Sorely underestimated, Nagoya is the fourth largest city in Japan, serving as an industrial powerhouse and a major transit hub between Tokyo and Osaka. Nagoya boasts one of the strongest economies in Japan, famous for being the main manufacturer of Toyota and the city responsible for inventing pachinko slot parlors (a popular type of slot machine), and the birthplace of several significant leaders from feudal Japan. The people of Nagoya are proudly hard-working and known for their commitment to the making of things, or monozukuri, with beginnings in the local production of ceramics and textiles, and now the creation of robotics, high-tech vehicles, and new technologies.
Nagoya often gets overlooked, however, the city has a lot to offer with gardens, museums, temples, and shrines, as well as its own innovative food culture. Taking aspects of foods from both eastern and western Japan, Nagoya’s local cuisine, or Nagoya-meshi, is kind of unusual and definitely distinctive, but also undeniably delicious. With innovation comes hard work, and with hard work, there must be food; the fighting spirit of Nagoyans is famously fueled by miso (soybean paste). Home to some of the most unique and arguably some of the best food in Japan, find out everything you need to know about what to eat in Nagoya here in our complete Nagoya food guide.
For many tourists, Nagoya is often seen as merely a place to pass through en route to more exciting destinations. The city, however, offers a number of state-of-the-art technology museums and showrooms, balanced out with Atsuta Shrine, one of the most important Shinto Shrines in Japan, and Osu Kannon Temple, an important Buddhist temple set within the heart of the city. Nagoya is often used as a base for day trips, seeing as its location in Central Japan is convenient for flights, shinkansen bullet trains, and connection to local trains. With one of Japan’s biggest trading ports, the world’s biggest train station (according to floor space) and one of Japan’s major ship ports, Nagoya is a major transit and trading hub in Japan.
As a crucial contact point both within Japan and for international exposure, the food in Nagoya has used influences from other countries and parts of Japan to build its own unique identity through food. Nagoya-meshi is the term for local cuisine in Nagoya; the food that fuels its hard-working people that have produced everything the city proudly has now. The unique style of food in Nagoya is characterized as comfort food that balances sweetness with spices, in original flavors unlike those found in Kyoto or Tokyo. With a strong affinity to miso and the foundations in breakfast culture in Japan, this is what to eat in Nagoya.
1. Miso Katsu
The first thing to know about food in Nagoya is that miso is everywhere; the people of Nagoya are big fans. Sure, miso is widely eaten throughout Japan, but you’ll find that a lot of local dishes in Nagoya will be spruced up using miso, from hot pots to noodles to oden. It wouldn’t be surprising for Nagoyans to spread it on toast if it weren’t for the infamous ogura red bean toast being the normal breakfast fare (see #14 below). Miso katsu is said to be the number one miso specialty of the Nagoya area, a local dish where deep-fried deliciousness meets miso. Essentially, it consists of panko-crumbed tonkatsu pork cutlets deep-fried to juicy perfection, then doused with a red aka-miso sauce instead of the standard, brown tonkatsu sauce. Served on a bed of rice with finely sliced cabbage, the miso sauce has a strong flavor, kind of like an intense BBQ sauce, which is widely popular among visitors and locals alike. It’s earthy, deep red in color, and thick with a touch of sweetness, aka-miso is so popular that you can buy bottles of this signature sauce in the supermarket as a souvenir. Try this Nagoya specialty and get a miso katsu teishoku set lunch at a restaurant, or in a bento box for when you’re on the move.
Nagoya is the capital of Aichi Prefecture and is the region which is, incidentally, Japan’s largest producer of freshwater eel, or unagi. It almost goes without saying, the local dish of hitsumabushi, grilled eel, is a must-eat when visiting Nagoya, as it's said to have originated in Nagoya at the end of the Meiji era. Prepared the local Nagoya way, the eel is slit down the center and grilled whole, then slathered with thickened, sweet soy sauce to enhance the eel’s natural flavor. It is typically served over rice in a wooden bowl, then traditionally this local specialty is eaten in four steps: divide the eel into four portions, and put the first section in your bowl to savor the flavors as it is. The second portion can be eaten with a combination of condiments added to your tastes, such as wasabi, dried nori seaweed, or negi green onions. The third part is eaten with condiments too, but then with tea or hot broth poured over it to create a kind of ochazuke of soup with rice. The fourth and final part, you can eat your favorite way. This method of eating hitsumabushi is an example of some of Nagoya’s deeply set, local culinary traditions.
Kishimen is one of the main local noodle dishes in Nagoya, made using a unique type of thick, flat noodles native to the area, which are characteristically soft and smooth. Famously eaten in Nagoya since Edo Period, kishimen is somewhere midway between fettuccine pasta and udon noodles, regarded as a mix between Kanto and Kansai styles. It’s a cheap and delicious meal in Nagoya, served like udon or soba noodles in a bowl of hot of fish or seafood based broth. A kishimen broth is typically infused with rich soy sauce and is enhanced with a subtle sweetness from sweet sake used in the broth, too. It’s typically topped with katsuobushi bonito flakes, as well as boiled spinach, kamaboko (steamed fish cakes), or abura-age (fried tofu). Kishimen are also eaten cold and dipped in a separate sauce, while some restaurants use these noodles in place of typical pasta, served with an Italian-style sauce.
4. Miso Nikomi Udon
Literally translated, miso nikomi udon means udon noodles which are simmered in miso, which is no surprise considering it’s a favorite flavor in Nagoya. Udon usually comes in a clear broth or occasionally with curry, but this variation on udon in Nagoya uses a strong, salty, red miso paste named haccho-miso, which is made from soybeans but without using koji rice malt. The noodles are said to be based on Hoto noodles from Yamanashi Prefecture, where the udon are made to be extra thick and only half boiled to retain a chewy, al dente texture. This dish is usually served in an earthenware pot. Hearty and filling, you can expect a miso nikomi udon to be chock full with toppings like egg, negi green onions, shiitake mushrooms, fish cakes, chicken, and sometimes mochi rice cakes. Not to forget, of course, udon too, simmered together in a rich broth of miso, bonito flakes, kelp, thick soy sauce, and sweet sake. Particularly warm and comforting in winter, miso nikomi udon is one of Nagoya’s best-known soul foods.
5. Doteni & Doteyaki
Another local dish in Nagoya that uses haccho-miso, doteni or doteyaki is beef tendon stewed in miso, while dotemeshi is stewed beef tendon over rice. This dish came about from using the embankment of a pot (dote) to mix water with haccho premium miso to make miso oden. Slowly simmered for a long time with miso and sweet sake (mirin), the vegetables and meat become tender and infused with a powerful miso flavor. It’s matched well with a glass of rich sake, so doteni is a dish you’ll often find at izakayas in Nagoya. Doteyaki is said to be the dish that inspired miso katsu, where tonkatsu pork cutlets were originally on skewers and dipped into a doteni pot. Once common dishes since the Taisho period, doteni and dotemeshi are now prime examples of delicious home cooking in Nagoya.
6. Miso Oden
Regular oden is a popular dish in Japan, made up of fish cakes, meat, eggs, and various vegetables simmered in seaweed and bonito broth over a long time. Individual pieces of oden are fished out and eaten with the light soup, referred to as kantodaki-oden. Said to have been eaten in Nagoya since the Muromachi period in Japan, the miso version of oden, in which red miso is stewed in as a part of the soup, is incredibly popular (again, with the miso). Like regular oden, you can buy miso oden from convenience stores in Nagoya Japan-wide during the colder months. Try some miso oden, a unique Nagoya dish.
Tebasaki are signature chicken wings in Nagoya that are seasoned and deep-fried, without using a coating of batter. It’s a typical drinking snack in Nagoya, perfectly crispy, salty and, especially, spicy. Widely served in Nagoya, get them at an izakaya with a beer or at a yakitoriya, a specialty chicken store. Nagoyans are trained to devour these wings gracefully from a young age, eating them by crunching on the cartilage. Chicken wings are more typically used in soup broths, but originally it was the invention of Nagoyans to fry them because they were cheap. Tebasaki are double-fried, to be exact, and are basted with sauce on both sides to serve, seasoned with salt and pepper then finished off with a dusting of sesame seeds. Have some tebasaki with a cold beer at an izakaya, it’s a perfect drinking snack when visiting Nagoya. You can get omiyage souvenir snacks in the flavor of tebasaki in Nagoya, as well as popular tebasaki-flavored ice creams too!
A ten-musu is a special triangle-shaped rice ball with a tempura shrimp in the middle. It’s a simple yet delicious local food in Nagoya, the city’s answer to a regular onigiri rice ball. An ingenious and convenient snack, ten-musu is wrapped in nori seaweed so it’s easily transportable, a luxury piece of seafood to-go. The rice itself is left unseasoned, as the flavor of the salty seaweed and the tempura create the perfect level of saltiness. The distinctive shape of a ten-musu has not changed since its conception, a symbol of proud handiwork and unchanging deliciousness. Rather than being served with regular takuan pickles (pickled daikon radish) a tenmusu typically comes with kyarabuki (stalks of Japanese butterbur, boiled in soy sauce.) A ten-musu is still extremely tasty without being heated up, so it is good for a snack on-the-go or to eat anywhere, anytime in Nagoya.
9. Taiwan Ramen
Taiwan Ramen is not a dish you can get in Taiwan, but rather its a variation on ramen noodles created by a Taiwanese chef living in Nagoya, hence the name. Since its invention in the early 1970s, Taiwan Ramen has become a commonly served dish in Nagoya, firstly served at a local restaurant named Misen. It consists of classic ramen noodles in a soy-sauce based soup that’s seasoned with hot peppers and a number of other spices to give the dish its signature kick. Served with ground pork, Chinese chives, leeks, and beansprouts, Taiwan Ramen is known for its extra spicy broth, which is said to have paved the way for other spicy foods regularly eaten in the Nagoyan diet. Its flavor also comes from garlic, another attribute of the dish inspired by Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine. This Taiwan Ramen is not for the weak, so to those who are prepared to take on this spicy challenge, proceed with caution!
10. Ankake Spaghetti
Considered to be the energy food for local businessmen, ankake spaghetti is a fusion-pasta dish that’s made in Nagoya. Found at Chinese restaurants, it’s a colorful meal made of spaghetti noodles that are first boiled then fried till crispy. Liberally spiced with peppers, they’re topped with a sticky, sweet red sauce inspired by Chinese cooking, mixed with meat and colorful vegetables. Common toppings include Vienna sausages, onions, green peppers, and ebi furai (panko-crumbed shrimp fritters). This dish is said to have come about as a means to adapt meat sauce to be more friendly to the regular Nagoyan palate. Try this rich, unique dish when in Nagoya; ankake spaghetti is one of the most famous dishes due to its extreme fusion of cultures and delicious flavor.
11. Cochin (Nagoya Chicken)
Nagoya Cochin is a local variety of premium chicken specifically grown in the Nagoya region, and is the most famous chicken produced in Japan. A delicacy for locals too, cochin is like the Kobe beef of chicken, as the meat and eggs must be approved as locally grown and purebred. These chickens come from a specific background of Chinese cochin chickens mixed with a native breed of chicken from the western part of Aichi Prefecture. The local word for chicken meat is kashiwa, derived from the deep brown color of the chickens’ feathers which is reminiscent of leaves from the kashiwa oak tree. Featuring perfectly textured meat with delicious, high-quality eggs, cochin from Nagoya is used in a number of local dishes. Whether it be prepared as chicken skewers, fried, casseroled, or in a sukiyaki-style hot pot named hikizuki, cochin from Nagoya is exceptional quality and delicious every time.
12. Curry Udon
Curry udon is widely available in Japan, but Nagoya has its own take on this typical Japanese-fusion dish. Nagoya’s curry udon is known for being more like a thick soup, with the curry sauce mixed in with Japanese soup stock and chicken broth, unlike Kansai-style where the broth base and curry are poured in separately. Regular curry is thickened with potato starch, but in Nagoya the curry is thickened using flour, which makes the udon noodles extra sticky. The curry flavor is also extra spicy, as food in Nagoya is known for having high spice levels. Curry pastes with red pepper spice and black pepper are combined with a secret seasoning to make the slightly sweet curry sauce, a warming dish in winter but also delicious to eat in Nagoya all year round.
13. Morning Set
The morning set meal is said to have originated in Nagoya as a part of the “morning service” offered at kissaten coffee shops. If you order a cup of coffee in the morning, it comes with a complimentary breakfast, from a culture of feeding the city’s hard workers. That’s right, free! Usually, a morning set deal will come with toast, a hard boiled egg, and a salad, or something similar and small. Occasionally Japanese-style breakfast items are offered such as ochazuke, miso soup, chawan-mushi, or udon dishes. As coffee shops are used as a place for the people of Nagoya to relax and spend time with family or friends, these kinds of morning specials are ingrained in the culture of the city. Nagoya is also notably the city that started manga cafes, now a widely-spread phenomenon throughout Japan.
14. Ogura Toast
Ogura toast is a classic breakfast food eaten in Nagoya, essentially a piece of toast with azuki red bean and butter spread on it. Simple yet delicious, ogura toast is made from classic Japanese white bread, shokupan; each single slice is a little bit sweet, thick, soft and fluffy. Ogura toast is commonly served for breakfast in Nagoya, sometimes served with a morning set and often with coffee. Typically the sweet red bean paste on the toast consists of beans that are only partially mashed, with some left whole for textural variation. You can even find this sold in convenience stores throughout the city, with its popularity spreading across Japan, too. If you’re wondering what to eat in Nagoya for breakfast, this popular style of toast should be your go-to. It has become so popular in Nagoya that Kit Kat has even made a special Nagoya edition, Ogura toast flavor.
With a generous infusion of miso and chili, cuisine in Nagoya is certainly delicious, using multicultural elements with local produce to create unique, signature foods. Despite being overshadowed by Tokyo and Osaka either side, Nagoya shouldn’t be underestimated in terms of both economic power and local Nagoya-meshi that fuels its people.