While it’s true that most cuisines are more authentic when eaten in the countries they originate from, I can now say (after our visit) that Japanese restaurants in America do a pretty great job. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some pretty big differences. Eating Japanese food in Japan is absolutely different then eating it here in the states for a number of reasons.
You’ll find a variety of choices on the menus in the US, but in Japan most restaurants specialize in only one cuisine, so if you want ramen and sushi you’ll need to visit two different restaurants. The variety and type of food served is also quite different, for example you’ll be hard pressed to find horse sushi or tempura lotus here in the States. The choices can seem quite bizarre and even downright exotic.
A lot of restaurants have plastic food displays or photos of food on the menu, however this is no indication of the quality of the establishment, the chances that the food will still be great are high! In fact, these practices are quite common and can prove quite helpful when faced with trying to read a menu written in only Japanese.
Converting ¥ to $ A Cautionary Tale
Based on our love of Japanese cuisine, Simon had come up with a list of foods that he wanted to try while on our trip. We had done a pretty good job of checking everything off the list, with the exception of one item, his favorite, tempura.
It was our last night in Japan and as is our usual habit we were wandering aimlessly looking for a place to eat. We were in Ginza and though there were retail stores aplenty we were having trouble finding a tempura restaurant.
When we finally found an acceptable place with an available table we didn’t think twice… In hindsight I should have noticed that the Yelp listing had multiple dollar signs, but we were very hungry, and not a little impatient…Oops!
The restaurant, Ten-Ichi, while not a dive didn’t seem all that remarkable either, and along with the menus we were given aprons, which added to what seemed like a fairly laid back atmosphere. The menu was a list of what seemed to be all-inclusive dinners for very reasonable prices, and Simon and I chose the same meal, Tim picked another and Elliot still another.
The waitress spoke no English and we spoke no Japanese. We placed our order by pointing at the menu. Immediately she shook her head “no”. What was she trying to tell us? We had NO idea! Each meal included multiple courses; maybe it was too much food? We pointed at Elliot and shook our heads “no” as if to say, “does he need his own meal?” We signaled back and forth a few more times and it seemed like everything was worked out. Our order had been placed…
What Seems too Good to be True is TOO Good to be True.
Our meal was fantastic! It was hands down the best meal we had the entire trip! Tempura in Japan was incredible and nothing like anything we’d in the States. The batter was light as air, the house made sauce was divine, and we learned a new way to enjoy tempura, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt. Heavenly! It had been the perfect way to end what we all considered the vacation of a lifetime! A good thing too, because…
A short while later after we’d enjoyed our meal and a few glasses of wine, the check arrived… I wish I had a photo of the look on Tim’s face when he told me the check was the equivalent of just about all the dinners we’d had the entire trip, combined! Yes, that is right! All the dinners! Combined!
We’d made a mistake converting the ¥ to $ and instead of my entree being $19.00 it was really $190.00… you get the idea! It was lucky for us that this restaurant accepted credit cards, as many places in Japan do not. Sticker shock aside, we all agreed that not only was it truly the best meal of our trip, but maybe the best one we’d ever had!
Later, when I spoke with Simon about it, he said, he’d known all along just how expensive the entrees were, but because earlier on I’d asked him to let Tim and I worry about the expense of our trip, he assumed we knew what we were doing. Clearly we did not!
- Wear your glasses when reading the menu!
- When mom says yes to a $190.00 dinner entree she doesn’t really mean it because obviously she isn’t wearing her glasses and doesn’t realize what she’s agreeing to! Say something!
The good news:
- Not only will we never forget this fabulous meal, but it I can’t think of a single meal we didn’t love while visiting Japan!
A Word About Credit/Debit Cards
Keep in mind many places in Japan do not accept credit cards and if you’re coming from the United States there is a high probability that your credit and debit cards won’t work in most ATMs. ATMs located in 7-Elevens should work, but getting cash can be difficult and it’s a good idea to plan ahead, so you don’t run out.