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I'm not sure whether this belongs on the travel site or IPS, but since I'll be a tourist, I'm gonna post it here.

I'm going to visit Japan soon and I'm a bit of a picky eater. I've already figured out that when I have special food requests I should ask about them on reservation time and not on arrival. I've also read that it's impolite to pick apart your food (same in my country, Germany) and I wouldn't do that.

However, what does sometimes happen is that I get a dish with mostly things I like and one thing that I'd rather avoid. For example, here I might get a Schnitzel, Fries and a Salad with unlucky ingredients. I'm gonna eat the Schnitzel, the fries and just leave the salad be. Or I have a soup with mushrooms and I'll eat the soup but in the end there will be all the mushrooms left in the bowl. (It's not really hard to 'eat around' soup ingredients so I don't consider it picking it apart).

I usually leave things be here (even though I still feel bad) but I wonder if this would be impolite in Japan.

I'm happy to try anything that I'm being given, but I think I'll come across something I just won't like eventually. How do I handle it? Can I say something to the waiter/waitress/host to save the situation?

  • 1
    This might be a good read for you: landlopers.com/2013/06/25/japan-food – Michael Sep 25 '17 at 22:40
  • Not sure what is the right answer but it happened that the waiters came to check on me as I was trying to hide an unpalatable item behind the decorative ones on the plate. At least as a foreigner, I was cut some slack. – Itai Sep 25 '17 at 22:48
  • @Michael This is encouraging :) I'm just wondering about the case when I fail to order the right thing... – anon Sep 25 '17 at 22:58
  • Given the two answers, this may be opinion-based... (I will keep my own opinion to myself.) – fkraiem Sep 26 '17 at 1:17
  • Are you primarily planning to go to Western-style restaurants? If not, how familiar are you with Japanese food? If you are not familiar, you may have difficulty deciding (other than by broad categories like shellfish or fish eggs). – user3169 Sep 27 '17 at 2:29
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You're in luck. Many restaurants in Japan, particularly at the cheaper end of the spectrum, have either incredibly detailed plastic replicas of their dishes outside in a display case, or menus with detailed pictures of every dish (chain izakayas, in particular, are great for this and often have English menus too). This means you can get a very good preview of exactly what is contained in each dish, and can pick and choose ones that don't have unpleasant surprises.

enter image description here (courtesy Lombroso, Wikimedia Commons)

And if you do get something you consider inedible anyway, it's not a big deal to just leave it on your plate uneaten. No, it's not great manners, and yes, some Japanese make a big deal of mottainai, but you're not an elementary school kid who can't go to recess until he has finished everything in the bento box including the pickled squid, you're an adult and a foreign tourist to boot. Realistically, nobody will care.

  • Plastic ice cold noodles look almost the same as plastic hot noodles, and it can be hard to figure the spicing but it's worth a try (non-plastic cold noodles are delicious btw). – Spehro Pefhany Sep 26 '17 at 4:04
  • @SpehroPefhany If the noodles are in soup, they're hot; if they're piled on a plate, they're cold. (This is for Japanese/Chinese noodles. Western pasta is a different story.) – jpatokal Oct 2 '17 at 22:46
  • Definitely had very cold broth with a horseradish (IIRC) flavor. I have seen seen plastic food with plastic ice cubes in the broth to get the idea across. – Spehro Pefhany Oct 3 '17 at 11:47
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According to article,

The Japanese hate to be wasteful, and picking things out of your meal to leave aside (bones excluded) is considered disrespectful. It offends not only your host but also the farmers who cultivated the vegetables and the animals who gave up their lives for the sake of your dish. It’s also polite to sample a little from each dish on the table.

Fortunately, a lot of restaurants now have "fake food" put on display in front so that you are able to see what you'll be served and be prepared. Out of respect for the Japanese people and culture, I would try to avoid sending something back to the kitchen. If your Japanese is good, you may try talking with the waitress to determine if you'll like anything on the menu.

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