Speaking of pork, let’s talk about gyoza.
Gyoza is an appetizer found just about anywhere. No matter the country of origin, you can probably find gyoza there. There’s a reason for this: gyoza is awesome. This little dumpling is like heroin wrapped in flour. It’s like a rainbow arcing directly into a unicorn as it’s being fried and dipped in soy sauce. For such a simple group of ingredients, gyoza is far better than it should be. Nobody knows what kind of pork is inside, and that’s okay. You could tell me the best gyoza is made with pig rectum and I’d still scarf it down.