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Image: iStock/ kazoka30

5 iconic Japanese foods not from Japan

By Adam Douglas

Japan has one of the great food cultures of the world with a celebrated cuisine that is both delicious and healthy. Being an island nation, Japan has had the unique opportunity to develop its food in ways without much influence from the outside. Its heavy reliance on fish led to the development of sushi while the abundance of seaweed resulted in products like nori, or dried seaweed.

However, Japan does not exist in a vacuum. Despite being an island country separated from mainland Asia by wide seas as well as centuries of being closed off to the outside world, offshore ingredients did indeed enter the country. In fact, many of Japan’s most famous dishes are actually foreign in origin.

Here are five seemingly traditional Japanese dishes that actually arrived from overseas.

1. Salmon Sushi 

Norwegian origins to the sushi we all know and love. Image: iStock/ naito8

Salmon is one of the most common varieties of sushi now so it seems strange to think that at one point it was only eaten cooked. We can thank Norway for introducing Japan—and thus the world—to salmon, one of the most delicious sushi toppings.

In the 1980s, Norway had a glut of salmon. They approached Japanese fish buyers with the idea that they could use it as sushi but Japan balked. Salmon was always cooked, never eaten raw. The issue, it seemed, was parasites common in local salmon. Rather than give up, Norway pitched it to Nishi Rei, a large frozen foods company, who took a gamble and bought the Norwegian salmon to sell in grocery stores as sushi-grade meat. It was a hit, first with supermarket shoppers and then in conveyer-belt sushi chains. Salmon sushi was born.

The next time you bite into a buttery slice of raw salmon, give thanks to the Norwegian fishing industry and a Japanese frozen foods company that took a chance on it.

2. Tempura

Crispy, crunchy goodness Image: iStock/ kazoka30

When you think of the most famous Japanese dishes, tempura is certainly one of them. And yet the concept of battering and frying various ingredients didn’t exist in Japan before the arrival of a group of world-exploring foreigners, the Portuguese.

In 1543, three Portuguese sailors arrived in Japan and started a trading relationship that would last for centuries. Along with guns and religion, Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries also brought food. The Portuguese liked to batter and fry things. One of their dishes, peixinhos da horta (or “little fish of the garden”), was fried beans and vegetables popular during Lent when people gave up meat. While it’s unknown how the name tempura came to be, many think it’s related to the Latin word tempora, which comes from quatuor tempora, a period of fasting.

Nowadays, Japanese chefs can turn pretty much anything into tempura, from seafood to shiso leaves, but it all started with beans and veggies and Portuguese traders.

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Salmon has been eaten in Scotland for hundreds of years.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

An important dish missing from the list is curry.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

カステラ is missing. A specialty of Nagasaki, the cake was brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century. The name is derived from Portuguese Bolo de Castela, meaning "cake from Castile"

Ironically the cake looks like the base stones of Japanese castles, 姫路城 being a good example.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Castella is not a Japanese dish like in this article, the castella is classified as a wagashi.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Castella is not a Japanese dish like in this article, the castella is classified as a wagashi

it is an "iconic Japanese foods not from Japan" as the title says.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

An important dish missing from the list is curry.

Indeed. Curry can also be eaten "deep fried" as カレーパン.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Interesting the article left out Ramen(aka Shina Soba/Chuka Soba from China) and Yakiniku(From Korea). Or is it that Yakiniku isn't even counted as Japanese food at all, a foreign origin food like Pizza.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )


An important dish missing from the list is curry.

Japanese curry rice isn't famous outside of Japan and cannot be considered an iconic food.

Curry's position as the most famous Indian dish world wide is iron-clad.

-10 ( +1 / -11 )

Out of the five listed dishes, Tempura would be at the top and rice omelet at the bottom, which I never eat. Too much tempura isn't healthy so I limit my eating to once or twice every two weeks. Or at home, I substitute the tempura batter with panko and use an air fryer without oil. I make Tonkatsu and fried chicken or Karaage, using the air fryer.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

This list could include pretty much every "Japanese" food as most originate from either China or Korea.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I find tempura slightly sickly. We eat it only at 旅館 usually, but there is always an exception.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Tempura tastes best immediately after cooking crisp and dry.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Tempura with soba or somen noodles is tasty.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Yes. かき揚げ rules!!!!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Tonkatsu with raw cabbage and kimchi.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Castella with custard! Very retro school dinners.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Salmon has been eaten in Scotland for hundreds of years.

But not raw, and until recently, only by the wealthy or those of us with cousins who would poach it from the local river at night.

But now there are salmon farms off the coasts of Scotland and Norway which has made it much more affordable.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Every variety of noodle originated in China, sushi from Korea. Is there actually any dish from Japan?

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

a minus vote but couldn't list a genuine Japanese food? Miso? Chinese, Tofu? Chinese. Anything?

-4 ( +1 / -5 )


Of course that will not stop Koreans from claiming they invented sushi,

Koreans would never claim to have invented sushi.

What's at controversy is Futomaki/Kimbab's origin.

Right now there is a Kimbab boom in the US with supplies sold out across major US supermarket chains like Trader Joe's, etc and Kimbab's origin can be the topic of debates, as it's obvious it's a variation of Fukomaki but Korean nationalists would disagree.

Same thing with Yakiniku. Japan's English dictionaries from 40 years ago listed Yakiniku as "Korean BBQ" in translated English, but Japan has started claiming Yakiniku as "Japanese BBQ" in the past 20 years.


Trader Joe’s sold out of kimbap, its latest viral offering, thanks to TikTok

The Korean rolls are out of stock until at least October — but their virality has inadvertently given Korean grocers increased visibility.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

So now we have sushi styles being claimed by Japan and Korea but still not a single example of a "Japanese" food.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )


Your argument is all over the place.

No, its really simple. Give me an example of a Japanese food originating in Japan.

You still haven't. I'm sure there must be something.. Natto?

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

Castella with custard! Very retro school dinners.

I get that, Elvis. Might go well with tinned (evaporated) milk too. Perhaps with steamed rice with milk and golden syrup for afters!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sushi. Is that the third time now?

I think we already established that makisushi was Korean.

Nigirizushi is Japanese but is just a 1820's take on Narezushi which was eaten in China in the 4 century.

So Natto only?

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

It does not matter if these iconic Japanese dishes originated from another country. The Japanese took them and made them their own. Never tasted Tempura better than the Japanese one. Chefs take many dishes originating from another place or another time and make them their own.

"1051-1083 – The origin of natto is obscure. According to legend, it was discovered accidentally in northeast Japan by Minamoto (Hachimantaro) Yoshiie when warm, cooked soybeans, placed in a rice-straw sack on the back of a horse, turned into natto. The warmth of the horse helped the fermentation."

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Never tasted Tempura better than the Japanese one.

Perhaps you might try Indian pakora.

1 ( +2 / -1 )


So not a single original Japanese food.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

Why does a dish need to be original? Hotdogs and pizza are top in the US but come troops in Germany in the war and from Italy.

Perhaps you might try Indian pakora.

I have many times in London but I rate good tempura better.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The article is about foods that did not originate in Japan. Why would they list some foods that did? That's not what this article is about.

wallice makes a superior point. Hot dogs, pizza, and hamburgers are not originally US foods. Over time they have come to be considered as such, but they are not.

Lots of foods in lots of countries did not originate in those countries. This article is about those that did not originate in Japan. Stay on topic.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan - Quality of street food is higher than most of the luxurious restaurant in UK.

And I have been there. One in the dreams.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japan - Quality of street food is higher than most of the luxurious restaurant in UK.

Most? Of course a backpacker in Nepal would know that.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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