8 Phrases that Explore Japanese Food Culture

What to say before, during, and after your meal

By Google Arts & Culture

People all over the world connect through their love of food and, within Japanese food culture, particular phrases are used to communicate the desire, gratitude, and satisfaction involved in eating. Politeness is a key part of all food cultures, and knowing when and why different phrases of thanks are used will let you pay the correct respects to the chef. Whether you’re about to dig into some sushi or just want to express how delicious your meal is, get to know these foodie phrases and put them to good use next time you tuck into some Japanese cuisine.

New Year's meal, 2019, Original Source: KIBUN FOODS INC.
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Meshiagare: “bon appétit”

The French phrase, “bon appétit”, has become a commonly used saying all around the world, meaning to “dig in”. In Japan, the equivalent phrase is meshiagare, which would be said by the chef or host to show that the food has been served and is ready to eat. This is part of the dining etiquette in Japan, which emphasises the importance of greeting and serving the customer – many Japanese restaurants will greet you with a hot, wet towel (oshibori), used to clean your hands before eating. From the moment you sit down at the table to when the chef signals for you to enjoy your food – “meshiagare!” you know you will be looked after.

Inside Kurakura, From the collection of: Shinjuku Golden Gai
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Itadakimasu: “to eat and receive”

It is an important part of Japanese food culture to thank everything involved the preparation of a meal – including the chef, the waiter, and the food itself – and the phrase itadakimasu does just that. This expression of gratitude originated from the verb itadaku (which means “to receive”) and this phrase is not said to others but used to express personal thanks. Itadakimasu might also be said while bowing the head as a sign of respect.

Customers sitting at the counter while watching the chefs do their magic, 2019/2019, From the collection of: Osaka Gastronomy and Culture
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Gochisousama: “thank you for everything”

Itadakimasu is said when you start eating but, when the meal is over, remember to give thanks again using the phrase gochisousama, which is a sign of respect towards the chef. This translates as a more formal way of saying “it was a feast,'' as the word gochiso refers to a meal of luxurious foods. Before saying gochisousama, it is also good manners to return all the dishes and chopsticks back to where they were at the start of the meal.

One soup plus three side dishes (Ichiju-sansai), Original Source: Savor Japan
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Harapeko: “I’m hungry”

The word harapeko is made up of hara, meaning stomach, and peko (abbreviated from pekopeko), meaning appetite. Put them together and harapeko can be used to say that you have a strong appetite. This is a very informal word, often used by young children, and depending on the way that the phrase is used, it can either sound cute or rude. Being polite and respectful to everyone involved in creating a meal is important in Japanese food culture, so be careful how you use this saying!

Hashiage (Picking up Noodles with Chopsticks), 2019, Original Source: Shinyokohama Ramen Museum
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Oishii: “it’s delicious”

Just as it is important to be appreciative, it is also respectful to be complimentary of the food. If your meal is delicious, then let people know by saying oishii, which is an enthusiastic term to communicate that the food you’re eating is good. Another phrase often used by men, umai, can also be said after the first bite to express the deliciousness of a meal.

People enjoying sake at a counter in "Teppo", 2019/2019, From the collection of: Osaka Gastronomy and Culture
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Okawari kudasai: “more food please”

It is often considered good manners in Japanese food culture to finish all the food on your plate, even down to the last grain of rice. If one portion of food wasn’t enough, then you can use the phrase okawari to ask for a second serving. To make this a little more polite, add the word kudasai on the end, which means “please.”

Higashiyama Tokyo: FOOD NIPPON menu, 2019/2019
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Kuishinbo: “a person who loves to eat”

If someone is a foodie, then you might refer to that person with the phrase kuishinbo. Translating as a person who loves to eat food (and a lot of it), the term is also associated with gluttony and greed. However, no matter how hungry you are, you should always use the correct table manners. Small bowls should be picked up and eaten close to the mouth, while larger plates should remain on the table.

New Year's meal, 2019, Original Source: KIBUN FOODS INC.
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Omakase: “the chef’s recommendation”

Omakase has become popular around the world, particularly in the United States, and refers to a meal of dishes that have been recommended and selected by the chef. Omakase also translates as “I’ll leave it up to you,” reflecting how Japanese dining culture allows the chef to create a specialized menu with no input from the customer. Although omakase meals are said to be exquisite, as they are menu-less, they can be quite expensive. It can also be expected that the person who invited everyone should pay the bill, so you might want to leave omakase meals for special occasions.

Credits: Story

Words by Ally Faughnan

Credits: All media
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