Nothing annoys servers, embarrasses dining companions, and evokes side-eyed judgments from neighboring tables quite like the perfect food pic does. But if I didn’t snap a photo, did I even eat the meal? Naturally my first blog post on Japan is about food. I’m fortunate to have been surrounded by Japanese food growing up and have leaned on my family and friends who speak Japanese fluently to order for me, but if neither of those apply to you, going out to eat can be intimidating.
If you’re traveling to Japan for the first time, these are my go-to orders:
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
This was my favorite dish to date, Shio Asari Soba from a noodle shop in Ichinomiya, the town the Tokyo 2020 Olympic surfing games will take place. The clams, the broth, the leeks… Still dreaming about this one.
When I was surfing that morning, there were fisherman wading in the shallow waters scooping up clams the waves swept in. Unreal.
Zaru Soba are cold soba noodles and perfect on a hot day with tempura (battered and deep fried shrimp, fish, or vegetables). The noodles and tempura each have a dipping sauce for their respective items.
Shoyu ramen (soy sauce flavor) is my preferred style but there’s also Miso (fermented bean paste flavor), Shio (salt flavor), and Tonkatsu (pork broth base). I eat ramen so often I’ve stopped taking photos of it.
Tonkatsu & Chicken Katsu
Deep-fried, breaded pork or chicken cutlets. I like katsu with Japanese curry (katsukare) or just simply with katsu sauce and rice, pictured below. Karaage, Japanese fried chicken is also a must.
You’ll generally find noodles, cabbage, seafood, and vegetables in these fried pancakes. There are many variations, especially depending on the local traditions of the town you’re in. Most okonomiyaki restaurants have a large grill you sit around so you can watch the magic happen.
At a nice place? Order the course meal. Everything comes out beautifully plated and you’ll try traditional dishes you wouldn’t know to order. I wasn’t sure what I was eating half the time, but it looked pretty and tasted delicious. Live a little.
Thankful to have been with my mom who’s motto is to eat dessert before dinner. Can’t go wrong with soft serve ice cream, cheesecake, or anything matcha.
If you’re in Ginza, Tokyo, go to the Salon de Cafe in the Shiseido building for a coffee & dessert break from shopping. You won’t regret it.
- Be mindful of cultural practices. Japanese funerals involve leaving food out for the deceased with chopsticks sticking straight into the food. Don’t stick your chopsticks in and don’t pass food chopstick to chopstick if you’re trying to share bites with your friend.
- How to use automated machines at a ramen shop. The automated machines process your order and receive payment, taking out the middle man of a server. I’ve found that some ramen shops have English options, but sometimes I’ve just pressed random buttons and waited to see what’s brought to me. I’ve never met a bowl of ramen I didn’t like. Once processed, the machine prints out tickets you’ll hand to the attendant/food runner. If you’re pressing buttons and nothing happens, some machines require you put in the money first.
- Wear socks or bring socks in your purse to the restaurant. Weren’t expecting that one, huh? If you’re at a Izakaya (Japanese style pub), they may have you take your shoes off as there are seating arrangements on tatami bamboo mats.
- Say thank you! When you’ve finished your meal, saying “gochisosama deshita” to the server and/or person who paid for the meal is the equivalent of “thank you for the meal” or “that was delicious.” Say it while bowing for the full effect.
- If all else fails. A lot of Japanese family restaurants have plastic food depictions in their display window and menus with photos. I may or may not have asked a server to follow me outside so I could point to my choice behind the glass. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Remember, pics or it didn’t happen. Happy