Dec 28, 2017

5 words for ordering food in Japan when your Japanese is minimal

I've mentioned several times here on City Cost that my Japanese is pretty minimal, but I haven't let that deter me from traveling around the country during our time here. I find that if you know a few key words or phrases for any given situation, you can usually get by with relative ease. Ordering at restaurants or cafes can seem daunting sometimes when you don't know the language, but don't let that stop you from enjoying it! There are certain words I like to keep in my hip pocket when I'm dining out that have served me well thus far - and hopefully they will for you, too!

5 words for ordering food in Japan when your Japanese is minimal photo

Don't let the language barrier prevent you from Japan's tasty treats!

Seated at a restaurant and ready to place your order, but you're not sure how to get the attention of the server? If you call out "onegaishimasu" you'll find someone should be right over to help you out!


Sometimes if I can't read the menu, or there's no handy pictures available, it's easier to ask the staff at the restaurant or cafe for their recommendation. Osusume is the word for recommendation, and if you pop that into a sentence all you have to say is Osusume wa nan desu ka? With any luck, the staff member will be able to guide you to something delicious for your meal - perfect! This also might be best used when you're either not a fussy eater or you're at a restaurant where you're pretty convinced you'd be game to give anything a try. Otherwise, you might end up with something that you're just not going to eat!


Another handy one for the fussy eaters amongst us. I hate mayonnaise, for instance - and Japan seems to have a love affair with the condiment. If I'm ordering a burger somewhere, for instance, and I know it's going to be slathered in mayo, I simply say "mayonezu nuki" and hey presto - problem solved.


Japan does set meals really well - they're a great value option particularly at lunch time at many restaurants, and usually come with a main dish, some kind of sides, and perhaps a beverage if you're lucky. Sometimes though, you're like me and you're happy to simply get the main dish without all those extras (and save yourself a few hundred yen in the process). If you'd prefer to just get your main dish alone, simply say "tanpin" when you order - if you'd prefer the set you can go down the "setto" route!


All done with getting through the ordering process? Well done, you! Even if it was a game of charades to get there, you've undoubtedly done well - so high fives all around. You probably want a way to let your wait staff know that you've added everything to your meal order - so to let them know that they've got everything, say "ijo desu" - it basically translates to "that will be all". Simple, right?

Hopefully these few simple words will help you order in Japan and not be daunted by the process. You don't need to be an ace at Japanese to enjoy the delicious cuisine here - you'll be saying "oishii!" before you know it!



After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along!