The traditional Japanese breakfast is very different form the Western style breakfast. It may more closely resemble a lunch or dinner to the untrained eye. The Japanese breakfast, however, if meant to be purposeful and built around providing you with maximum energy to get through the busy morning. You will find that the traditional Japanese breakfast comes with smaller portion sizes and lighter food options.
The Japanese breakfast is served on a flat tray and has each item in it’s own dish or container. You will see most people using chopsticks to eat their breakfast. As a quick etiquette note, never rest your chopsticks in the dish. Rest them on top of the dish or preferably on the side (where there may even be a chopstick rest). Never use the side of the chopsticks that has touched your mouth to handle food items from a communal area. Rather turn them around and use the unused side.
The Stable Dishes
Every traditional Japanese meal is served with two main dishes: rice and miso soup. Miso soup is a soybean, tofu and broth based dish that usually has some seaweed, green onions and or other vegetable in it. My personal favorite miso soup is just a plain seaweed and tofu one. The options are endless to help give the soup different flavors.
It is thought that miso soup will help clear your system. It’s always served hot and is meant to be drunk by holding the bowl up to your mouth with two hands. There will be a miso soup spoon close by for the seaweed and tofu. If you have any soy allergies, I would stay clear of this dish.
Steamed white rice will be available on the side to add as a compliment to your main dishes. The white rice will either be located in the center of the table or will be pre-served on your tray. If it is in the center of the table, you will find a rice bowl on your tray. Help yourself to as little or as much rice as you want.
The Main Dish
The main dish to any Japanese breakfast will be a type of protein. Wish Japan being an island nation, you should expect fish to be plentiful. The fish can be prepared many different ways, I would expect it to be fully cooked though! Raw fish is more expected if you are enjoying sushi. If fish is not on the menu, I would expect there to be eggs or pork cutlets. Feel free to place the protein item on top of your rice bowl.
Japanese people love their veges! You can expect two different types of vegetable dishes to be placed in smaller containers at the breakfast table: regular and pickled. Regular vegetables can be carrots, peas, soybeans, etc. It really depends on the region and time of year. You may see some purple vegetables and not be aware of it, odds are that that purple dish may be pickled plum. If you want to try the pickled vegetables, be advised that they can be salty, so be prepared for the taste.
Fermented soybean (Natto) is the food people either love or hate. It is found in every Japanese supermarket. Why? It’s in the name; this dish is fermented. It’s the smell some people, like myself, can’t stand. It’s got a unique taste and a rather slimy texture that maybe worth trying. You may even love it. Remember to only take what you think you will eat. It’s considered rude to leave food on your plate
Rice porridge may be another item served by itself. In a Japanese household, leftover rice is placed in the refrigerator and with some milk becomes porridge. My own Japanese host family loves rice porridge with an egg and fish for breakfast.
Other Side Items
From my experience, places that have a Western influence to them may also offer yogurt and fruit as a side dish offering. The yogurt may be in a drink form or in a container. Yakult probiotics is a very popular item that I found was served with every meal in Nagoya when I was studying abroad. In Tokyo, the probiotic yogurt was usually only served with breakfast.
Fruit, like Europe is more of a dessert or side item to be served with lunch or dinner. I found oranges and bananas to be the most common items. Kiwi and melons were readily available in the summer months. Fruit is expensive in Japan and is oftentimes imported from Australia, New Zealand, or other Asian countries.
What beverage is a breakfast beverage? Water and green tea. Green tea is served hot and is one of the most popular tea types in Asia. Coffee is only usually found near tourist or Western breakfast places. It’s an individual preference. It varies from city to city, but you may find milk or orange juice available. Hope this helps with some questions you may have about a traditional Japanese breakfast! Until next time, happy travels!