If your kids like rice, they’ll love Japan – in fact the word for meal in Japanese (gohan) actually means steamed rice, which reflects the importance of this simple grain in their diet.
More importantly, their diet is the reason life expectancy in Japan is so long compared to Western cultures – unfortunately, outside food influences are changing that, but that’s a whole other story! Check out more fun Japanese facts here.
Customs and dining etiquette are as important to the Japanese as their food, so make sure you read up on some of them, and get the kids schooled on the basics early on – the best place to start is with chopsticks. Of course, these aren’t compulsory, but when in Rome and all that! Your little munchkins will probably master the art of eating with these utensils faster and better than you anyway.
So, with thousands of years perfecting their cuisine, the Japanese cooking style has evolved to be one of the most popular in the world, and we’ve managed to narrow down the top 10 kiddie-friendly dishes – although there are plenty more.
Yes, rice is rife in Japan, and if you don’t like it, you’ll have to get out of Dodge! Often simply served just with meat, fish, or vegetables, and a bit of soya sauce, it’s healthy, cheap, and strangely tasty.
These deep-fried, flavoured soybeans are almost the equivalent of crisps in Japan, but a much healthier option – they’re so addictive that once you’ve had one you can’t stop eating them.
3. Miso Soup
Almost as Japanese as rice, this soup made of a paste of fermented soybeans is much more enjoyable than it sounds. Served with a stock to make a light soup, and usually with tofu and vegetables, this is a light and refreshing way to start your meal – and millions of Japanese children happily slurp it down every day.
Basically, these are a Japanese version of chicken nuggets – made with meat, fish, or veggies dipped in flour and deep fried, and served with dipping sauces. Who can say no to that?
Like the above, these deep fried morsels of lightly battered fish or vegetables are a great way to start a meal, or just have for lunch.
Neighbour China has obviously influenced much of the Japanese cuisine, and these deep fried dumplings are a perfect example of that – mouthfuls of meat and herbs, wrapped in a pastry and pan fried, then served with dipping sauces. It’s a big ask, but try not to let the little ones eat them too quickly as the meat and liquid inside is often scalding hot.
No, we can’t talk about Japanese food without talking about sushi, and although the idea of raw fish being served to your little darlings may cause alarm, remember this is so fresh it’s healthier than most dishes they eat daily.
Of course there are other options, including meats and vegetables, but it’s not just the eating that’s fun. If you go to a sushi restaurant, the whole process of watching the expert sushi makers showing off their art in front of you, and the kids choosing their own dishes adds to the whole show. Just warn them about the wasabi!
8. Bento Boxes
It’s a lunchbox, but not as we know it! These can either be put together at home, or you can buy them at most stores – in fact, the bento box design is as much a part of the dining experience as the food it holds.
Traditionally a bento box has rice, with meat or fish, pickled vegetables, and sauces, but there are no strict rules – leftovers will do just as well!
9. Hachimitsu or Kimi balls
These little balls are egg flavoured sweets made of rice flour, which sounds horrific but they’re actually really tasty – and as they’re super sweet and melt in the mouth, they’re very popular with the kids!
Just kidding – we don’t recommend serving this extremely poisonous puffer-fish to your children, unless you’re a highly trained chef with experience in this risky art! But it is a Japanese specialty, so if you’re feeling up to the challenge, give it a go – at your own peril!
This is just a snapshot of the fantastic food that will appeal to kids of all ages, but as much as the Japanese are often skilled at speaking English, there are many times where a good grasp of their language will help when travelling there. Test your Japanese level, or go even further and book a course to learn this complex and beautiful language, and it’ll make experiencing these meals, and plenty of others, so much easier – and more enjoyable.
So, what Japanese food would you recommend for the little ones? Let us know in the Comments section below!