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Some Basic Japanese Dishes

Japanese cuisine, undoubtedly one of the healthiest and most interesting diets in the world, is renowned for its visual appeal. We would like to explain a few basic Japanese dishes to ease problems in choosing and ordering. The Japanese terms commonly used for these foods are included to simplify ordering.


You may find that the breakfast in Japan are very different from what you are accustomed to in your own country. There are various breakfast selections. A word of caution: only one cup of coffee is served. It is usually brewed by the cup and is strong. If you order an additional cup, you will be charged.

  1. A morning (Moningu) is a Japanese breakfast set usually with toast, coffee (around 500 yen). It is usually served at a Kissaten (coffee shop).
  2. Japanese breakfasts typically include fish, rice, miso soup (a tasty fermented soybean soup), Japanese pickles (tsuke-mono), nori (dried seaweed) and often a raw egg to be mixed with the rice. They are usually the only breakfasts served in ryokans and minshukus. Breakfast times are posted or provided by your host. (Breakfast is included in the room charge.)
  3. Western breakfasts are usually available in hotels. The deluxe hotels often have a large breakfast selection, with a menu in English. Prices vary from hotel to hotel.


Lunch sets are available, usually as one of the best deals going. The lunch set, called Teishoku, business lunch, service lunch, daily Teishoku, or lunch, changes every day (600 - 900 yen depending on selection). Teishoku usually includes some kind of meat, fish or seafood, rice, miso soup and a small salad and often comes with coffee or tea.

Lunch and dinner selections do not vary greatly in a given restaurant, but the price of lunch is generally about half that of dinner and the amount of food is less.

Other dishes eaten for lunch include noodles and Donburi (one-bowl dishes). These are explained below. Lunch sets are the fastest way to eat the noon meal. Noodles and donburi are cheap and filling, typically 400 - 650 yen.


This is fast, convenient style of eating establishment somewhat resembles a cafeteria by Western standards. The food is already prepared and need only be heated in a microwave oven. The prices are quite reasonable and the service is very fast. Some Western style foods are available and lunch sets (teishoku) and noodles may also be ordered. Usually open for lunch and early dinner.

These noodles are made of buckwheat flour. Recipes using soba vary according to the season. Zarusoba, cold noodles with a side dish of dipping sauce, is served in the summer for a refreshing lunch. However, soba is usually served hot, with broth, green onions, and other ingredients.

plain soba with a dipping sauce
zarusoba with tempura on the side
kitsune soba
soba with fried bean curd and green onions in broth
tempura soba
soba with tempura in broth

Udon noodles (made of wheat flour) are thicker than soba and generally cooked to a fairly soft, almost mushy consistency. Like soba, they are served in a bowl with broth. Often aburaage (fried bean curd) is added along with green onions. A hot spice called shichimi (seven spices) is served with the udon.

nabeyaki udon
udon with vegetables, egg, and udon cooked in an earthenware pot.
kitsune udon
udon with fried bean curd and green onions in broth.
tempura udon
udon with tempura in broth.
niku udon
udon with beef slices and vegetables in broth.

Ramen or Chukasoba
This is probably the most popular kind of noodles in Japan and is often eaten in the early hours of the morning since ramen shops are the only ones that are still open. Ramen is noodles served with broth to which chashu (roast pork) and green onions are usually added. All three kinds of noodle dishes are very reasonable in price and are especially popular for lunch or a quick meal.

The word donburi literally means "bowl" and donburi is always served in a deep bowl. Being inexpensive and very satisfying, it enjoys a tremendous popularity in Japan. Donburi is a bowl of rice, flavored with broth, with sliced onions and tempura, meat or egg placed on top.

pork cutlet on rice
chicken and egg on rice
beef on rice
tempura on rice
egg only on rice

Curry rice is one of the cheapest and most popular lunches in Japan, especially among children, and quite filling. Various curry dishes are served including the following:

bifu kare
beef curry
chikin kare
chicken curry
katsu kare
cutlet curry
shifudo kare
seafood curry
yasai kare
vegetable curry
dorai kare
dry curry (curry powder with rice - somewhat resembles pilaf)

This local favorite resembles a pie in some respects, but is actually unique. A thin plate -sized pancake made of flour and water is first fried on a grill. Soba, cabbage, bean sprouts, bits of tempura, egg and pork, shrimp or squid are piled on top. After cooking, tiny flakes of nori (seaweed) and a special thick sauce are spread over the top. More than enough for one meal, okonomiyaki is especially popular in Hiroshima where it is made in a special way unique to the area. It is eaten directly from the grill with a small spatula.


The following foods are eaten for dinner, typically with alcohol, and the prices vary widely, from reasonable to very expensive depending on the place.

Sushi is served in a wide variety of forms. It is made of rice flavored with vinegar and sugar and generally served in bite-size pieces which can be dipped in soy source and eaten with fingers or chop-sticks. The three basic kinds are nigirisushi (a wasabi, a green horseradish-like root, and raw fish), makisushi (rice and vegetables or other ingredients rolled in nori) and hako sushi (rice and topping pressed into a rectangle box). Inari-sushi is rice stuffed into pouches of fried bean curd; chirashisushi (scattered sushi) is a combination of various tidbits served on top of rice.

Many kinds of raw fish are served as sashimi. Slices of the fish are usually dipped in a mixture of special soy source and wasabi. Sashimi and sushi can be expensive if ordered individually. The best strategy is to order assorted combinations (moriawase for sashimi or jonigiri for sushi) since the price is more economical.

Communal dishes
These are dishes are usually cooked at the table and eaten as a group.

Shabu shabu
Shabu shabu is made with beef (which is sliced very thin) or seafood, vegetables, tofu and noodles. A stock (water plus a bit of kelp) is boiled in a pot and the meat or fish and vegetables are added and cooked briefly. Two sauces, one with a sesame base (gomadare) and the other, a mixture of soy sauce and citrus juice (ponzu) are served as dips for the cooked food.

A large earthenware pot filled with stock is heated over a gas flame; chicken, clams, green onions, mushrooms, fish and vegetables are added. Everyone helps themselves, so do not hesitate to dig in. The Hiroshima specialty of this kind is kaki no dotenabe (oysters in a miso stock).

Vegetables, mushrooms, shrimp and various other seafood are dipped in a batter made of flour and water, then deep-fried to make a delicious meal. Tenpura is served piping hot with a sauce of tntsuyu made of dashi (fish stock) flavored with mirin (sweet sake) and soy sauce with grated daikon (radish) and a bit of ginger added. It can also be eaten with salt and lemon as flavoring.

Yakitori is another popular "late night" meal. Although the word yakitori actually refers to chicken "shish kabob", many different vegetables and meats are served including various cuts of pork and beef (some not often consumed in the Western world). Small skewered tidbits of meat and vegetables are grilled over charcoal to a point of juicy mouthwatering doneness, dipped into a special soy based sauce and served immediately.

Guests sit at a counter around a charcoal grill and place their orders. Numerous grilled foods are available, including baked potatoes, yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls), vegetables, and various kinds of fish and meat. The cheery atmosphere and energetic chats set the guests at ease.

Kaiseki-ryori is a style of dinner rich in etiquette and simple refinement. Each portion of the meal is small but by the end of the dinner you will have tasted a variety of foods. These dishes are selected according to season; prepared and served according to practices of formal tea ceremony. The dinner usually consists of a soup and three or more dishes served in the finest earthenware. Recent kaiseki-ryori emphasizes more on lively conversation, drinking and relaxation.
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