Rice Dishes
ごはんが 主役の日本食 Japan Rice Dishes ごはんが主役の日本食

The concept of a “staple food” is used in Japan, and rice is one such food. In fact, Japanese tabletops feature many kinds of meals centered around rice as the staple. In addition to traditional Japanese cuisine that people have been making since long ago, many truly unique variations have been created such as side dishes that make rice taste even better, as well as yoshoku dishes developed through Japan’s unique interpretation of Western-style cuisine. Here are 12 of the best known examples of these foods.


  • Onigiri (Rice ball) is rice formed into a triangle or round tube shape and usually sprinkled with salt and wrapped in nori (sheets formed from dried seaweed. It can be filled with ingredients like salmon or tuna and mayonnaise, or have ingredients mixed into the rice—the possibilities are endless. Onigiri is Japanese soul food.

  • Sushi is a type of traditional Japanese food that combines vinegared sushi rice and ingredients, and it is a popular Japanese food worldwide. While sushi can have various shapes, the most common is nigirizushi, that is vinegared sushi rice in the shape of a pillow with a topping. The toppings are usually seafood like tuna or prawn.

  • Thick sushi rolls are made by rolling vinegared sushi rice and various ingredients in seaweed. It gives you a way to eat ingredients like rolled egg and seafood all together. On February 3 (Setsubun), there is a custom of eating a thick sushi roll called an ehomaki silently in the direction of that year’s favorable direction to bring good luck.

  • Sekihan is sticky rice steamed together with adzuki beans or cowpeas. When cooked, the color of the beans dyes the rice red. Because the red color of the adzuki beans wards off evil, sekihan is usually eaten during celebrations.

  • Okayu (rice porridge) is raw or cooked rice that is simmered in plenty of water until soft. There are different types like zengayu, gobugayu, and omoyu, depending on the amount of water used. It is comfortable to swallow and easily digestible, making it the perfect food when you are under the weather.

  • Japanese curry, which was developed independently in Japan based on Indian cuisine, is one of Japan’s national foods. It is usually a combination of meat and vegetables simmered in various spices into a curry with a thickened soup-like consistency that is poured over rice. Nowadays, people around the world are coming to love the dish katsu-curry, which has a pork cutlet topping.

  • “Rice bowl” is the generic term for rice in a bowl with toppings. There are many types, like tendon topped with tempura, oyakodon topped with simmered chicken and egg, and kaisendon topped with sashimi. They are popular as quick and easy meals.

  • Seasoned rice is rice that is cooked with ingredients like vegetables and seafood, and seasonings like salt, soy sauce, and broth mixed in. It is a familiar food made with ingredients that are in season at the time, like bamboo shoots in spring, corn in summer, mushrooms in fall, and oysters in winter.

  • Omurice is an omelet filled with ketchup-flavored rice. It was first made in a Western-style restaurant in Japan, and its name is a portmanteau of the French word “omelette” and the English word “rice.”

  • Rice gratin is made by covering buttered rice or rice pilaf with bechamel sauce and cheese and baking it in the oven. The first rice gratin is said to have been created in a hotel in Yokohama, Japan. There are different variations, like seafood rice gratin and curry rice gratin.

  • Japanese hamburger restaurants have created rice burgers that consist of a patty, vegetables, grilled meat, or other ingredients sandwiched between rice pressed firmly into a bun shape that is grilled. You can also get gluten-free burgers.

  • These are small garnishes that go well with rice. They are often salty, sour, or spicy, so you can eat a lot of rice with only a small amount of the garnish. Classics in Japan are furikake (seasoned dried food), tsukemono (pickled vegetables), spicy cod roe, umeboshi (pickled plum), natto (fermented soybeans), and seaweed.