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
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
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
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
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 shiso 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.