With few exceptions, the entire Japanese meal is eaten with chopsticks. Therefore, the foods are always cut into bite-sized pieces or strips so that they are easy to pick up. Occasionally, you may encounter food that you need to “cut” with chopsticks—for example, a grilled fish fillet, or a small block of simmered meat, vegetable, or tofu. If you find it difficult to break the food into smaller pieces with chopsticks held in one hand, simply pick up the whole piece with yourchopsticks, have a bite, and return the rest to the plate.
When food is served on a communal platter or in a large communal bowl, a pair of serving chopsticks or a serving spoon may or may not be provided. If not, use your own chop sticks, but reverse them so that the parts that have been in your mouth do not touch the food in the communal dish.
Japan Dining Etiquette
During a Japanese dinner, no tea or water is consumed. The beverage served with meals may be beer, sake (rice wine), shochu (a high-proof distilled liquor), or, nowadays, wine. Among these, beer is first in popularity for dinner served at home, probably because it is inexpensive and a good complement to many different types of Japanese foods.
Finally, a Japanese dinner concludes not with a rich dessert but, usually, with carefully selected seasonal, peeled, seeded, and cut fruit, typically in small portions. For example, a few grapes—usually kyoho, a very sweet and juicy, rich purple variety with fruits more than 1 inch in diameter—may be served neatly peeled and seeded as the entire dessert. Tea, without milk, sugar, or lemon, is the beverage that concludes a Japanese meal. Tea refreshesthe palate and aids digestion. Bancha, brown twigtea, is served on informal occasions, and ryokucha, green leaf tea, at more formal meals.
AJ apanese meal begins and ends with formal expressions of appreciation and respect. Before eating, every diner says, “Itadakimasu,” “We are going to receive the meal”—^the Japanese counterpart of “Bon appetit!” Itadakimasu implies great respect for everyone from the farmer to the truck driver to the shopkeeper and the cook who helped to make the meal happen. At the end of the meal, everyone says, “Gochisosama,” “I have feasted.”
No matter by which language I express my appreciation of foods, I feel the happiest when I can enjoy meals prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients, using appropriate prepa ration techniques and with family and friends to share in the appreciation. I hopethis book inspires you to dothe same, at every opportunity, whether you are preparing an all-Japanese dinner, combining Japanese dishes with some from another cuisine, or incorporating Japanese elements into dishes of your own creation.