food

10 foods not to serve at a Japanese dinner party

58 Comments
By Anisa Kazemi

I don’t like generalising. It’s not a good thing. But when something happens over and over again, surely it’s not coincidental? I’ve cooked more times than I can count for my Japanese friends. And it always seemed to go the same way when it came to certain ingredients. To prevent scaring your Japanese friends off with your alien culinary sensibilities, avoid serving them these ten foods at a dinner party. That is, until you can get them round to your way of thinking!

1. Coriander (Cilantro)

Personally, I love coriander. I put it in my guacamole, in my tacos, in my pad thai, atop my massaman curry and in my fresh spring rolls. My friends Mrs. Yuko and sisters, Emika and Haruka, don’t. “It smells bad,” they say, over yet another discussion on food. Wakame (edible seaweed) smells bad, I reply. “Wakame?” – their faces show complete disbelief: “No…!”

2. Blue Cheese

I guess I can’t blame them for this one seeing as it’s an acquired taste for all. Though some European-style Japanese bakeries sell gorgonzola, honey and walnut rolls, most of my Japanese friends give it a big N. O. It’s too strong and smelly. The same can be said for camembert (gah!) and the occasional brie hater (what did brie ever do?!)

3. Rice Pudding

Rice is the staple Japanese food. It has been cultivated with great labor and love then devoured with almost every meal for centuries. For this reason, steamed rice on its own, is a highly praised and respected Japanese food. Which makes adding milk and white sugar to this humble white gem almost sinful. Put it this way, Japanese people and rice pudding is like Gordon Ramsay and a well-done sirloin; “My gran could do better! And she’s dead!”

4.Fruit Skins

I don’t think there’s one fruit that the Japanese don’t peel. I still remember the first time I watched a teacher I worked with peel a grape. I just sat there and gawked. In her defence, the grape was the size of a golf ball (a discussion for another time). Despite the fact that most of a fruit’s nutrients are in its outer skin, Japanese will peel every fruit: apples, pears, figs, plums, peaches – you name it, they’re peeling it. In New Zealand, some people (yours truly included) can eat a whole kiwi-fruit – skin and all. You imagine the reactions I got here.

5. Spicy Food

My Japanese friends who have travelled abroad, specifically to Korea, like spicy food. On the other hand, the ones who have never visited Korea, despite it being so close to Japan, explain it’s because they don’t like spicy food. To which I try to convince them that Korea must have a variety of foods…but no. I once lunched with my Junior High School students where I ordered a “hot” ramen. My students screamed and giggled, “Anisa sensei, noooo!” And can you guess the ending? Yes, it wasn’t even hot. Like, not at all. Though tabasco is readily available, real hot chilli; powder, sauce or meal is a Japanese no-go.

6. Overly Sugared Foods

My friend Yuko and her daughter visited America a couple years ago. They had an incredible time and loved most of the food but surprisingly not the chocolate. They found American sweets and in particular, the chocolate, overly sweet. Of course, for a country that flavours dessert with flowers, green tea, red beans and sweet potato, a sugared Hershey’s is damn near impossible.

7. Brown Rice

According to my friend Akiko, in the past, a long time ago, her family could only afford brown rice. Hulled white rice was not readily available and if it was, it was unaffordable. Today, white rice is in every household. Eating brown rice then, reminds some old folk of being poor. In addition, brown rice is harder to chew.

8. Deer Meat

I can’t speak for the city folk but in my inaka (countryside) many of the locals disliked eating deer meat. This is due to the animal creating damage to farms and occasionally causing road accidents by frivolously crossing the road at a whim.

9. Hard Bread

Also known as フランスパン (french bread). Not all Japanese dislike this. Only some. Varieties of it are pretty much available in all stores. The real kind, the kind with the hard crunchy outer layer, is too difficult for some Japanese to chew.

10. Natto

Believe it or not, most Japanese don’t even like natto (fermented soy beans). As a warm-up for my Junior High School students, I would often query them on both their favorite and most-hated foods. Nine out of 10 of my students hated natto. Go figure!

So. There you have it. Do you know of any more? If so, don’t be shy to comment. I’d love to know.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


58 Comments
Login to comment

Natto is in at least two different packages at every convenience store in Japan... kinda think it’s popular. I know ONE Japanese that doesn’t like it, and she is picky as hell.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Pukey2

I found it heavy, not because it was brown, but because it was Japanese short grain. Long grain, in general, is lighter, and doesn't give you that sugar rush.

No rice gives you "that sugar rush", because there's no such thing as a sugar rush.

Sugar is not a stimulant and contains no substance classified as a stimulant.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

No dairy products especially cheese which is repulsive to many if not most Asians.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

My husband will anything, but is repulsed by rice pudding. He did try to eat it once when my mother served him some, but gave up after one spoonful. The other stuff on the list he will eat, especially venison - he adores it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Has anyone ever put soy sauce on their rice?

Growing up in Hawaii, we did this all the time (and sometimes even ketchup), but yeah, in Japan it's considered bad manners to just put soy sauce on a bowl of plain rice. Add a raw egg, or some natto or something to turn it into a different dish, and you're all right.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Wouldn’t sophisticates in Japan eat pretty much everything considered to be food without having a problem, if it was served at someone’s house, like cultured people everywhere? Shouldn’t the title be “10 Foods Not to Serve Japanese Bumpkins?”

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Has anyone ever put soy sauce on their rice? My Japanese girlfriend made some rice for us, at home. I put some soy sauce on my rice, and she was horrified. Is this typical?

Evidently it's a major faux pas.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have yet to see a good reason for genmai being more expensive than regular rice.

Ans I have to agree with a lot of the posters above. There are so many people here who seem actively scared of not trying any food they haven't been eating since childhood.

The white bread people go into raptures for in commercials? Utterly tasteless.

"Spicy" chicken, with scarlet flames flickering behind it in the posters? At best, a hint of chilli.

And the unique refrain of "We Japanese dislike lamb because smell is bad"? I can only surmise you're not Japanese if you come from Hokkaido, where lamb is rightly relished.

What you have is a whole lot of people who are scared to try unfamiliar food. I suppose it all combines with the ritual of removing joy from every aspect of life.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Vegemite (though like many Japanese you can keep your Marmite). Though, with a bit of butter though I have seen quite a few people here say 'うめー!’

Also, once my ex-mother-in-law broiled grapefruit skins (the whole outside thick yellow skin) for me because I was not making sure every little bit of skin was off before eating it. No, I could not believe it either.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Rabbit. Offer to cook them rabbit stew and they will react as if you are proposing to cook Mickey Mouse alive in boiling oil.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

So eating preferences are highly personal. Who would have guessed that when inviting Japanese over for dinner.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

wipeout:

I'm not surprised you found it too heavy. There's a reason why white rice is universally favoured over brown in countries where rice is the main staple.

I found it heavy, not because it was brown, but because it was Japanese short grain. Long grain, in general, is lighter, and doesn't give you that sugar rush. Unfortunately I can only get brown basmati when I go back home, but it's worth it because it (and every other type of rice) is so much cheaper at home. And I'll mix it with other grains like quinoa and wild rice. And I like the nutty taste over bland Japanese white rice.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Interesting that genmai is on the list. We only use genmai in our shop and its normally only the a stuck up gg or 2 who turn there noses up. I once heard that in the past genmai was cheaper that shelled/white rice so as ever it comes down to status, personally i love it we get ours direct from a farm in Wakayama, yum yum.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I heard that there is a "boom" in Japan for pakuchi ramen recently so I think the coriander entry might be a little out of date.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I've found that almost all of my Japanese friends absolutely love my homemade pumpernickel bread. Any leftovers at a meeting they definitely put in a bag and take home.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I used to eat 100% genmai at home, but eventually even that was just too heavy - switched to basmati and jasmine (even if it has to be white).

I'm not surprised you found it too heavy. There's a reason why white rice is universally favoured over brown in countries where rice is the main staple.

Jasmine rice has a very high glycemic index, so people who have issues with Japanese rice because they consider it unhealthy are not improving their nutrition by switching to jasmine, they're adopting something with even more of the nutritional drawbacks they claim to reject. If the nutritional qualities of rice are the priority, white jasmine would be ranked at the bottom.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Rice Pudding, a favourite of mine.

My friend laughed at my expression when she said would i like a green tea flavoured ice cream

It was nice.

There are many foods that untill you try them you will never know if you dislike their taste or love them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

To be honest, after I'd been in Japan only a couple of years, I came to despise how sweet American chocolate was—absolutely can't eat it any more.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Suzu1: I love refried beans (pinto beans or black beans) but have learned not to serve it

Maybe try mixing in some salsa fresca / pico de gallo, just before serving.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I love refried beans (pinto beans or black beans) but have learned not to serve it to Japanese, either as a side dish to Mexican food or as an ingredient in a burrito or nacho dish. It is an acquired taste as I know Japanese who have come to love it, but not something to introduce to friends at a party.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Have you ever asked her if she was aware that genmai is healthier than white rice? And that polishing the rice removes its nutritional value?

She knows that, which I assume is why she likes me feeding it to her son. She doesn't like the taste (possibly, as you suggest, because of its links to poverty and the Bad Old Days), but as she's in her 90s, active (plays in gateball tournaments and goes to the gym regularly) I'm not going to lecture her on healthy eating, whether it's her whiter-than-white rice, the mountains of sugar she gets through or her habit of drenching every meal in soy sauce.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I've made rice pudding for Japanese, who were horrified. Older Japanese seem to have an aversion to chili con carne.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Everything in moderation. Including moderation itself.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Despite the fact that most of a fruit’s nutrients are in its outer skin

Not true. most nutrients found in the skin are also in the flesh. For example, lycopene, a pigment with antioxidant properties, is found throughout tomatoes and red bell peppers, not just in the skin.

Source: http://www.thekitchn.com/most-nutrients-in-fruits-vegetables-are-found-in-the-skin-fact-or-fiction-185491

steamed rice on its own, is a highly praised and respected Japanese food

There are lots of food in Japan made with processed rice. The sweet mochi is just one of them.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Personally, I love coriander. I put it in my guacamole, in my tacos, in my pad thai, atop my massaman curry and in my fresh spring rolls. My friends Mrs. Yuko and sisters, Emika and Haruka, don’t. “It smells bad,” they say,"

And natto smells good, right?

"Rice Pudding"

I have to make it myself, since, for some reason ( the reason given here is ridiculous ), it's not sold in every supermarket in Japan like it is in the States.

"フランスパン (french bread). Not all Japanese dislike this."

I'll say! You can buy French bread at virtually any bread shop or supermarket!

"Believe it or not, most Japanese don’t even like natto"

I don't believe it. At least 4 out of 5 Japanese I know loves the stuff.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

There is currently a cilantro boom in Japan. There are even themed restaurants serving it in everything, including mojitos. The author may not have heard of it though, because the vast majority of Japanese refer to it by the Thai name, pak chee. I can buy cilantro in all three inaka supermarkets I go to, and one of them also sells cilantro flavoured salad dressing, which is a. pretty good and b. made by a Japanese firm.

Many Italian restaurants in Japan do pasta, generally penne, in blue cheese sauce, so I don't think Japanese have a big problem with that either. Japanese also seem to like Krispy Kreme, which is a fine representative of the American sweet tooth. I find KK sweeter than Mr. Donuts.

If you want to freak Japanese out far more than any of the items listed in the article, give them liquorice. Not at a dinner party of course.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

This is just silly. I have had numerous dinner parties at home, served all manner of foods (though nothing particularly extreme) to my Japanese guests, and never once had anyone say they couldn't eat something, or really say anything but "Delicious!" and "Are there any leftovers I can take off your hands?" Maybe it's the difference between more traditional rural tastes and being in the big city. It certainly beats trying to have a dinner party in the U.S. these days, where people will let you know about a raft of food allergies (real and imagined) and preferences and make it almost impossible to put together a menu of good food that will please most, if not all, guests.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

MsDelish:

I never made a face or a fuss and often lied saying how good some of these rancid things were, but I got used to them and even order them myself now.

Yeah sure. Pull the other one.

Rancid food is not good for you.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

I hate it at home when I have to take half of everything I make to make one have boring and bland as my spouse cannot eat fiery foods like I can. It just takes practice as did natto and shiokara for me. I never made a face or a fuss and often lied saying how good some of these rancid things were, but I got used to them and even order them myself now.

Be Flexible is my opinion. Practice.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Maybe it's just better to go out to a restaurant together and let everyone order whatever they like.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I can’t speak for the city folk but in my inaka (countryside) many of the locals disliked eating deer meat. This is due to the animal creating damage to farms and occasionally causing road accidents by frivolously crossing the road at a whim.

The liking or not liking of deer meat has nothing to do with road kill of damage to farms. It's more like the folks down here in Okinawa, whose who like and don't like goat meat.

It the "gamey" flavor that bugs most people, and their limited knowledge of how to properly prepare venison.

I have hunted and killed deer back in the day and it does not take a whole of of work to make deer meat taste great.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

many of the locals disliked eating deer meat. This is due to the animal creating damage to farms and occasionally causing road accidents by frivolously crossing the road at a whim

So, let me get this straight - locals dont want to eat deer because they are supposedly angry at the animal for "frivolously crossing roads" and causing accidents?. "I'm not going to eat you because you caused trouble!"

Most bizarre claim I have read in a long time.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Can't stand these articles telling non-Japanese how to avoid offending Japanese people. This kind of behaviour will only drive you crazy. Best to just let the easily offended disappear as soon as possible rather than stressing over these small things.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

"And heaven forbid say if you cooked up some Thai mai for some curry............"

That depends. Some of my 'sophisticated' coworkers who travel a lot on business like to shock fellow Japanese with the blasphemous idea that Thai rice is better suited to Thai curry than Japanese rice. I even heard one guy saying he preferred Thai rice full stop.

Thai rice is quite cool in certain circles.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I forgot to add Marmite. Although to be fair, the theory is if you have not eaten it before age three then you never will.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Where can I get this in Japan please?

Shoot your own.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Frankly, I don't see much point in bagging on Japanese people for not eating things that are normal to me - after all, there are a bunch of things that are normal to them that I loathe and refuse to eat. Fair's fair, and there's little more obnoxious at a polite dinner party than someone who thinks they know your taste buds better than you do.

Deer Meat

Where can I get this in Japan please?

4 ( +7 / -3 )

cleo:

At my old workplace, I gave up ordering genmai at the cafetaria - Their idea of 'genmai' was 95% white rice + 5% genmai. I used to eat 100% genmai at home, but eventually even that was just too heavy - switched to basmati and jasmine (even if it has to be white).

I personally love coriander, rice pudding, spicy food. Not fond of soft bread (I call it cake). Christ, if wagashi isn't over-sugared, I don't know what is.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

y'all need to hang out with less discriminating folks. I get pissed when people won't try something cause "they don't like it" when they have never even tried it once! It's only food, it won't kill you and if a host goes to the trouble of inviting you to eat together show some respect. Same probably applies more to gaijin who summarily won't each some thing cause it's different.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I truely do pity Japanese and anybody that cant handle spicy food. Your menu almost doubles when you can eat spicey foods from Thailand India, China Cambodia Mexican etc. Some of the worlds best-tasting foods are spicy. friggin awesome

9 ( +11 / -2 )

And that polishing the rice removes its nutritional value?

That's a hot one, MANY Japanese wont acknowledge that FACT & that white rice is basically starch that the body quickly converts to sugar & has little nutritional value

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Mayonnaise on many food items. Yuck!

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Nori on pizza (or on just about anything else, except for wrapped around sushi)! That's just gross!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

faeces containing ground glass

-7 ( +6 / -13 )

@cleo

The same lady praises me for feeding her son a healthy diet, including genmai....

I take most Japanese complements with a grain of salt. Have you ever asked her if she was aware that genmai is healthier than white rice? And that polishing the rice removes its nutritional value?

It seems like your MIL is trying to rationalize her bias because of its association with being poor.

Deer Meat

Deer Meat???

That logic doesn't seem right to me! Wouldn't people from the more rural parts of Japan be more likely to eat deer meat than urban dwellers. Is the writer implying that the people don't eat deer because of their bad behavior or bad luck. Is it related to superstition? When I participate in outdoor activities like hiking, depending on the ecosystem, it is never hard to find restaurants or stands that serve foods like deer nikuman.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Unfortunately many Japanese have a rather NARROW range of tastes they like, go outside that a bit & you hear words like supai, karai, shio karai etc etc add nauseum!

And heaven forbid say if you cooked up some Thai mai for some curry............

And then there are those Japanese who feel they are LOSING some of their Japanese-ness by eating foreign foods.

And yeah spicy in Japan rarely means spicy, usually means a HINT of spice.

I feel sorry for people whose tastes are overly narrow & afraid to try new foods, I say try it you might LIKE it( and please don't say you don't like it because that's what OTHERS expect you to say!))

11 ( +15 / -4 )

Reminds me of a "lunch party" at our house in Nishinomiya (several years ago). I had made roast veal, "studded" with garlic. The chief (of the company where I taught French) and his wife thought it was delicious ! I also had one of my students as a guest and, at his request, had just served him another slice of veal when my older guests asked what the "special" taste was. When I mentioned "garlic" they said "It's GREAT ! We never knew it was so good !" The younger guy - who was about to stick his fork into the new slice, suddenly decided he wasn't hungry any more...

At least in SOME cases I guess it's all "in the head"...

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Brown rice! My MiL gets her rice straight from the farmer (a relative) in the form of genmai, and puts it (twice!) through an electric rice polisher on the highest setting before she cooks it. One day the whole extended family were at OBaachan's house and I overheard her explaining the rice polisher to her great-granddaughter; according to her, genmai is 'inedible' and will 'give you tummy upsets'.

The same lady praises me for feeding her son a healthy diet, including genmai....

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Take away message after reading this article:

Don't invite Japanese to dinner parties.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

I would call the "French bread" crusty bread. To me, "hard bread" is the dense, German bread. If any of us pass through Frankfurt airport on the way back to Japan we buy a large, German bread from the bakery there.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Whale liver, fava beans and a nice chianti....

And coriander is the devil's leavings

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Mexican food.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

Coriander is an interesting one. I heard somewhere that some people are genetically disposed to hating it. As in, to these people, it tastes like eating soap or something. Personally, I love it, but as someone with a strong dislike for certain foods, especially seafood, I get it when people just don't want to touch a certain food despite others always telling them how delicious it is. What I don't understand though is people going to Thai restaurants ( even Thailand itself ) or any other SE Asian themed restaurant and complaining about coriander in the food or insisting that dishes be cooked without it. Coriander is to Thai food what dashi is to Japanese cooking. Just go elsewhere. Some of the worst Thai food I had was in Thailand because they assumed all foreigners dislike coriander. Really ruined my lunch.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Fugu.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Or just make everything so that it requires the digestive system to do little work and you will be fine. Preferably everything should be soft and mostly sweet (except for American chocolate) and even better if it could be eaten with a straw. And don't overdo it on taste.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

I agree with with the Cilantro. I can't stand that thing.

-8 ( +5 / -13 )

Lamb
6 ( +10 / -4 )

I don’t like generalising. It’s not a good thing. But when something happens over and over again, surely it’s not coincidental?

But you do it so often in your articles, and not just here (again). Maybe you should think that maybe it's you over thinking stuff.

There are plenty of things off in this article.

14 ( +21 / -7 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites