Essential Tips on Eating Japanese Food the Proper Way

  • HOW TO
  • Japan has a wide variety of dishes that are well-loved by many people around the world. However, these foods come with common norms and customs which people should follow. Following local etiquette demonstrates manners and respect. These etiquettes are followed by using certain components, such as the proper way of sitting down, using chopsticks, and honoring the gestures in eating.

    To prevent awkward situations from happening, top Japanese chefs taught certain tips and manners in eating special Japanese foods the proper way.

    How to Eat Sushi

    本格握り寿司  Japanese gourmet genuine finger sushi

    Sushi (寿司) is a well-known food around the world. It is delicately prepared and served during special celebrations or even normal occasions.

    Eating it comes with unique table manners and rules which should be followed, especially if you’re eating in high-class restaurants. Most of these manners are not found outside of the country, but must be considered if you’re eating in a Japanese restaurant.

    • It is said that if you visit a sushi restaurant, it is best not to wear any perfume as it could ruin the flavor for other guests.
    • It is also advisable to turn off your cell phone in order not to bother other guests. Conversations should be quiet and polite as much as possible.
    • It is also not good to make on-the-day cancellations, as sushi chefs prepare the day’s ingredients in the morning.
    • Once you are in the restaurant, the chefs will ask you whether you will do the ordering (okonomi; お好み) or they will choose for you (omakase; おまかせ). You will also be asked whether you have any food allergies. Also, remember that if you’re going to order tuna, you’ll usually be given three types: lean, marbled and fatty.
    • Once the sushi has been served, you have to eat it with chopsticks. First, flip the sushi sideways. Lift it with chopsticks, dip it in soy sauce and enjoy.
    • You can also eat sushi with your hands. All you have to do is to hold the sushi between your thumb and two index fingers. Dip it in soy sauce and raise it to your mouth. Each shop has its own style. In some restaurants, sushi rolls are topped with soy sauce so there’s no need to dip it in.
    • The aroma of seaweed is fuller when fresh, so sushi rolls are best eaten right after they are served. On the table, you can probably see ginger marinated in vinegar. It is kept dipped in soy sauce before slicing, and is eaten between sushi servings to cleanse and refresh the palate.
    • Sushi is served in the sequence that chefs think are best. Sushi with nitsume sauce (煮詰め) is usually served towards the end. It is at this point that chefs ask their guest if they’d like to have more sushi. Of course, if you feel full anytime during the course, you can always let the chef know.
    How to Eat Sukiyaki

    Japanese beef sukiyaki

    People often get mixed up between sukiyaki (すき焼き) shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ). They are actually two different types of Japanese dishes which are prepared and cooked at the tableside. They are similar in style as they both use thinly sliced meat and vegetables which are served with a dipping sauce. The main ingredient in sukiyaki is beef.

    Usually, restaurants include the following ingredients: Chinese cabbage, potherb (水菜), onions, kudzu starch noodles (くずきり), grilled tofu (焼き豆腐), shiitake and enoki mushrooms. Ingredients vary by region and restaurant. Some restaurants use shaved burdock (ゴボウ) or crown daisy (春菊) rather than potherb. It is also the choice of the restaurant to choose whatever vegetables they like.

    Here are some important things to remember if you eat at a sukiyaki restaurant.

    • A waitress makes the sukiyaki at your table and serves it to you, so you don’t really need to do anything.
    • At a self-serving sukiyaki restaurant, tori-bashi (long chopsticks; 取り箸) are used, as it is more polite than using chopsticks that touched your mouth.
    • Sukiyaki is eaten with raw egg. You just have to mix the egg in a small bowl, then dip the beef in after it has been cooked. It is the warishita sauce (割り下) which makes the food salty. Many foreigners are reluctant to eat raw egg. You don’t need to worry as Japanese eggs are very fresh!
    How to Eat Shabu-Shabu


    Shabu-shabu is a hotpot dish of meat and vegetables in konbu dashi (昆布だし) or stock made from kelp. The name “shabu-shabu” comes from the sound chopsticks make when stirring meat in the pot.

    First, you have to dip the ingredients in ponzu (citrus soy sauce; ポン酢) or goma-dare (sesame sauce; ごまだれ) before eating. Placing thinly sliced beef in boiling konbu dashi removes excess oil and lightens the taste. Buri (yellowtail; ブリ), chicken or pork can be used in place of beef. In the past, hot charcoal was placed in the hole to heat the pot.

    • An akutori (sieve-like long spoon; アク取り) is used to skim impurities from the broth that rise to the top from the meat and vegetables. Skimming them off keeps the flavor fresh and pure.
    • Toribashi are used while cooking. These are long chopsticks which are used to place the meat and vegetables in the pot.
    • First, you have to blanch the meat in the broth until it’s pink. Overcooking stiffens the meat. The pink color is an indicator that the food can be eaten.
    • Since the meat is unseasoned, you have to dip it in ponzu or goma-dare. Rich goma-dare is delicious, but ponzu is really fresh. Try both, as they offer different but very delicious flavors.
    • Don’t drink the shabu-shabu stock afterwards (like you might do with ramen).
    How to Eat Rice


    Sticky white rice is a staple in Japan and is served as a side dish in a small chawan (bowl; 茶碗) with most meals. Rice has its own set of rules which you should master as soon as possible.

    • Hold the bowl up near your chin, and pick up the rice with chopsticks. It is much more elegant than having the bowl on the table.
    • Never dump sauce into your rice. It is meant to be eaten separately from other parts of your meal.

    The abundance of delicious edibles in the Japanese land and sea has given rise to the country’s rich food culture. There are a few other varieties of dishes which require proper manner and etiquette when cooking and eating in the country. Some of these may not be obvious upon being served. A great tip is to observe how people around you are eating. If you’re still unsure, ask!

    If you’re planning on staying in the country and would love to try these Japanese dishes, always remember the above tips so you won’t get funny looks from other people. With proper etiquette and peace of mind, you’ll get to enjoy Japanese food like a native!

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