[From June Issue 2010]
There are a variety of different foods available in Japan, including Chinese, Korean and Western cuisines, and among them is the Japanese light meal, or fast food. “Yoshinoya,” “Matsuya” and “Sukiya” are well-known gyu-don (beaf bowl) chain restaurants where you can have a regular-sized bowl for less than 300 yen. “Tenya” is another well-known chain restaurant that specializes in ten-don (tempura bowl).
“Don” means bowl, and “gyu” mean “cow” or “beef,” so together it’s a bowl of beef, with gravy, on rice. “Ten-don” is a tempura rice bowl, and “una-don” is unagi (eel) rice bowl. “Katsu-don” is made with a batter-coated and deep fried pork cutlet, while “oyako-don” is mixed chicken with eggs, on rice. In Japanese, “oyako” means parent and child, and since a chicken and an egg are similar, that’s how it got it’s name.
Ramen (noodles) is the most widely eaten food in Japan, with more than 25,000 ramen restaurants across the country, and about 3,000 in Tokyo alone. Though ramen came from China, its cooking has been developed in Japan to meet Japanese taste for so long that it is considered to be Japanese food. Originally, it was cooked with a soy sauce broth, but nowadays there are many varieties, including miso-based and salt-based flavors. In Japanese, “men” means “noodle.” Other noodles like soba and udon are also included in “men.”
Traditionally, sushi was considered a luxury food. However, now that kaitenzusi has spread across Japan, inexpensive sushi is now readily available at kaitenzushi restaurant chains such as Sushiro, Kura-zushi and Kappa Zushi. In kanji, sushi is written commonly as “寿司,” but it is originally written as “鮨.” The kanji is a combination of “魚” (fish) and “旨い” (tasty), and means “tasty fish.” This kanji is also used now.
Many so-called “famiresu” or “family restaurants” such as “Gusto,” “Denny’s,” “Saizeriya” and “Jonathon’s” are often frequented by non-Japanese, especially tourists. There, you can enjoy meals in a relaxed atmosphere, with different dishes to choose from, all at reasonable prices.
Upon entering, restaurant staff members will usually greet you with “irasshaimase” (welcome, or come in), but you don’t have to reply as it is just a customary greeting. And don’t forget that in Japan tipping does not exist.
At some restaurants you may come across these signs: “本日休業” (closed today), “臨時休業” (temporarily closed),“営業中” (now open), or “準備中” (under preparation).
The following Japanese words are often used at the table.
Mizu (water), o-cha (tea), biiru (beer), koppu (glass), hashi (chopsticks), satou (sugar), shio (salt), koshou (pepper), wasabi (horse radish), shouyu (soy sauce), sousu (sauce), su (vinegar), kaikei (bill), otsuri (change), and ryoushuusho (receipt). Often used phrases include “mada desuka” (Not ready yet?), “okawari” (another one), “xx arimasuka” (Do you have xx?) and “ikuradesuka?” (How much is it?).