Did you know that Japan has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other country in the world? Japan is home to a variety of incredibly luxurious foods for both locals and tourists to try. Here’s a look at ten of the most luxurious foods in Japan – have you ever tried any of these delicacies?
Japan: A Culture Connected to Food
Japanese culture and Japanese cuisine go hand-in-hand. Japanese chefs truly dedicate their lives to their work, as they spend decades training and practicing and perfecting their art. The most renowned sushi chefs in the world are all elderly men who have been hand-making nigiri sushi for over half a century.
In Japan, all cuisine begins with the ingredients, which are hand-selected to create the highest-quality meals. This is not only true of the 5-star restaurants, but also for Japanese farmers who work to grow produce and raise livestock. Most, if not all, fruit in the supermarket is picture-perfect and free of rot and deformities, because Japanese farmers are quite meticulous and hold their products to a very high standard.
Time is also a key factor in determining the quality and value of a food in Japan. Some fruits are only grown during a small growing season, making them more special and in high-demand when they are actually available. And, Japanese wagyu beef is famous for the years of care that go into raising the cows, and that effort shows in the final product, which is valued at thousands of dollars.
This fascinating world of food has resulted in some delicacies that have stood out from the rest of Japanese cuisine. If you visit Japan, you should consider giving at least one of these luxurious food a try, for its almost certain that years of time and dedication have gone into preparing them.
You may have heard about Japanese pufferfish, or fugu (ふぐ), because of its concerning reputation. If pufferfish isn’t prepared properly, it can be poisonous to whoever consumes it. To even prepare fugu and serve it to customers, chefs must have a license for it.
Today, fugu has become so popular that less exotic, farm-raised fugu is more common, but even that is pretty expensive compared to other kinds of seafood. The breeding process required to farm harmless, non-poisonous fugu still proves to be quite difficult.
Fugu is typically served raw as sashimi, but fried karaage, nabe pot, or grilled yaki fugu are also options. A full course fugu meal could easily cost between $100 and $200 USD, sometimes more. Wild fugu costs even more than farm-raised fugu.
Japan’s whaling industry has incited an increasing amount of outrage over the years, but whale meat (kujira, クジラ) is still a delicacy in Japan. However, it is mainly held in such high esteem by older generations who refuse to let a traditional part of Japanese cuisine fade, and most locals don’t eat it on a regular basis.
The high cost may be one of the reasons this delicacy is not an everyday food for Japanese people. The most sought-after piece of whale meat is called onomi, which is the piece of muscle from the dorsal fin to the fluke. It can cost as much as $200 USD per kilogram.
3. Cubed Watermelons
Chances are you have seen these funny-shaped fruits go viral on social media. They aren’t photoshopped -they’re quite real – and expensive, too!
Square watermelons are a result of Japanese food scientists trying to solve the solution of Japan’s lack of space. product of Japanese ingenuity. Someone came up with the idea of growing watermelons and placing them in square containers made of glass so. These glass containers are designed to follow the standard dimensions of refrigerators in Japan, so that customers can just slide the fruit in and not worry about space.
Some square watermelons sell for as much as $200 USD, depending on the color and shape. The best looking fruit is usually also the best tasting, so even the smallest imperfections can make the fruit diminish in value.
4. Yubari Melon
The Yubari melon (夕張メロン) from Hokkaido is another Japanese fruit that is incredibly expensive. This is because of the incredibly short growing season in Hokkaido, an area that is known for its heavy snowfall and harsh winters.
Yubari King melons are hybrids of two species of cantaloupes, which makes them even juicier and sweeter than ordinary melons. Usually sold in pairs, Yubari King melons are also given as gifts during Chugen or the Hungry Ghost festival in Japan.
The highest quality Yubari King melons have a perfectly round shape as well as an impossibly smooth rind. These fruits typically sell for about $200 USD, but are often sold for even more than that. In 2008, a pair of Yubari King melons received international attention when they were sold for over $20,000 USD at an auction.
Horse meat, or basashi (馬刺し) in Japanese is not consumed in Western countries in North America or Europe, but it’s certainly a delicacy in Japan. Kumamoto Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu is particularly famous for its raw horse meat.
Basashi is one of the more “affordable” delicacies on this list. For $10 USD, you can get a small portion of horse meat at many izakaya restaurants in Japan. However, just like any other type of livestock, the highest quality meat is sold for the highest prices. High-quality cuts will cost much more – maybe even over $100 USD for a full assortment of samples of the best cuts, which typically includes the rump, belly and filet.
Today, many restaurants across the world market their meat as being wagyu (和牛), or beef from a Japanese cow. However, Wagyu beef is a registered trademark and must fulfill several conditions before it can become worthy of that label. Wagyu comes from four breeds of cattle: brown, polled, shorthorn and black. 85% to 90% of all wagyu is black.
In Japan, every cow is judged by the Japan Meat Grading Association (JMGA). The grades are determined by meat quality score, and yield score. Meat Quality is scored by five factors of “marbling”, “meat color”, “fat color”, “brightness” and “texture”. Each factor is graded from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score. And, like the other meats on this list, the higher the quality, the higher the price.
The most high-scoring meat typically sells for about $110 a pound! Restaurants selling the beef will often advertise it proudly on the menu, as well as display a picture of the official certification outside the entrance. If you are a meat-lover and you come to Japan, you certainly must try this gourmet luxury.
Kobe Beef in particular is the most famous type of wagyu, and the criteria it must fulfill to be named Kobe Beef is incredibly strict. Check out our video on what it takes to be named Kobe Beef here.
7. Ruby Roman Grapes
Ruby Roman is a variety of table grapes that are distinctly red in color and about the size of a ping-pong ball. Ruby Roman grapes are only grown the Ishikawa Prefecture, where the climate and the soil allows the grapes to grow to their uniquely impressive size.
While not all Ruby Roman grapes are considered delacies, the “Premium class” grapes must be red in color, and each fruit must weigh over 30 grams. An entire bunch of the highest-quality premium class grapes can weigh over 700 grams, or close to 2 pounds. However, grapes achieving the “premium class” standard are quite rare. The standard was only first introduced n 2008, and in 2010, only six bunches managed to be declared premium class. In 2011 and 2012, none made the cut. In July 2013, only one bunch managed to meet the standard, and it was sold for $4,000 for the whole bunch. That means each grape was sold for $110.
The current record for the most expensive bunch of Ruby Roman Grapes was set at an auction in 2016, when a bunch of about 30 Ruby Romans sold for a whopping $14,600 USD. This averages out to about $480 per grape! The buyer was quoted as saying he would display them at his store before giving customers a sample.
8. Matsutake Mushrooms
Matsutake mushrooms (松茸) are a type of mushroom that grow on the roots of red pines and other trees both in and outside Japan. They are considered delicacies in Japanese cuisine as well as Korean and Chinese cuisine. Japanese people have eaten them since ancient times. Matsutake mushrooms have a powerful and distinct spicy-aromatic odor, which the Japanese believe stimulates the appetite. The mushrooms are also quite large, and typically measure around 10 to 20 cm in length.
Popular matsutake dishes include dobin mushi (matsutake steamed in a clay teapot) and matsutake gohan (rice mixed with bits of matsutake). The mushrooms are usually cooked with only a light seasoning so their smell isn’t hidden. It is also recommended that they are eaten soon after harvesting, because they tend to lose their distinct aroma pretty quickly. This factor increases their rarity – they are incredibly limited seasonal products, as they are only available for consumption a few months out of the year. In Japan, the picking season runs between September and October, and Nagano is Japan’s top matsutake-producing prefecture.
Matsutake are expensive in general due to their scarcity, and the cost of the matsutake mushrooms picked in Japan differ year after year because the harvests are unstable. Matsutake from the Kamiina region in Nagano Prefecture cost about ¥20,000 per kilogram after a good harvest, but the prices can drop to around ¥100,000 on a bad year. The matsutake market is worth 30 billion yen to 40 billion yen a year.
Suppon (すっぽん) is the Japanese name for soft-shelled turtle, and it a prized delicacy in both Japan, and China as well. Not only is suppon a delicacy in Japan, but it is also seen as a health food. It is believed to give those who eat it energy, because of the dangerous, strong nature of the animal. Suppon is also said to give virility and sex-drive to men, and for women, it is great for skin because of the collagen in the meat.
Although the shell is of course inedible, Japanese people eat almost every other part of this animal. Its body from head to tail is cut into pieces and boiled in nabe hot pot with vegetables. The blood is collected into a cup, and is then mixed with sake. Some middle aged men drink the blood sake for their health. The heart is often mixed with sake and the eggs are even eaten raw. As for the meat, Suppon meat is fatty and gelatinous, with a soft texture and a plain taste like chicken.
Suppon is served at many nice washoku restaurants in Japan, but a full suppon set meal is not cheap. Customers can pay over $100 USD to try every bit of a suppon served in a variety of dishes.
The last item on this list is the world-renowned otoro (おとろ). Toro is the fattest part of a tuna fish that is found on the underside near the head. Otoro is commonly served at sushi restaurants. The price of the toro sushi changes on a daily basis depending on the market, but it is certain that it will be the most expensive item on the sushi menu, as well as the most delicious. The fat content in otoro is so high that the heat in your mouth will literally cause it to melt in your mouth the moment you place it on your tongue.
Otoro is expensive for many reasons – one being the fact that the massive Bluefin tuna, from which the most sought-after otoro is found, is becoming increasingly rare. The process from market to plate is also incredibly tedious , as it also has to be cut, aged and stored in perfect temperature to prevent moisture from damaging the meat. All that, plus the effort it took the fisherman to catch one of these massive 500 to 1,000 pound fish, are the reasons the prices are so unbelievably high.
These valuable Bluefin tuna are bid at in daily auctions during the early morning hours at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji (now Toyosu) market. The record for the most expensive Bluefin tuna goes to a sushi restaurant owner named Kiyoshi Kimura, who paid $1.76 million USD in 2013 at a Tsukiji auction for a Bluefin that weighed a whopping 489 pounds. Kimura had paid $736,000 for a 593-pound tuna at Tsukiji just one year before that.
If you are seeking to taste the best of the best Japanese cuisine has to offer, then you should consider tasting at least one of the items on this list. Which one would you want to try?
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