Ever since our first trip to Japan, we’ve been in love with the country and especially its food. This includes Japanese breakfast. When it comes to a traditional Japanese breakfast don’t expect bacon and eggs. In this post, we look at what a typical Japanese breakfast consists of and some of our favorite breakfast dishes to eat in Japan.
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What Do The Japanese Eat For Breakfast?
Amber and I typically eat a simple breakfast of fruit, yogurt, or porridge. Except when we are traveling, especially when we are in Japan. The food in Japan is just too good not to go fully local, including breakfast. So, what is a typical Japanese breakfast? And which Japanese breakfast meals you should try?
As we talk about in our Osaka Food Guide, we absolutely LOVE Japanese food. The focus on fresh ingredients along with simple yet complex cooking techniques, make Japanese food irresistible. With that in mind, we’ve put together this guide of 13 must try Japanese style breakfast dishes. There are certainly more dishes to try, but these will help you will eat while you’re traveling around Japan.
One of the most famous dishes in Japan, Miso is a fermented soy paste. It’s mixed with water to make a creamy umami-flavored broth-type soup. Often served as a side dish, it can be enjoyed on its own. I’m generally not a huge fan of miso soup. That said, a really good miso soup can hit the spot. In a typical miso, you’ll find vegetables, mushrooms, scallions, or tofu. When we were in northern Japan working on our Sapporo Food Guide, having a hot bowl of miso for breakfast was a nice way to start the day.
Yakizakana is a traditional Japanese breakfast meal based around grilled whole fish. It’s versatile, healthy, and packed full of nourishing oils and proteins. The fish is cooked so the flesh remains firm and flaky. The skin remains crispy and well-seasoned. Yakizakana is served by itself or with a miso or soy dressing. The most popular fish used for this breakfast food in Japan are needlefish, salmon, cod, and mackerel.
Ohitashi is a traditional Japanese meal that uses a technique where vegetables or seafood are boiled before soaking in dashi. You’ll find ohitashi being served for breakfast with dried fish flakes called katsuobushi. Additionally, spinach, asparagus, or okra are served alongside the ohitashi. In true Japanese fashion, ohitashi is eaten for breakfast with a portion of white rice or miso soup.
This is one of our favorite Japanese breakfast dishes. Tamagoyaki is a popular dish for both Japanese breakfast and as a snack. Tamagoyaki translates to fried or grilled egg. It’s prepared like an omelet and is a great introductory dish to Japanese food. A special tamagoyaki pan is used to create the iconic rectangular shape. Admittedly, Amber and I have eaten tamagoyaki more in the evening with some sake, rather than at breakfast. A proper tamagoyaki is light and airy, yet has enough structure to be eaten with chopsticks. Don’t ask me how they do it.
This versatile dish can be served sweet or savory. It’s perfectly normal to find a cold version of tamagoyaki when eating sushi in Japan. In addition, you’ll find a warm version of tamagoyaki that pairs great with white rice and pickled vegetables.
Another soybean-based breakfast dish, natto is an extremely popular breakfast dish in Japan. Like miso soup, natto is made from fermented soybeans. These super healthy beans feature a potent smell and unique taste. The gooey texture of natto is not to everyone’s taste. When I first sampled natto there was no way I was going back for more. But eventually, I became accustomed to the smell and taste and actually enjoy natto. Not only does natto taste good once you’ve got used to it, but it’s extremely healthy. Natto carries a lot of nutritional value, including immune system boosters.
Onigiri is a snack-sized rice ball that is wrapped in seaweed. The rice is soaked in salt and pickle liquid. As well as preserving the onigiri, the salt, and pickle provide the primary flavoring. Fillings are added, making it a very simple, yet tasty Japanese breakfast dish. In the fast-paced environment of Japan, onigiri is one of the most popular grab-and-go foods in Japan. You can find them in convenience stores like Lawsons and 7-11.
Also known as Japanese rice porridge, okayu is a simple yet filling Japanese breakfast meal. Throughout Asia, rice porridge is a very popular breakfast dish. Whenever we eat breakfast in Thailand, I’m going with “jok”, Thai rice porridge. Whether it’s Japan or Thailand, rice porridge is easy to make, delicious to eat, and cheap. Okayu is made using polished, short-grain rice, similar to sushi rice. On it’s own, okayu is rather bland. To liven it up, chicken, scallions, eggs, salted fish, or pickled vegetables are added.
This Japanese breakfast dish originated in Nagoya in 1921. The idea came from a shopkeeper who noticed their customers dipping their toast into porridge. This got him thinking and led to the creation of ogura toast. Ogura is thick slices of toast topped with ogura jam. The jam itself is made with sweet red beans. In addition to the jam, ogura is served with a large dollop of butter and whipped cream. If you’re looking for an indulgent authentic Japanese breakfast and have a sweet tooth, look for ogura toast.
Hakumai – White Rice
There’s no more typical Japanese breakfast item than white rice. Rice is simply the backbone of Japanese cuisine. Every meal, every dish, at all hours of the day will have rice. Hakumai is the perfect accompaniment to any dish. Hakumai is that it is highly nutritious. It is a good source of fiber, protein, calcium, vitamin B, and iron, which means it has some excellent health benefits.
Tamago Kake Gohan
Tamago Kake Gohan is my kind of breakfast. This traditional Japanese breakfast dish is cheap, simple, and tasty. It’s easy to make that you could even try making it at home. A word of warning, tamago kake gohan contains raw eggs. Tamago Kake Gohan consists of three main ingredients, rice, raw eggs, and soy sauce. In Japan, eating raw eggs is considered perfectly safe and normal.
Ochazuke is a well-known Japanese dish that’s unlike any other. Often called rice tea, ochazuke is made by pouring tea/broth over warm rice. The rice absorbs the tea-infused broth creating an aromatic and flavorful dish. A variety of ingredients such as seaweed, vegetables, and fish are added to give ochazuke a bit more substance.
Tsukemono quite literally means “pickled things,” so I don’t think I need to explain to you too much what this dish might consist of, but yes, you’re right; it is, in fact, pickled things. Usually, a variety of vegetables that have been brined, salted, and pickled are then served alongside white rice, as part of a main meal or simply as a satisfying snack.
Ah, tofu. Amber loves it, me not so much. I keep trying but I just can’t come around to liking tofu. Tofu is one of the most widely used ingredients in Japan and throughout Asia. As you might know, tofu is made from fermented soybeans. It’s often used as an alternative to meat. When it comes to Japanese food for breakfast, you’ll find tofu widely used. It’s incredibly versatile and can be used in practically any dish. Tofu by itself is bland in flavor, meaning no matter what dish it’s used in, it takes on the flavors of the other ingredients. This is an excellent option for anyone who doesn’t eat meat or fish but still wants to experience Japanese cuisine at its best.
Eating Breakfast In Japan
We’ve been traveling to Japan for nearly a decade. It is hands down one of our favorite destinations in the world. Not only because Japan is incredibly modern, clean, and friendly, but because of its food. While everyone is looking for the best ramen in Japan or the best sushi in Japan, don’t skip sampling the best Japanese breakfast dishes. Make sure to get out of your hotel and try some of the local Japanese breakfast meals.
FAQs – Authentic Japanese Breakfasts
Don’t expect bacon, eggs, and pancakes for breakfast in Japan. Japanese breakfasts are extremely healthy with very few fatty foods. A typical Japanese breakfast consists of white rice, miso soup, and either a fish or egg dish. This is consistent with Japanese food in general.