Eating in a fine dining Japanese restaurant like Benihana isn’t the same as dining in an American steakhouse. For one thing, the table etiquette will be different, from using the chopsticks to choosing the dishes. For another thing, the food will require a different set of skills to enjoy, such as using your chopsticks to pick up food instead of the usual knife and fork or slurping your noodles.
But there’s no need to be intimidated with the thought of learning the proper ways of eating a foreign Eastern cuisine, if you’re used to dining on Western food. Here’s our basic guide in eating Japanese food from steamed rice to tempura that even beginners will find easy to understand.
Like most Eastern cuisines, the base of Japanese cuisine is steamed rice, usually the long-grained semi-glutinous rice.
- Cradle the bowl in your non-dominant hand with your four fingers supporting its base and your thumb resting on its side.
- Use your chopsticks to pick up a bite-sized clump of rice for eating.
- Avoid bringing the bowl to your mouth. Instead, hold it at a short distance from your mouth so that you can catch any grains of rice that may accidentally fall.
- Never shovel rice into your mouth because it’s considered rude.
You should never pour any of the condiments, such as soy sauce, chili oil and peppers, and mayonnaise, directly over steamed rice in a bowl. But you can season your steamed rice with furikake (dried rice seasonings), ajitsuke nori (dried seasoned seaweed), and tsukudani (seasonings made from either proteins or vegetables). Besides, you will find that plain steamed rice is the perfect complement to the rich umami flavors of okazu (small Japanese dishes) so you may not want to add toppings including seasonings.
The Japanese also get their healthy carbohydrates from noodles – and there are more than a dozen types of Japanese noodles, too! Unlike eating Western-type noodles, such as spaghetti, you should slurp your noodles because it’s a sign of your enjoyment of your food.
- Use the oversized spoon that comes with your hot noodles to drink its broth and lift the noodles. Eat it directly from your bowl, too, and use your chopsticks for getting the pieces including the noodles.
- Use the small cup that comes with your cold noodles served over a zaru-style strainer or on a flat plate; the bowl should be used as a serving bowl only. Place the noodles and sauce, which may be provided in a bottle, into the small cup once bite at a time before being enjoyed.
- Eat your cold noodles (e.g., cold udon served with grated Japanese mountain yam or hiyashi yamakake udon) directly from its shallow bowl, if it’s served with various toppings and a noodle sauce (tsuyu) bottle. Pour the tsuyu over the cold noodles and eat the dish with your chopsticks.
The small Japanese dishes known as okazu are actually the side dishes that comes with a typical meal. There are two ways that these can be served:
In small portions placed on individual plates for each person
Eat the food using your own chopsticks. Leave the small plates on the table since bringing them to your mouth is considered rude. Cut larger pieces of the food using your chopsticks before bringing it to your mouth.
In a large bowl for a family-style serving
Use the individual serving utensils provided, if any, for picking up a specific side dish from its serving bowl and transferring a piece to your own plate. Use either the top or back ends of your chopsticks in picking up a piece of the side dish incase individual serving utensils aren’t provided, although you can ask the staff for them.
Unlike steamed rice, you can actually bring the bowl of miso soup to your mouth and sip the broth directly from it. You should also hold the bowl in two hands with eight fingers supporting its base and your thumbs placed on its side. You have to cradle the bowl with both hands to ensure that there will be no accidental drops.
But be sure to use your chopsticks when picking up the miso soup’s solid ingredients. You can bring the bowl closer to your mouth, as if you’re eating steamed rice, so that there will be lesser chances of the solid food dropping to your lap.
A few more pointers about eating sashimi, nigiri sushi, and tempura, which are also staple Japanese dishes.
- Pick up a piece of sashimi with your chopstick, dip it into the wasabi and soy sauce, and enjoy.
- Wipe your hands on a hot towel before eating nigiri sushi. Pick up a piece with your fingers, dip it into the soy sauce, and eat.
- Use your chopsticks in picking up a piece of tempura. Dip it into the tsuyu sauce with grated ginger and daikon.
And when you’re unsure about the proper way to eat each Japanese food, do as the others do! Just observe your fellow diners at your table and ask them about it. Everybody started as beginners and they will be more than glad to initiate you into Japanese cuisine.