The famous food scenes of larger Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, along with Kyoto, often overshadow Nagoya cuisine. It’s understandable as these cities attract more tourists and have a stronger presence in international media. Despite having a population of over 2 million, numerous tourist attractions, and a diverse culinary scene influenced by foreign cuisines, Nagoya is often overlooked in favor of other destinations in Japan. And, even when tourists visit, they usually no idea what to eat in Nagoya.
While not as well known as sushi, ramen, or yakitori, Nagoya’s culinary tradition is rich, with regional favorites like miso katsu, tebasaki (spicy chicken wings), and hitsumabushi (grilled eel on rice) enjoyed by locals and visitors. On my recent visit to Japan, I made it a priority to get off the beaten tourist path and explore Nagoya and its unique food scene.
In recent years, tourists have started to discover Nagoya and its food scene. This is my list of 7 of the best must eat foods in Nagoya.
1 – Miso Katsu
If I could only eat one food on my visits to Nagoya, it would have to be miso katsu. Miso katsu, a Nagoya specialty, is a variation of tonkatsu, a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet. In Nagoya, they cover their tonkatsu with a rich and salty red miso sauce. The combination of juicy pork, crispy breading, and savory sauce is delicious.
One of the best places to try miso katsu in Nagoya is at Misokatsu Yabaton. Founded in Nagoya over 60 years ago, this restaurant has built a loyal following with its miso katsu. Both locals and tourists wait in line to try the dish, which is covered in a cask-aged red miso sauce made from local soybeans.
2 – Miso Nikomi Udon
Miso Nikomi Udon is another must-try dish popular in the Nagoya region. This traditional Japanese noodle dish consists of thick udon noodles stewed in a savory red miso broth. And, the noodles soak up all the rich flavors of the stew as they simmer. Inside the stew, you’ll usually find chicken, shrimp, tofu, or vegetables, including green onions and mushrooms, all topped off with a raw egg. While best enjoyed in the colder winter, miso nikomi udon is the perfect dish any time of the year.
The best place to try miso nikomi udon is at Yamamotoya Honten, a restaurant with nearly 100 years of history. The miso nikomi udon served at Yamamotoya Honten stands out with handmade noodles and a distinctive broth made from a unique blend of red and white miso fermented for over three years.
3 – Tebasaki
Tebasaki, which translates to “wing tips,” is a popular Japanese chicken wing dish that originated in Nagoya. In this dish, chicken wings are seasoned with various spices and deep-fried to perfection. While this dish is simple, it is truly delicious when prepared correctly.
While there are many places in Nagoya to try tebasaki, Sekai No Yamachan is one of my favorites. This popular izakaya chain originated in Nagoya and has expanded across Japan. And, tebasaki is their signature dish. Here, they season chicken wings with a unique and spicy pepper blend, then deep-fry them until golden brown and crispy. Nothing is more satisfying than enjoying tebasaki at an izakaya while drinking a cold beer.
4 – Hitsumabushi
If you’re a fan of the rich, smoky flavors of unagi, or grilled eel, then you can’t leave Nagoya without trying hitsumabushi. Hitsumabushi is a dish of unagi served over a bed of rice in a wooden container, with alternating layers of rice, unagi, and savory unagi sauce. Hitsumabushi often comes with condiments such as wasabi, green onions, and nori (seaweed).
The go-to spot in Nagoya for hitsumabushi is Atsuta Horaiken. This restaurant got its start in 1873 near Atsuta Jingu Shrine. Since then, guests seated in tatami rooms have been served grilled eel over rice in a hitsu, a wooden tray that is traditional in Japanese dining. While not the cheapest option in Nagoya, the hitsumabushi at Atsuta Horaiken is a must-try. Their eel is fresh and delicious, complemented by an unagi sauce passed down from generation to generation for over 150 years.
5 – Kishimen
Unless you’re familiar with Nagoya cuisine, chances are you haven’t heard of kishimen. A local specialty, kishimen is a noodle dish comparable to udon, featuring flat and wide noodles that resemble fettuccine. Kishimen can be served hot or cold, typically in a soy-based broth. Toppings range from tempura and scallions to aburaage (deep-fried tofu), kamaboko (fish cakes), and nori.
One of the most famous places to try kishimen is Miya Kishimen, which has multiple locations, including one at Atsuta Jingu Shrine. What makes Miya Kishimen stand out is its wide variety of kishimen dishes and a menu that changes seasonally. Additionally, the high-quality flour they use gives the noodles a chewy texture. Their noodles are complemented by a flavorful seafood stock seasoned with soy sauce for added depth.
6 – Tenmusu
Tenmusu is a savory snack made with deep-fried tempura shrimp placed inside an onigiri (rice ball), which is then wrapped in a sheet of nori. Though simple, the combination of crispy tempura, soft seasoned rice, and salty nori is delicious. Originally from the Mie Prefecture, today tenmusu is regarded as a specialty of Nagoya and has gained popularity throughout Japan.
While there are many places to enjoy tenmusu in Nagoya, my favorite is Ganso Tenmusu Senju. The restaurant’s name translates to ‘the birthplace of tenmusu.’ And, their original recipe dates back to the 1950s. Tenmusu was created by a housewife seeking to prepare a delicious and convenient snack for her busy husband. Her husband loved the snack, and soon after, tenmusu was born. Ganso Tenmusu Senju uses kyarabuki (butterbur), a type of shrub simmered in a soy sauce-based soup, as a complement to the rich and salty flavors of tenmusu.
7 – Ankake Spaghetti
The last spot on my list of 7 of the best must eat foods in Nagoya goes to ankake spaghetti. This unique Japanese dish fuses Italian pasta with Asian flavors, resulting in a noodle dish that differs from classic Italian spaghetti. Ankake spaghetti consists of pasta topped with a thick, starchy sauce typically made with soy sauce, dashi, and sugar. Toppings include meat, seafood, vegetables, tempura, and eggs.
The best place in Nagoya to try ankake spaghetti is at Spaghetti House Yokoi. This beloved chain, with a history of over 50 years, is credited with popularizing the dish. Their version of ankake spaghetti is classic, with a thick and rich sauce poured over pasta with an assortment of toppings. Other than the food, Spaghetti House Yokoi retains a nostalgic Showa-era feel, offering patrons not just a meal but a slice of local history and culture.