Quick Bites: Finding the Spicy Side of Japan

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It practically goes without saying, but Japanese food is delicious!

Savory steak and seafood, sweet desserts, healthy and flavorful noodle dishes… there’s a lot to love about food in the land of the rising sun. However, if you’re like me and have an addiction to making your food as hot & spicy as possible, Japan can seem a bit lacking. Japanese food is not known for being particularly spicy, and oftentimes the items labeled as “EXTRA-EXTREME MOUTH-DESTROYING MAGMA-LEVEL HOT” are little more than mildly BBQ-flavored. So what to do? Well, there are some options.

First there are the deceptively spicy restaurants. Although Japan is famous for its ramen and sushi, one of (if not the most) popular dishes in the country is actually curry.

There are plenty of Indian curry restaurants all across the country, and usually asking them to up the heat a bit can get you some great results. But authentically Japanese-style curry tends to be milder on the whole. There are exceptions to the rule though.

One of the national chains of Japanese curry is Coco Ichiban. The food at Coco has plenty of customizable options, including the spiciness level: with 1 being sugary-sweet and 10 being legitimately dangerous. I settle for a 7 at Coco and that is enough to get me sweating and tearing up, so not a bad option for the braver spice-heads out there.

Secondly, you could try some non-Japanese food from neighboring regions. As you might expect, Chinese and Korean restaurants are also very common and popular in Japan, and there is quite a bit of overlap between the cuisine of Japan and the cuisine of China and Korea.

However, Chinese and Korean food is much more likely to have a kick to it (or at least an option to add a kick). I had never heard of spicy ramen until I found a Korean place in Osaka with “Volcano Ramen,” and I was not disappointed. And of course, you can always rely on good ‘ol Kimchi for some spice.

Lastly, of course, there is the supermarket. Tabasco is actually pretty easy to find in Japan at most supermarkets and even at convenience stores. Similarly, there are a number of Thai and Vietnamese style sauces like Sriracha that you can find if you search hard enough.

My personal recommendation is to buy a box of Mabo Dofu mix and throw in a bit of Vietnamese hot sauce. It can give you the spicy satisfaction you need while still being pretty Japanese (ish) and also very cheap.

In conclusion, although Japan is not know for having spicy food traditionally, there are definitely ways to satisfy those urges as long as you know where to look. And, if aren’t bothered by the occasional chorus of “sugoi!” just for putting some Tabasco on your pizza.

What exciting new tastes will you discover in Japan? Many Assistant Language Teachers are sharing their findings with MUSUBI- why not join them? For more information on how you can too, read all about the job of an ALT and then how to apply!

Images for this article were provided by the MUSUBI staff. Cover image courtesy of Sharon Ang via pixabay.com

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Joshua Minor

From the US
Has been experiencing western Japan for over a year!