Winter Wonders: 8 Winter Foods & Delicacies to Enjoy in Japan

Winter Wonders: 8 Winter Foods & Delicacies to Enjoy in Japan

Winter in Japan is not just a season to enjoy snow activities and festivals; it’s also a time to indulge in winter cuisine as Japan is blessed with bountiful harvest from the land and sea. For instance, enjoying a piping hot pot dish during winter in Japan is one of the most satisfying gastronomical experiences—nothing warms you up and nourishes your tummy and soul better than hot food in the cold weather. 

If you visit Japan in winter, get ready to savour the wonders of winter–sumptuous nabemono, premium seafood, luscious fruits, and more. Plan your winter food trip with our guide to the top 8 winter delicacies to enjoy in Japan!

 

1. Nabemono (鍋物)

Nabemono, or hot pot
A shabu shabu feast | Photo by photoAC

Let’s start the winter wonderland’s food tour in the universe of nabemono (鍋物). Nabemono is a general term that describes hot pot dishes where ingredients like meat and vegetables are cooked slowly in a pot. Japan boasts a diverse variety of nabemono that locals like to eat with family and friends, especially in winter. 

Shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) is a popular nabe dish served with thinly sliced raw meat like beef, pork, chicken, seafood, and even lamb with an assortment of vegetables. The slices of meat are cooked quickly in the hot broth and dipped in sauces like ponzu (ポン酢), a citrus-based soy sauce or sesame-based sauce.

Sukiyaki (すき焼き) is another way to enjoy hot pot where slices of meat are cooked in a shallow pot, simmered with vegetables, and dipped in a small bowl of raw, beaten egg. 

 

Kiritanpo nabe from Akita, and Motsu nabe from Fukuoka
Kiritanponabe from Akita (left), and motsunabe from Fukuoka (right) | Photo by photoAC
Japan is also home to various less conventional hot pot dishes! Other must-eat hot pots include motsunabe (もつ鍋), beef or pork’s internal organs hot pot; mizutaki (水炊き), chicken hot pot from Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県); kiritanponabe (きりたんぽ鍋), a traditional hot pot with rice sticks roasted over a fire from Akita Prefecture (秋田県), and Hokkaido’s ishikarinabe (石狩鍋), a buttery and milky hot pot with salmon. 
 

2. Crabs (蟹)

Fresh snow crabs
Fresh red king crabs on sale in a local market | Photo by photoAC

Winter is the season to indulge in fresh and high-quality seafood in Japan like crabs (蟹 kani), often referred to as the “king of seafood”. With a number of regions bordered by the ocean, which are well known for superior crustaceans like Hokkaido (北海), the Hokuriku region and San’in region, it’s no wonder Japan is a seafood wonderland!

The premium red king crabs (タラバガニ tarabagani) and blue king crabs (アブラガニ aburagani) are star dishes in fine dining or kaiseki meals. Another crab delicacy, snow crabs (ズワイガニ zuwaigani) are found in areas like Fukui Prefecture (福井県) and Tottori Prefecture (鳥取県) facing the Sea of Japan. These crabs are best eaten fresh as raw sashimi or cooked, or even in nabe dishes, where you can savour their rich flavours and freshness.

 

3. Oysters (牡蠣)

Fresh oystersFresh, raw oysters | Photo by photoAC

Oysters (牡蠣・カキ kaki) are another Japanese winter delicacy not to be missed. Different types of oysters are available throughout the year and the popular Pacific oysters are harvested in winter. Hiroshima Prefecture (広島県) is the largest producer of oysters in Japan, and their oysters are known for their freshness and plumpness. Simply walk down the shopping street in the famous island Miyajima (宮島) for an oyster buffet!

Oysters can be enjoyed in a variety of ways like raw oysters garnished with sauces, fried oysters (牡蠣フライ kakifurai), and even oyster hot pot ( 牡蠣の土手鍋 kaki no dotenabe). A unique winter experience is to visit the oyster huts (牡蠣小屋 kakigoya) that pop up along the coasts in places like Itoshima (糸島半島) in Kyushu (九州) and Matsushima (松島) in the Tohoku region.

 

4. Shirumono (汁物)

Tonjiru soup, an elevated version of miso soup
Tonjiru–pork and vegetable soup | Photo by photoAC

As you travel through Japan in winter, you’ll have the chance to try a wide selection of hot soup dishes in Japan. Slurping hot soup is so comforting in winter as it spreads warmth throughout your body while filling up your tummy. There are two main types of soups: sumashijiru (すましじる), clear and light soups made with dashi (出汁) stock, and misoshiru (味噌汁), flavourful soups with miso base. The soups are usually filled with a hearty combination of vegetables and meat. 

Some popular soup dishes are tonjiru (豚汁), miso-infused soup with pork and a variety of winter vegetables like radish, lotus root, and burdock, and kenchinjiru (けんちん汁),  a plant-based soup packed nutritious vegetables and tofu. 

 

5. Fugu (ふぐ)

Have you had fresh pufferfish?
Fresh fugu sashimi | Photo by photoAC

Fugu (ふぐ), blowfish or puffer fish in English, is a winter food that has an intoxicating reputation as the potentially deadly fish is a delicacy in Japan. Japan is the largest producer and consumer of Fugu, renowned for torafugu (とらふぐ), also known as Japanese puffer fish or tiger puffer fish.

Contrary to popular belief, fugu is safe to eat as there are strict rules about its preparation and only trained chefs serve them in specialty restaurants. Eating fugu is a culinary adventure as the fugu is less fatty than other types of white fish, yet it contains intense umami flavours. The most popular method to serve fugu is usuzukuri (薄造り)–thinly-sliced fresh sashimi. You can also try fugu prepared as a grilled, fried or as a nabe dish. Head to Karato Market (唐戸市場) in Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県) or the Kyushu region for your fugu feast!

 

6. Oshiruko (おしるこ)

Warm red bean dessert with baked mochi
Warm red bean dessert to complete a winter meal | Photo by photoAC

A delightful winter food, oshiruko (おしるこ) is a soup-like dessert that’s made using red bean (あんこ anko) and topped with rice cakes (もち mochi) or glutinous rice flour dumplings (白玉団子 shiramata dango). This winter dessert is a popular snack served at the end of a meal as it keeps you warm with sweetness.

This red bean dessert comes in different forms depending on the region you are in. The dessert with thicker paste and whole beans are called zenzai (ぜんざい).

 

7. Strawberries (苺)

Strawberries in a strawberry greenhouse farm
Strawberries are harvested during winter in Japan | Photo by photoAC

Strawberries (苺), one of Japan’s most beloved fruits, are enjoyed all-year-round and especially in winter when the strawberry-growing season starts. The locals love their strawberries so much that they celebrate Strawberry Day (イチゴの日 Ichigo-no-hion 5 & 15 January. 

Did you know there are more than 300 types of strawberries in Japan? Strawberries are cultivated mostly in green houses in many parts of Japan. They are used in a dazzling variety of desserts like cakes, mochi (もち), cream puffs, and more.   

Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県) produces the most strawberries in Japan and their famed juicy Tochiotome (とちおとめ) strawberries are highly sought after. Another popular type of strawberries is the Amao or Amaou (あまおう) strawberries from Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県). The huge, juicy strawberry superstars are irresistible with their full-bodied sweetness. 

 

8. Amazake (甘酒)

Amazake is a fermented drink that has little to zero alcohol content.
Warm amazake made from fermented rice | Photo by photoAC

Other than winter foods, you can keep warm with winter beverages like amazake (甘酒). Amazake, which means sweet sake, is a traditional sweet drink made from fermented rice. A low or non-alcoholic sweet drink, amazake is usually served hot in winter and cold in summer. 

Winter is the perfect time to enjoy hot amazake and it is traditionally served in temples and shrines as part of the New Year celebrations. You can also enjoy some health benefits when drinking amazake as it contains nutrients that would keep you young and healthy. 

 

Enjoy winter with JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s Omiyage Snack Box

JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s January Omiyage Snack Box welcomes winter with snacks featuring winter delicacies like strawberries. The snack box themed “Ichigo, Ichie” invites you to start the year with memorable snacks that you can enjoy not only in winter but also in all seasons. Savour the taste of winter with strawberries-infused snacks like madeleine filled with strawberry jam from Aomori, strawberry jelly from Fukuoka, and strawberry chocolates with crispy roasted brown rice from January maker’s Edogoshiya.

Treat yourself with JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s latest snack box and enjoy a 10% discount when you apply the promo code “ICHIGO10”! Bon appetit, and bon voyage!

Meet the author

Wendy Ng

Wendy (@whywendywrites) spent 2 life-changing years in Okinawa as part of the Japan and Exchange Teaching (JET) Programme. Now, back in Singapore, she dreams and writes about Japan. A compulsive-obsessive travel planner and foodie, she believes that when we know more (and eat more), we travel better.

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