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The order of a Japanese meal


Fat Guy
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Let's say you're having a multi-course Japanese meal that includes both cooked and raw items. What's the correct progression of the meal?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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a Japanese meal (not kaiseki) normally consists of 3 parts

appetizer

clear soup

sashimi

grilled foods

steamed foods

simmered foods

deep fried foods

vinegared or dressed "salads"

OR

nabemono (one pot dish)

rice

pickles

miso soup

Except for the last group which are almost always served together, the other two groups can consist of anywhere from only one of the dishes to all of them, depending on the meal.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Sushi is normally eaten at sushi restaurants only, and won't show up during a course at, say, an eel restaurant.

I've rarely been to 'real' sushi restaurants so I can't say for sure, but usually some sashimi and little appetizers (cooked seafood, dressed veggies etc.) are ordered before the sushi begins. The meal ends with tea.

For normal middle-class folks sushi is mostly eaten at 'kaiten-zushi' (cheap conveyer belt sushi places), delivered, or bought as take-out, in which case it's just sushi and maybe a bowl of soup.

Kristin's order is right on, but at least in my experience that kind of multi-course eating is for special occasions only. Izakaya-style eating (eating appetizer/snack type food while drinking alcohol) is more common, I think. We just order induvidual dishes a la carte, with no real order. Sashimi and lighter fare will often be ordered first, but it really depends on the diners. When we've had enough we usually order rice, often with soup and pickles, and switch from alcohol to tea.

When drinking at a soba shop (many soba shops become izakaya at night) it's the same pattern, with soba ending the meal rather than rice, soup and pickles.

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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I can't say I ever recall sushi being a cousre per se. Normally sushi is eaten just as sushi, maybe with a bowl of soup. It is rarely (can almost say never) made and eaten at home, here I am talking nigiri (temaki and chirashi are often made at home) rahter it is a take-out, delivery, or eat in a restaurant food.

The courses I gave an example of is not how most Japanese eat their daily meals in our out of the house, depending on the family either everything will be placed on the table at one time, from sahimi through rice and soup or else they will be served "drinking style" where a couple small bowls of different foods are put out to be nibbled on while enjoying alcohol, followed either by a main or directly bybte rice, pickles and soup.

the example I gave is of how the meal would be served in a restaurant or at a home party if it was course style.

I have a feeling kaiseki follows even more rigid rules, I never paid enough attention though............ :blink:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Kristin, the order you've given is correct for kaiseki except that mid-way through the meal there would be hassun, something from the mountains and sea, a particularly seasonal item. Also, broiled and steamed precede nabemono.

Shiizakana (Appetizers with sake)

Mukouzuke (sashimi)

Kuchitori (Side dish)

Suimono (Soup, usually clear)

Nimono (Simmered dish)

Aemono (Dishes dressed with sauce)

Kounomono (Pickles)

Hassun (from mountains and sea)

Sunomono (Vinegared dish)

Yakimono (Broiled fish)

Mushimono (Steamed dish)

Nabemono (Pot dish)

Gohan (Rice)

Miso-shiru (Miso soup)

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Where would a chilled Japanese Spruce soda with hot Wasabi Milk and Wasabi Ice Cubes be categorized?

That would be gaijin-ryori. :biggrin:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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In the US, I'd say that 90% of Japanese restaurants offer a "general menu," which includes sushi and sashimi as well as a little bit from several hot-food categories: tempura, etc. So one thing I'm trying to figure out is, if I go to such a restaurant and place a diverse order, how should it be sequenced?

The other question is, with regard to Nobu, where the omakase menu includes both hot food and raw food, are they following a traditional progression or are they just doing their own thing? Typically, you'd begin with a couple of sashimi-type dishes, then you'd have three or four hot dishes including something fried, a broiled fish, soup, and maybe something else, and then at the end you'd have nigiri sushi followed by dessert. The thing that intrigues me about that progression is that in a Western meal one invariably has raw before cooked, whereas Nobu bookends the meal with raw.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steve, I think at the mid-level there would be places similiar to high-end Western Japanese places.

Kristin, could you find out?

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Do the "general menu"-type Japanese restaurants basically not exist in Japan?

I will see what I can find out about that, but I can share what I do know (since I don't eat at the high end places all that often :blink: )

Most food that is eaten in restaurants by the average Japanese is in middle range places.

A lot of it will be sushi, noodles, foreign cuisines (which have their own course-ing patterns), family restaurants (think Denny's but also on a higher level) and izakaya type places, sticking with the sushi, noodles, family restaurants,and izakaya the food in these places are ordered by the customers as these please, often continuously through the meal. Japanese rarely order appetizer through coffee at the beginning of the meal. The food also comes in the order that it is available, generally appetizers follewed by main followed by dessert. The main dishes though rarely come for everyone at the same time, it is not uncommon to be finishing up your meal while your dinner partner is still waiting for theirs. Also in Japan all non alcoholic drinks are normally served after the meal, unless the customer asks for it before the meal.

I think though, that when you get into higher end Japanese restaurants you are pretty much talking kaiseki.

A lot of Japanese restaurant also mostly serve "sets" and normally these will come out on one big tray, with the rice, pickles, soup with the main and sashimi and usually one more small dish.

Let me think about it some more.

If egullet want to pay me to go to Nobu Tokyo and check out their course-ing here, I will happily do it! :biggrin:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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here is the menu from Aiya a popular middle range Japanese restaurant chain(and the one I frequent the most because it is just done the street! :biggrin: )

http://www.skylark.co.jp/cgi-bin/menu.cgi?gyoutai=AY

to see the dinner menus click on the 4th through 8th lines on the left side of the page, to see the food better click on te picture to enlarge it.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Do the "general menu"-type Japanese restaurants basically not exist in Japan?

Not as fine dining.

'Family restaurants' tend to have a bit of everything, but most diners will simply order sets rather than a la carte. Few people go to family restaurants because the food is good, most often it is because of the variety of food. The menu has something for everyone, so all members of a group or family can find something they like. The name 'family restaurant' is a really fitting name (a rare example of spot-on Japanese English!).

The other question is, with regard to Nobu, where the omakase menu includes both hot food and raw food, are they following a traditional progression or are they just doing their own thing? Typically, you'd begin with a couple of sashimi-type dishes, then you'd have three or four hot dishes including something fried, a broiled fish, soup, and maybe something else, and then at the end you'd have nigiri sushi followed by dessert. The thing that intrigues me about that progression is that in a Western meal one invariably has raw before cooked, whereas Nobu bookends the meal with raw.

I think that is a very typical order. Start with sashimi or cooked (but cold) appetizers, on to more substantial dishes, then finishing with rice. It's interesting that you see the final course as being raw- I imagine Nobu doesn't see it that way at all- he must see it as a rice dish,@and thus a very fitting way to end a meal (and besides, sushi isn't really considered a raw food- the rice is cooked and so are many of the toppings).

So one thing I'm trying to figure out is, if I go to such a restaurant and place a diverse order, how should it be sequenced?

You probably don't need to worry so much about the sequence of your order.

At family restaurants (the closest thing in Japan to N. American Japanese restaurants) almost everyone just orders in sets.

Izakaya-style ordering (I guess izakaya are the second-closest things to the Japanese restaurants in the west) would be good- sashimi and lighter food first and then on to more main-dish type things. Sushi could be considered a main dish, if so there is no need to finish the meal with rice. Or you could save the sushi until the end. Both would be totally fine. Dessert is optional and the drinks should flow right on through until the end (usually alcohol is not consumed at the same time as rice, but sushi is an exception).

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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  • 10 months later...

So, how often do people in Japan go to kaiseki restaurants?

Are these primarily for special occasions?

Here in NYC, they're fairly uncommon. I think we've had at most three or four in recent years (Sugiyama, Kai and two others I can't think of, off the top of my head), of which one (Sugiyama) is still in operation. Even then, Sugiyama isn't kaiseki in the sense that a Japanese person would know it, but rather a close approximation (which is to say, not close at all).

Soba

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good question.

and difficult to answer.....

In Japan there are a couple different ways to eat kaiseki, what I think of as the most traditional is the type of kaiseki that is served in a restaurant that either has the guests of the separate parties each in their own private rooms or in some cases the restaurant is set up on a large area of land with each room of guests actually being a separate little "house". I have been to this second type twice, they are incredibly beautiful with stone paths connecting the "houses" with brooks and waterfalls for viewing along with lush greenery all perfectly trimmed.... These type of kaiseki are very expensive (a couple hundred dollars per person) and I am pretty sure are reserved either for the very rich or for very special occasions.

The more common type of kaiseki is the type that is eaten at an onsen (hot spring), these are popular places for either day trips or one night stays. The guests enjoy a leisurely dip in the hot spring baths and then return to their room for a multi course kaiseki style meal. The type of meal will depend on the amount of money being paid (some of the cheaper onsens are now offering buffet style or family style orrestaurant style dining). Prices for these can range from $50 a person (dirt cheap, no kaiseki) to the thousands of dollars. Most people I know tend to spend the average of about $90 to $150 per person, this includes , the hot spring bath, one night accomodation and two meals (dinner and breakfast)

Then you have the regular rstaurant style kaiseki that seems to be popping up everywhere now. I have seen these in both the Japanese and western styles, these places can either have a room full of tables or have the tables separated off by curtains, partions, etc. You can usually choose a set kaiseki by the price, starting at about $50 and going up from there, averaging about $100.

The new thing that seems to be really popular in my neighborhood, is the mini-kaiseki, this is geared at women for lunch time and can really be a great deal. I have had a couple of these and they tend to range from about $25 to about $60.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Do general-type menus not exist in Japan???

Maybe not as a table d'hote so often, but in effect, they do exist.

"Teishoku" usually means that the main dish comes with pickles, appetizer/side-dish, soup, rice. Some restaurants don't even list these items, it's just assumed that they are included when you order a "main dish" item.

The great alternative to table d'hote is the maku-no-uchi bento or fiormal bento. In that case, all items are served together in a partitioned box (soup, rice, and maybe pickles separate, and very possibly last), so the order of eating is up to you. In those bento, you may see a little bit of sushi in the line-up, but sushi was never designed to be part of a meal, more of a snack or light meal.

In a reasonably good restaurant, the rule is that the rice should not appear until the sake drinking has finished. The reason given is that you should not have two rice products on the table at the same time, but actually, drinkers won't touch the sweetish soft rice while they are drinking, so it is better to serve it hot once they have finished drinking. Also, many Japanese feel that rice cleanses the palate, so they want to enjoy it without other competing flavors at the end of meal, just tea and pickles to go with it.

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  • 1 year later...

I went to a little Japanese restaurant in LA called Wakasan, it's a cute little place! On some discussion group, they said it's a izakaya place, but I am not sure. It's not very noisy (but not all izakaya are noisy filled with salary man anyways). It's Omakase, and they served about 10-12 dishes, including some pickeled vegetables, sprouts, etc, grilled fish, sashimi, ankimo (yum), that beef and potato dish, tempura, etc then after i'm about to burst (too full!!), they said something to me in Japanese where I can only catch the word gohan and miso. And then she brought out this big bowl of rice with barley, huge miso soup with fish, and veg in it, and chawanmushi!!!

Is it typical to serve gohan at the end? I'm confused because I don't understand how i am suppose to eat this plain rice when my food was all gone!!

just curious!!

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I think it's pretty common to eat rice and miso soup at the end of an izakaya meal. There have been quite a few occasions when eating out in Japan that I have had to request rice with my meals (rather than at the end).

There could be a couple of different reasons for this, although I don't know which one is true. One is to avoid filling yourself up with rice as the various courses are served. I would also argue that it is a good way to appreciate the quality of the rice itself, assuming that it is been cooked well. Usually, I would expect a few pickles (tsukemono) with the rice.

Also, I've been told by sake drinkers that eating rice during the meal interferes with the sake drinking. I don't drink so I can't comment on this personally.

Certainly, when eating at home, rice is served with the rest of the dishes. Like you, I prefer to eat rice with my meal, at home or eating out.

Edited by sanrensho (log)
Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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take a look at the Order of a Japanese meal thread. There is a lot of information there!

In particular, scroll down to the last post.

I'm not particularly paranoid, but I also think restaurants make more money by filling you up before you get to the rice.

Hhahah, i agree with you in most cases. But this place is $25 for that meal, it's prix fix, so i dont think they care about that.

The question is, does this sound more like izakaya or kaiseki?? to me it's kaiseki, but onthe web alot o fppl call it izakaya....

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It doesn't sound like kaiseki based on the price alone, although I'm no kaiseki expert. However, my image of izakaya is more pub/bar food or tapas.

Japanese restaurants here in North America very often do not fit the restaurent descriptions used in Japan. Broadly speaking, Japanese restaurants outside of Japan tend to have a wider focus and broader menus than in Japan.

Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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It doesn't sound like kaiseki based on the price alone, although I'm no kaiseki expert. However, my image of izakaya is more pub/bar food or tapas.

Japanese restaurants here in North America very often do not fit the restaurent descriptions used in Japan. Broadly speaking, Japanese restaurants outside of Japan tend to have a wider focus and broader menus than in Japan.

I agree with you. Based on price, def not. But the food really isn't quite izakaya either... strange...

Nonetheless, this is an awesoem restaurant!!

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This custom (sake first, rice later) is practiced throughout Japan, not only at izakaya, kaiseki, and ryokan (Japanese inn) but also at almost every home.

The rule is simple: If sake is to be served as part of a dinner, sake is served first, then rice is served. If no sake is to be served, we eat rice and okazu (side dishes) together.

By sake, I mean any alcoholic beverage, not just 'rice wine'.

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