This Japanese City Is A Must-Visit For Your Next Culinary Vacation

Ask most travelers and they'll likely agree: Visiting Japan is a bucket list must-have. A timeless fusion of ancient traditions and modern innovation, visitors flock to the island for its rich history, intriguing culture, and — not to be forgotten — the culinary masterpieces. Known globally as a food enthusiast's playground, Japan offers everything from sushi to ramen, sashimi to okonomiyaki — and then some.

Despite Tokyo attracting a large number of visitors each year — 3.3 million in 2022, to be exact — lesser-known cities are starting to emerge as hidden gems. However, often overlooked is the vibrant city of Nagoya. Slowly but surely carving out its own niche and drawing in explorers from around the globe, it's a no-brainer for travelers eager to stray off the beaten path and into a world of authentic experiences.

Japan's fourth-largest city, Nagoya boasts a unique blend of historical sites and a bustling modern lifestyle, creating an ambiance unlike any other that's brimming with intricate temples, modern skyscrapers, and even a touch of vintage charm. For adventurous foodies in particular, it's an absolute must-visit.

Sampling the flavors of Nagoya

Often referred to as "Nagoya meshi," or "Nagoya food," the city's unique culinary offerings include flavors that feel familiar to everyone — even international visitors who are unfamiliar with local ingredients. And, with meals made up mostly of vegetables, soy sauce, miso paste, and a hearty protein — like eel, chicken, or pork — Nagoya meshi is comfort food at its finest: warm, packed with flavor, and perfect at any time of day.

Some of Nagoya's must-try meals include miso katsu, panko-coated pork covered with miso sauce and served over cabbage and white rice; miso nikomi udon, thick white noodles swimming in a miso-based broth that can also include chicken or fish, mushrooms, and egg; ten-musu, tiny rice balls filled with tempura shrimp and wrapped in seaweed; and kishimen, thick, flat noodles in a seafood-based broth along with fried tofu, fish cakes, and spinach.

However, the real star of the show is hitsumabushi (pictured above). A classic consisting of grilled unagi, steamed white rice, and various condiments, it's typically served in a deep wooden bowl. There's a catch, though: Locals have a very specific way of eating the dish. Breaking up the eel into four portions, diners typically eat the first serving with just rice. Then, for the second, they include some of the condiments. The third portion is meant to be eaten as a soup after pouring the accompanying broth into your bowl. Lastly, the fourth portion might be the most fun — just eat it the way you enjoyed it best!

Where to eat in Nagoya

Feel your stomach rumbling already? Luckily, Nagoya has plenty of go-to spots where you can get your fill. First on the list is Atsuta Horaiken. The spot has been operating since 1873, and it's known by locals as one of the best spots in the city to indulge in a delicious, classic-style hitsumabushi. Make sure you're ready to wait, though — the restaurant's popularity also means there's typically a line outside. For ramen lovers, there's always Misen. With three locations dotted around the city, the eatery specializes in "Taiwan ramen" — which, surprisingly, isn't really Taiwanese at all. Made up of chicken broth, noodles, minced pork, chilis, and chives, the dish packs a punch.

If you're craving something a little sweeter, Komeda Coffee has you covered. A popular Nagoya-based chain, the coffee shop offers everything from classic coffee to specialized drinks such as creme brûlée hot chocolate, iced milk, black lemon tea, and cream sodas topped with a heavy dose of ice cream. Their most popular order, however, is the Shiro Noir: a warm pastry served with soft-serve ice cream and drenched in their homemade syrup.  

So, if you ever find yourself traveling to Japan, don't forget to mark Nagoya on your itinerary. With its culinary treasures and cultural gems, this vibrant city promises an experience that's both enriching and deliciously unforgettable.