For anyone who loves sushi, attempting to push the boundaries even further into the creative culinary world of Japan may be on their mind. While lots of Westernized versions of Japanese food are enjoyed by the masses in strip malls and take-out joints, the real deal probably wouldn’t go over very well in the U.S. Even the most adventurous of eaters would turn up their nose to some of Japan’s popular dishes since there are some that are not even close to anything you’d find in a standard American restaurant.
Soup, seaweed salad, and sashimi don’t seem so strange, and a bowl of noodles gets a nod of appreciation. But when it comes to the odder offerings on the other side of the world, “strange” doesn’t even describe what many Americans must be thinking. It’s all about what you’re used to, but for those who pick up fast food five nights a week, even thinking about trying one of these Japanese dishes is too much to take. It may not be the healthiest of options, but a greasy burger beats out raw deer every time.
Check out these foods of Japan most Americans wouldn’t dare to taste. Would you?
25 Black Sulfur Ramen
Ramen noodles are always a quick and tasty treat, beloved by college students looking to save money and fill up fast. But Japan takes the basic and turns it upside down with black sulfur ramen. What looks more like licorice than anything else, this sort of slippery ramen is slurped up by sulfur-loving ramen eaters who think plain is plain boring. While the name may be odd and the color may be confusing, these noodles are apparently pretty appetizing. But Americans surely like their ramen the regular way, no matter what the Japanese may chow down with their chopsticks.
24 Funazushi – Fermented Carp
Carp or crap? That is the question on the minds of many Americans seeing this fishy photo and suddenly feeling nauseous. While fish is a popular menu item, from poached to pan seared, fermented carp is not going to become a staple in American households any time soon. Funazushi has a bizarre look and surely a texture to match, but this fish dish is a delight for some Japanese folks who crave something culinarily creative. Americans love their crunchy fish sticks and tartar sauce for dipping, but fermented carp takes the fun out of funazushi.
23 Raw Horse/Horse Sashimi (AKA Basashi)
Sushi lovers usually enjoy sashimi too. The fresher the fish, the more delicious. But then there’s a whole different sort of sashimi enjoyed in Japan that most Americans would say “nay” to…or shall we say, “neigh?” Sorry Mr. Ed, but raw horse/horse sashimi also known as basashi is a dish served in Japan that would have Americans trotting to the toilet faster than a Triple Crown winner. As if eating horse meat isn’t unappealing enough, serving it raw really takes things too far. From the stable to the table, horse sashimi is being consumed, and we’re not horsing around. We’ll bet this dish won’t ever become popular in The States – the McHorse sounds not that great.
22 Tofu Skin
Tofu is pretty popular in America, particularly for those who choose it over meat. But tofu skin? Why and what for? Surely it tastes similar to the tofu itself, but the idea of creating a leathery-looking skin from the tofu’s surface makes little sense to Americans who want to bite into something belly-filling. Maybe these slithery skins have a unique texture or taste, but by the looks of this pic, Americans would surely judge a book by its cover. Skin may be “in” in Japan, but when Americans eat their tofu, they would prefer the whole package.
21 Natto – Fermented Beans
They say beans are good for your heart and they taste darn good too, but fermented beans, AKA natto, seem like something to skip. While Americans love their baked beans along with franks, and refried beans when they buy their burritos, the notion of fermented food would be a reason to write beans off for good. Whoever came up with the concept was creative, but they surely didn’t have American eaters on their mind at the time. Japanese folks seem to enjoy natto, but Americans just say “no.” Fermented beans in American eateries is a far-fetched food concept. Consider it beans gone bad.
20 Sea Grapes (AKA Umibudo)
Grapes are good. Sea grapes? Not so much, or at least that’s what Americans would tell you. Japanese folks seem to safely swallow them, but Americans wouldn’t want to see umibudo on their dinner plates tonight. Strange and shiny, this sea veggie is pretty to look at, but how does it feel on the palate? Perhaps Americans would use them as a glossy garnish, but when it comes to salads and side dishes, sea grapes may as well be lost at sea. They are probably quite healthful, but so are your average grapes. Americans would choose something less strange to get their serving of greens.
19 Fugu – Potentially Poisonous Pufferfish
For those who live on the edge, enjoying the potentially poisonous fugu is a bucket list must-have. Unless prepared by a trained professional, this fish dish could be your last. Is the flavor so fabulous that folks are willing to lose their lives over a bite? Apparently so, or maybe it’s the thrill of the daring dining experience that gets people to the table for a taste. Americans may enjoy an adventure, but when it comes to eating something that could be dangerous, taking a chance on an expired carton of milk is as far as most’ll go. Fugu sounds fishy, but those who love it are apparently hooked.
18 Shirako – Cod Genitals and Sperm
Who wants sperm for supper? No takers? Well, maybe that is because we are asking Americans. But head to Japan where shirako is on the menu. This unusual dish of cod genitals and sperm sounds like something out of a horror movie, but there are actually people who find it appetizing. Looks-wise, shirako is wiggly and worm-like. To dare to go in for a taste is a real feat. For those who can stomach the sheer sliminess of this cod dish, perhaps they come to find the flavor is great. Who knew sperm could be so savory? Genitals…they’re grrrrrreat!
17 Kame – Sea Turtle
If you’re into a supper that comes in a shell, then kame is calling your name. This strange sea turtle dish is quite popular in Japan, but Americans would be slow to get on board with snapping up this slow-moving land creature for dinner. Preparing it seems excruciating and eating it seems gnarly. But like every culture, what is weird for some is wonderful in another part of the world. Perhaps when kame is prepped, seasoned, and cooked, it tastes just like chicken. At least that’s what parents are telling their kids. Maybe Americans should come out of their shell and see why the Japanese crave kame.
16 Kujira – Whale Meat
If a filet of tilapia won’t satisfy your hunger, why not see if whale meat does the trick? Kujira is the whale meat dish that some Japanese folks can’t seem to get enough of, and since it is a whale, there must be plenty to go ‘round. Why bite into a tuna sandwich when there’s a whale to be wolfed down? But go to any seafood establishment in the U.S. and there’s a slim chance you’ll ever see whale meat on the menu. And why would you? Nobody would dare order it. So, Americans will stick to their sea bass and salmon while the Japanese will go for something far meatier.
15 Deer Sashimi (AKA Shikasashi)
Poor Bambi. Just when horse sashimi had you tossing your cookies, in comes shikasashi, AKA deer sashimi. Eating raw meat seems to be popular in Japan, but deer meat is pretty daring. Sure, some Americans enjoy a well-prepared steak tartare, but the idea of gulping down a relatively large slice of raw deer isn’t even close to something they’d consider. Usually served with toppings and garnishes, deer sashimi must be an expensive dish. But is the delicacy really that delicious? And let’s hope this uncooked dish is done right, or else lots of people will be seeing their shikasashi twice.
14 Zazamushi – Insect Larvae
If bugs are no biggie, then the idea of eating insect larvae may be something you’d savor. Zazamushi is a Japanese dish that may sound gross to those in the U.S., but eating bugs must be A-OK in Japan. There are certainly plenty around, so perhaps bug-eating is a blessing. Why get bitten when you can do the biting? Maybe once the larvae is seasoned and stewed it’s hard to remember what’s actually in the dish. Perhaps they have a nice crunch and chew when cooked to order. Larvae for lunch may not be the next big thing in America, but the Japanese are lovin’ their larvae.
13 Habushu – Snake Wine
Is that a snake in your wine or is it just happy to see me? Oh, it’s a snake all right, and it’s called habushu. Sounds frightening, and it kinda is, since the snake used in the production of the wine is poisonous. Obviously, it’s not alive once it’s in the bottle, but the scare is still there. And why anyone would want to drink this concoction is curious. A person would have to drink a lot of snake wine to get comfortable with the idea of slugging down a beverage with a snake in the bottle in the first place. Folks will do many things for a thrill, but sipping snake wine is no way to get wasted. A cold beer would satisfy an American far better than a snake-infused spirit.
12 Uni – Sea Urchin Gonads
Is your stomach grumbling for gonads? If so, uni may be just the food to tame the beast. Sea urchin gonads are popular in Japan, creamy in texture and unusual in taste. Perhaps you’ve seen it on a sushi menu, but were you aware of the gonad aspect of the dish? While uni may be full of healthful properties and may become an acceptable acquired taste, the concept of consuming gonads is hard to grasp. But if gorging on gonads don’t make you gag, then do as the Japanese do and order some uni the next time you see it on a menu.
11 Chirimen Jako – Little White Sardines
This is not a bowl of unassuming seasoned noodles. It is chirimen jako, little white sardines. Oh, they are certainly little, all right, and just imagine the critters flopping around on your tongue. Sure, they must be relatively high in protein and perhaps even tasty, but a mouthful of little slimy sardines seems like it would be the bite you wish you could undo. Apparently, Japanese eaters don’t mind the fishy flavor, so this dish is available all over the area. Not that Americans don’t eat sardines, but an entire plate of teeny tiny ones is understandably unappetizing.
10 Dancing Squid
While this squid isn’t actually dancing, when the dish arrives at the table, it appears to be jiggling and wiggling. If you can stomach the sheer goriness of this meal, then perhaps dancing squid is something to add to your list of weird and wonderful dinner items you’ve been dying to try. Popular in Japan, dancing squid comes to the table looking nearly alive. Paired with all the fixins, people tend to order this dish for the thrill of tasting something out of the box. If ever there were a food that’s Instagram-worthy, it’s none other than dancing squid. Take a pic then take a bite.
9 Inago no Tsukudani – Grasshoppers
If you think larvae were looking pretty tasty, get a glimpse of grasshoppers. A dish called inago no tsukudani is something on some Japanese menus, adding a curious crunch to the meal. For a critter who is used to jumping around, being served on a stick must be unsettling. This serving looks thoroughly cooked, perhaps covered in a glaze of some sort for flavor. Maybe grasshoppers make for a quick and easy appetizer or are the perfect party finger food. One thing’s for sure…Americans aren’t jumping at the chance to go for grasshoppers too. Chips and dip will do just fine.
8 Takoyaki – Octopus Testes
Americans do eat octopus, but their testes? Probably haven’t tried ‘em. While these bite-sized bits look more like meatballs than testes, once a person learns the truth, they may just lose their lunch. But with the right seasonings and when prepared just so, this dish looks kinda appetizing. But tell an American they are about to taste some testicles, and you won’t likely get a positive response. The dish is known as takoyaki, but most Americans would call it tako-yucky. The Japanese may enjoy these rounded morsels, but Americans would prefer tacos over takoyaki any day of the week.
7 Baby Bees (AKA Hachinoko)
For a supper that stings back, hachinoko is one to watch out for. OK, so the dish doesn’t really sting, but baby bees would if they could as you chomp down and crunch on their carcasses. Who knows when and why this dish became popular in Japan, but the trend is unlikely to catch on in The States anytime soon, if ever. People love bees for their sweet honey-making skills, but Americans don’t want to actually bite into the buzzers. Surely they’re seasoned and sautéed to taste appealing, but the thought of bees in one’s belly is not going to fly in America.
6 Umeboshi – Pickled Ume Fruit
Pickled fruit sounds weird, and umeboshi looks strange too. Umeboshi is pickled ume fruit and they look as strange as they sound. Wrinkly like prunes yet pickled for a kick, this food is not very attractive, but it is edible. Just ask those Japanese folks who enjoy umeboshi as much as Americans love apples. Or at least apple pie, anyway. While Americans will snack on raisins and dried fruit, something about the pickling would put them off to umeboshi. That said, who’s in the mood for a pickle? Then again, apple pie may be more like it.