Why Traditional Japanese Appetizers Doesn't Exist In Japan? But Here Are Some Top Picks That Pass!

The popularity of Japanese food shows no signs of stopping, so you might want to consider riding this wave for your next dinner party. A Japanese meal requires special equipment and ingredients so start with something small like Japanese appetizers.

But when you search for recipes, you will find Japanese inspired appetizers like California rolls and avocado-wasabi salads that any Japanese host wouldn’t dream of serving a guest. You won’t find appetizers that are served before a meal because in traditional Japanese cuisine, all of the food is served at once.


When the Japanese invite people over, they serve French-style appetizers such as terrines because Japanese food is for everyday meals, and Western-style dishes are the mark of utmost hospitality. So what should you do? Here are some main courses and side dishes that you can scale down to appetizer-sized bites.

Meat / Seafood Japanese Appetizers


Karage Japanese Food

Fried chicken is a crowd-pleaser, so try making karaage, or Japanese-style fried chicken. Ideal karaage has super crispy skin and it’s soft and juicy on the inside so you need to use deboned chicken thighs. The chicken is marinated in grated ginger, soy sauce, sake and sesame oil; coated in cornstarch and fried. It’s important to use cornstarch because this is what makes the karaage super crispy.

Asparagus Cheese Katsu

Asparagus Cheese Katsu

Anything fried is bound to be delicious. A newer Japanese dish is asparagus cheese katsu, or asparagus and cheese wrapped in pork belly slices, rolled in panko bread crumbs and fried. Cheese and pork and frying you say? It’s ok, asparagus saves the day!

Traditional Japanese Boiled Shrimp

For something heart-healthier, how about shrimp boiled in dashi broth, soy sauce, sake and sweet rice wine as a riff on shrimp cocktail? This doesn’t need sauce because all of that boiling liquid intensifies the sweetness of the shrimp.

Vegetarian  Japanese Appetizers

Japanese Pickles

Pickle Daikon


If you want crunch without the frying, Japanese pickles fit the bill perfectly. They aren’t pickled for too long so they retain their snappy bite. Try pickling sliced cucumbers, carrots and daikon (Japanese radish) in sweet rice wine, rice vinegar and salt for that unique Japanese taste. You can also try cutting up vegetables and serving them with a miso-mayonnaise dip.

Shira Ae

Shira Ae - Japanese Food

Tofu has had a bad rap for masquerading as meat but have you considered using tofu as a sauce? Shira ae is a mixture of boiled vegetables (usually spinach, carrots, and edamame) coated in a sauce made from smashed silken tofu, white miso, dashi broth and rice vinegar. The creaminess of the tofu, the saltiness of the miso and the tartness of the vinegar perfectly complement bland boiled vegetables. It’s quite tasty so you might even forgive tofu for being faux meat. 


There are many other main and side dishes that you could tweak into morsels. The Japanese have perfected the combination of sweet, salty, sour and umami-richness in their dishes so the key is to be faithful to the originals and you will bask in a chorus of arigatos as you clear for the next course.

Other notables:

  1. Ohitashi (leafy boiled vegetables, usually spinach)
  2. Goma ae (vegetables mixed with a sauce made from sesame seeds and tofu)
  3. Shougayaki on skewers (pork braised in soy sauce, ginger)