Five Things You're Doing Wrong with Japanese Food

Five Things You're Doing Wrong with Japanese Food

I'm just as guilty of butchering foreign word pronunciation as any American, but there are times when the media perpetuates mistakes that will make you look like a schmuck. This week--five things for you to avoid sounding like one in a Japanese restaurant.

5. Ordering Sushi When you Want Sashimi

gomoku chirashi sushi
Flickr user dizznbon
Chirashi sushi with not a fish part in sight

Sushi is a vinegared rice dish. It's not the fish. The rice can be prepared with non-fish ingredients like peas, or egg, and shaped in many ways and it's still called sushi.

Sashimi is the raw fish. If all you want is fresh raw fish, artfully presented, with no rice, you ask for sashimi.

4. Asking for Tonkatsu When you Want Tonkotsu

Tonkotsu = pork bone, as in the soup.
Tonkotsu = pork bone, as in the soup.

You're the sophisticated guy that takes your first-timer friends to experience the difference between the six-for-a-dollar instant noodle pack and the real-deal ramen soup. That soup? Boiled with a ton of meat, bones, vegetables, a little dried fish, a whole lot of large Japanese leeks. You know all that, then you go on Yelp and write how much you loved the tonkatsu soup and screw it up.

Tonkatsu (ton kah tsoo) is a breaded, fried pork chop. Tonkotsu (ton koh tsoo) means "pork bone," what yields the fatty marrow and thickness to the broth, and is the key ingredient in Kyushu-style ramen. Very few ramen specialists also offer the fried pork chop dish on their menus, but some do. You're going to look like an idiot if you try and dust off your sophomore-year Conversational Japanese skills and end up with a plate of Schweineschnitzel instead of the soup dish you were expecting.

3. Slurp vs. Not Slurp

Speaking of ramen gaffes, the Japanese way of eating noodles is to pick up a few noodles with your chopsticks,and slurp them quickly into your mouth so that some of that soup is carried with them. Same deal with soba and udon noodles. Don't slurp in a Chinese restaurant, or Vietnamese, but in a Japanese restaurant? It's expected.

You may remember the reverse of this etiquette played out in Tampopo.

2. Mispronouncing Santuko vs. Santoku

Flickr user 96dpi

These Japanese knives are everywhere these days, and everyone from Rachael Ray to Emeril Lagasse are touting them as the best thing ever. Personally, I dislike the shape of the rocker-less edge, but what I like less? That people with broadcast powers are still mispronouncing it. It's correctly: san-toh-ku. The marketers, media and the celebrity chefs that still butcher a word that's not all that hard to pronounce in the first place? They ought to commit "hari-kari" (don't even get me started on that one)..

1. Mistaking Miso for Shiso Leaf

Flickr user FotoosVanRobin

Speaking of Emeril, I watched an episode of

Emeril Live

once where he was teaching us to make Japanese food. While you parse that, I'll tell you that he trotted out the distinctive herb


and introduced it as "miso leaf."

I know, I know. The man is from Massachusetts and can barely pronounce American English, but with that much power to misinform people, I expect him to know the difference between shiso the herb and miso the fermented bean paste. It still grates my nerves this many years later.

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