I encourage you to make Japanese ingredients and preparations a regular part of your ordinary dining experience. Indeed, many of the dishes in this book are excellent as part of a Western meal in a Western setting. Nonetheless, you will want to understand the style and process of true Japanese dining, if only because the contrasts between Japanese and Western customs are so fascinating. Besides, you may find yourself at sometime in a “real”
Japanese dining experience, at a formal Japanese restaurant or, perhaps, in Japan. The information provided here will give you comfort if you ever have the opportunity to dine Japanese-style.
A typical Japanese dinner consists of a bowl of rice, a bowl of soup, a plate of a protein dish such as grilled fish, and several vegetable side dishes, including a small plate of pickled vegetables. In a Japanese meal, none of these dishes is considered the “main dish.” Each complements the other to create a meal that is balanced in flavor, texture, color, fragrance, and nutrients.
A Japanese meal is usually a simultaneous rather than a sequential event—that is, nearly all of the dishes are set in front of the diners at one time. Only in the most formal restaurants do the dishes follow one after the other. In such a dinner, the soup and rice are usually the last course before dessert.
Japanese Food Culture Research
In any Japanese dinner, a pair of lacquered chopsticks, hashi, isset horizontally in front of each each diner. The chopsticks usually rest on a holder, hashioki, especially in a more formal dinner. For a right-hander the chopsticks are placed with the thicker ends on the right; for a left-hander the thicker ends are on the left.
After a diner picks up the chopsticks, with which dish to begin to meal seemsto be a big concern and mystery to many non-Japanese people. The only rule of etiquette concerning this matter is that you do not finish one dish before moving on to another. Rather, you eat a little from each dish and then move from dish to dish. Starting with a small sip of soup may wet your mouth and stomach and prepare you to enjoy the dinner, and a mouthful of plain cooked rice eaten after several bites from highly flavored dishes will certainly refresh your palate. Custom does not, however, prescribe these sequences. (I must disclose that my husband, who mastered the art of eating the Japanese way during his fifteen-year residence in Japan, still tends to finish the soup at the beginning of the dinner, despite my silent disapproval.)
Rules of Japanese Dining Etiquette
For many Japanese diners, from all walks of life, properly attacking a meal at a highclass French restaurant is still a nightmarish mission. How to hold the wine glass properly, how to drink the soup without holding or lifting the soup bowl, how to eat soup or noodles without making a slurping noise, which spoon and fork should be usedfirst when several of them are at each place on the table—these are perplexing problems. But there is good news for you who are already familiar with this complex etiquette. Mastering Japanese dining table etiquette is very pleasant and relaxed, because you can forget all those prohibitions that your mother taught you.
During a Japanese Dinner
During a Japanese dinner, you must pick up your bowl of rice, your bowl of soup, and some of the other small bowls and plates, and move them close to your mouth. In this way you avoid dropping the food held between the chopsticks on the table or your lap, and making a mess. No spoon is served with the soup, so you must sip it directly from the bowl. It is impolite, however, to shovel the food with chopsticks from the bowl or plate directly into your mouth.
Other rules of Japanese
Other rules of Japanese dining etiquette are related to handling the chopsticks. Do not stand chopsticks in a bowl of rice; do not lick chopsticks; do not point them at people; and do not pick up food by spearing it. 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.