Food in Japan, it’s a little Mystifying

A comment on dining.  Being a westerner, I am used to ala carte menus.  I order an appetizer, an entree and then dessert.  Easy!  I am still working, however, on the dining situation in Japan.  One night we went to a highly regarded local cuisine coursed meal restaurant that was recommended by our concierge.  JoAnn and I think we have sophisticated palates and are up to trying almost anything.  But our first dining experience in Tokyo proved daunting to say the least.

Now, of course, the menu was in Japanese and ala carte doesn’t exist in traditional restaurants.  Instead, it stated that we could order a 10 course dinner or what was described as the same 10 course dinner for more money.  So, we asked the waiter, who’s knowledge of English was little to nonexistent, what the difference was and his response was “better fish.”  What fish was he discussing?  He couldn’t say and we didn’t know.  It was a “crap shoot” and one, based on our faith in the recommendation, that we were willing to take.  Actually, we have no idea how many courses because food kept coming until we said we can’t consume another bite.

Mystery food is all I can say.  Dinner came course after course; sushi, tempura, sashimi, soup, meat and on and on; it was overwhelming!  And, throughout it all we had no idea what was being served.  Some we liked and some we didn’t and no one, due to language barriers, could tell us what was being served and what was yet to come.  That was one of life’s lessons; never too late to learn.

As we walked through Tokyo we looked at most restaurants as we passed.  Many have their menus in the window or on outdoor stands.  Almost all of them display their offerings via pictures and frequently by little plastic sculptures. 

Generally speaking, one selects an entree, such as fish or meat, and everything else is preselected and accompanies the selection.  It was our experience, as we looked around, that most restaurants serve one thing.  So if you want noodles you go to a noodle place; same for sushi, yakitori, tempura and barbecue.  Sometimes, however, one picks a type of dinner, a “set meal,” and receives whatever the chef has in mind; “mystery food.”

Things got better as we sailed around the country.  With the help of guides we knew what we were consuming; and we enjoyed the rest of our meals.  We had noodles and sushi with Izumi and more noodles with Fujio. Japanese pizza was the order of the day with Karoi.

Wonderful Wagyu beef with Ken

and a great Korean beef lunch with Willow.

Our lunch in Shimizu was lovely. The presentation was outstanding. But, we were back in a posh hotel with language barriers and we were dining on mystery food once again, although we were able, with the help of other diners at our table, to figure out most of what we were being served and we enjoyed everything. Must say, however, JoAnn and I don’t do well with fish eyes (or any eyes as a general statement).

Culture; the more we travel the more we learn about other people’s ways of life.  And food is one of life’s great cultural experiences.


  1. Rei & Lia

    This is a great post! We are planning a trip to Japan next year and have watched heaps of documentaries and the food seems super crazy! The pictures you included are great!

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