Try These 4 Unique Eateries in Japan!

Try These 4 Unique Eateries in Japan!

We all love food, don’t we? I bet a lot of us are huge Japanese food lovers, as well! I assume we’re all also experts on the types of Japanese food out there, so that’s why this article isn’t about that at all. We’re actually here to look at the various types of Japanese eateries you should definitely give a try. Other than your standard ramen-ya (ラメン屋, ramen shop) and kaitenzushi (回転寿司, conveyor belt sushi), there are actually loads of other types of eateries. . 

In our Season 4 Episode 3 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we guided you through 4 unique types of Japanese eateries you can find in Japan. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in this blog post as well. 

Take note, and keep in mind to pop by these places when you’re travelling to Japan! 

Izakaya, The Japanese-style Pub

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The first on our list is the izakaya (居酒屋). These are traditional Japanese-style pubs that are the best place to go to if you’re looking for cheap drinks and snacks. They are essentially Japanese taverns and you can find one just about anywhere. Even the neighbourhood districts have a handful of their own local izakaya.

The name literally translates to “stay alcohol shop”, so traditionally, this was a place where you could just sit around and drink. Unlike some other places where they try to “turn tables” by rushing customers out, in an izakaya, they won’t ever do that. It’s literally in their name and the basic Japanese etiquette. You’re allowed to just chill and have a couple of beers. 

The most common type of food that you usually get at an izakaya is yakitori (焼き鳥), which are meat skewers. And if I must say so myself, they go great with a beer or cocktail. But if you don’t fancy that, there are other side dishes like chips and a small portion of noodles.

Ryotei & Kappo

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This next type of Japanese eatery is a lot more traditional than the previous: the ryotei (料亭) and kappo (割烹). 

A ryotei (料亭) is typically a high-end restaurant where guests can savour washoku (和食, Japanese cuisine) in private tatami rooms. Some ryotei date back to the early 17th century! Every little detail in the room is taken into account, from architecture to the decoration. Back in the day, this type of restaurant was used for feudal lords to meet with trusted subordinates in private. Even now, businessmen and politicians would have banquets and hold meetings behind the ryotei’s closed doors.

Kappo (割烹) literally translates to “cutting and cooking”. At a kappo restaurant, you usually sit at a bar counter and can observe the chef’s preparation. You can make special requests for what dishes you want or go for the “omakase” (お任せ), which means you leave it up to the chef to decide.

There’s a level of exclusivity for some ryotei and kappo restaurants. Sometimes, you can’t walk in or make reservations. You have to be invited by someone who’s already an existing guest.

Cook-It-Yourself Eateries

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This next category is the cook-it-yourself type of restaurant. You can already guess what you do at this restaurant. Yup, you cook the food yourself. Some might not like the idea of it, because if they want to cook, they’ll do it at home. If they dine out, they want it served to them. But trust me on this when I say you would want to try this type of eatery when in Japan. Don’t you want to experience Japanese culture? 

There are a few ones you should try. The first one is a yakiniku (焼肉) restaurant. Yakiniku is translated to “grilled meat”. Originally, it referred to western barbecue food. Later on, it moved on to refer to Korean food. Today, yakiniku refers to a style of cooking bite-sized meat and vegetables on griddles over a flame of wood charcoal. It’s now known as Japanese barbecue.

Another restaurant in the cook-it-yourself category is nabe (鍋), which means hot pot. It’s a broad category that consists of all types of hot pot dishes. Usually, nabemono is served during the colder seasons, but there are some chain restaurants offering it all year round. People sit around a table with a pot usually filled with soup and throw in whatever they like. Most of the time it’s meat, veggies and noodles. When it’s cooked, they scoop it out into their bowl.

There are so many types of nabemono (鍋物), but my favourite is shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ). This is thinly sliced meat and vegetables are boiled in a pot of soup, and then afterwards dipped in a dipping sauce before eating. It’s a must-try when you travel to Japan!

Family Restaurants

Image Credit: WIkipedia Commons

Last but not least on our list, we have family restaurants. These are just casual dining restaurants which cater to people of all ages, but specifically families with children, hence the name. The big-name ones include Japan are Gusto, Johnathans and Denny’s.

Family restaurants are usually inexpensive — a meal can range from 500 yen (USD5) to 2,000 yen (USD20). I have never spent more than 2,000 yen at a family restaurant in my years of living in Japan.

One of the best things about this type of eatery is that they’re pretty convenient to dine in, especially for foreigners since everything on the menu has pictures to accompany it or an English menu. You have everything from the typical Japanese dishes like curry rice and donburi (丼物, rice bowls) to Western dishes like pasta and hamburgers.

My favourite part of a family restaurant is the drink bar. Unfortunately, it’s not an alcoholic drink bar. They’re all non-alcoholic beverages including soft drinks, juices, coffee and tea. There is a range of alcoholic drinks, though. Some outlets have happy hour deals where beers go as cheap as 200 yen!

Vocab Recap

Here’s a recap of the new vocabulary words we used in the podcast episode:

Yakitori (焼き鳥) — meat skewers 

Osusume (おすすめ) — recommendation 

Kanpai (乾杯) — Cheers!

Washoku (和食) — Japanese cuisine 

Omakase (お任せ) — I leave it up to the chef

Yakiniku (焼き肉) — grilled meat

Nabe or nabemono (鍋・鍋物) — hot pot dishes 

Shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) — a type of hotpot dish

Youshoku (養食) — Western cuisine 

dorinku bā (ドリンクバー) — drink bar

Eat Your Heart Away!

One of the best things about travelling is trying new things. Japanese culture has lots to offer, and eateries are part of them! I highly recommend trying them out when you find yourself in Japan soon! Check out the full episode on the Nihongo Master Podcast, as well as other similar topics, if you’re interested to know more about Japanese culture and language!

The Art of Washoku

The Art of Washoku

Introduction

Who doesn’t love food? We all love food — whether it’s a specific type of cuisine or you just love to eat. The Japanese cuisine has boomed internationally and is now one of the most popular types in the world! Ramen and sushi, anyone?

Washoku (Japanese cuisine) is not just the noodles and seaweed rolls that we all know — there are principles that make them what they are. And if you don’t already know, there are various traditional Japanese cuisine that uphold these principles strongly to this very day.

So what are these principles and traditional washoku types? Read on to find out!

What is “washoku”?

So, what exactly is washoku (和食)? Well, let’s break down the kanji, shall we? The “wa” () has the meaning of “harmony” and also “Japan” — you would already know this if you have read our article “The Various Names of Japan”. The “shoku” () refers to “food”. So, both kanjis combined literally means “Japanese food”.

A brief background on how the word came about: Japanese cuisine wasn’t always called “washoku”, as the term only came about in the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Before the time, there wasn’t any other types of cuisine, so Japanese cuisine was the norm. The Meiji Period was the time the Westernisation happened, so the introduction to Western cuisines (洋食, youshoku) required the people to identify their own local cuisine — and thus washoku was born.

Principles of Washoku 

Washoku isn’t just a classification for any food that is created in Japan — although, most of them are. There are a few fundamentals that a washoku meal has to abide by. These principles are constant throughout them all, just like how rice is basically the heart of any washoku (or Japanese) meal — it’s a staple piece.

The four main principles of washoku are seasonality, regionality, balance and aesthetics. Let’s take a look at each of them individually.

Seasonality 

The Japanese are very particular about seasons. They pay attention to the changing weather and nature — I mean, they even have holidays based on the mountain and sea (read our Japanese Holidays write-up about them!).

With four very distinct seasons in Japan, they are clearly reflected in the washoku dishes that are served during the time. You’ll generally get root veggies in winter and wild plants in spring. Summer sees the pickled veggies and autumn calls for chestnuts. 

Special washoku dishes like osechi ryori (おせち料理) greets a coming new year and is the special New Year’s meal, complete with various symbolised ingredients. 

 

Regionality

Japan is huge. There are a few islands that make up the mainland, and a few thousands of other islands surrounding it! If you’re curious about all the various types of islands, give our Nihongo Master Podcast a listen — one of the episodes cover the Island Life of Japan!

Anyway, with so many various parts, they each have their own unique way of making a specific dish or using specific ingredients that you can only get from there. So, on top of a general washoku of the nation’s cuisine, regionality plays quite a role. 

You’ll get wonderful crab dishes up north in Hokkaido, because the seafood there is nothing but the best or go down south to the subtropical Okinawa to get your fair share of umibudo (海ぶど), seagrapes that the Okinawa prefecture is known for. And because of that, the ingredient is included in quite a number of other dishes to make their own regional washoku.

Balance 

Another important principle of washoku is balance. Some cuisines rely on enhancing flavours using tons and tons of ingredients. For washoku, it’s all about not overdoing it, but not under-doing it either. It focuses quite a bit on natural flavours and how every dish complements the others.

It’s also not just about flavour, it’s also about the nutrition. There’s a saying of “ichi ju san sai” (一汁三菜), referring to “one soup and three side dishes” — they not only accompany a bowl of rice, but also provide a well-balanced meal with the nutrition we need.

Aesthetics 

Last but not least is the aesthetics. Have you ever noticed how every Japanese meal is served so presentably? If you’ve ever spent some time in Japan, you’ll realise that whenever a waiter serves you your food, every ingredient is displayed in a way that not only grabs your attention but also complements the rest of the stuff on the plate.

Not only that, the Japanese especially pay attention to the tableware they use — and for washoku, more often than not, lacquerware is often the go-to choice. If you want to know more about lacquerware, a traditional Japanese craft with quite a history, give our Nihongo Master Podcast a listen — specifically the episode “The Art Culture of Japan”. 

Traditional Japanese Cuisine

Ramen and sushi aside, does everyone know the traditional kinds of washoku — the ones that date back centuries and with a purpose? If you have, that’s wonderful. If not, this section will be extremely informative and educational to you!

Even though this traditional washoku originated in the early days of Japan, they are still alive to this very day — there are more kaiseki (解析) restaurants than one can count. And let’s not get started on shojin ryori (精進料理) — with such a strong religious hold, there’s no way it’ll go anywhere.

To talk about them is a whole new article on its own — which is exactly what is going to happen. Keep a look out in the next few weeks for an article all about the traditional Japanese cuisine, including the two mentioned earlier!

Conclusion

Who would have thought that a whole nation’s cuisine has a couple of rules that they abide by? I guess every country has some sort of guideline, but most of them are more about what ingredients used rather than what they symbolise. Japan is all about symbolism, aren’t they? Even the food they create means one thing or the other!