All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.

Japanese Food 101

What you get with a Japanese meal

A typical Japanese meal consists of rice, soup and a few other dishes.
Rice is often replaced with noodles or bread with dishes of Western origin, and soup is often omitted when the meal contains another soupy dish or at dinner when having drinks.
At most Japanese tables, everything comes at the same time* and dishes are eaten in alternate order.

*At many Japanese restaurants in the US, miso soup often comes first -- probably in an attempt to conform to the serving order of Western food -- but it’s extremely odd to have a bowl of miso soup without any other dishes, especially rice. If you ask that the miso soup be served with your meal, you will get special respect as someone who understands Japanese culture ... maybe.
When the meal is nabe hot pot, which is usually large and shared with a number of people, rice or noodles (usually udon noodles) are eaten at the very end by adding them to the soup after other ingredients in the pot are finished.

With formal style meals at pricey restaurants, dishes are served in a fixed order, just like a course meal. Also, when drinking is part of the scene at a restaurant, the rice, usually a small amount, comes at the end -- it is like sealing your stomach for the night.

No dessert?

Meals at home seldom include a dessert other than fruit. At restaurants and parties, desserts are more common, yet tea or coffee is the usual way to conclude a meal. Sweets are eaten as snacks at different times, mostly in the afternoon, with tea or coffee.

What goes where on your table

Chopsticks are placed directly in front of each person, parallel to the edge of the tray or placemat. The end to be held is placed closest to your dominant hand -- for right-handed people, that means the thick ends are placed to the right. The rice goes on the left, and the soup on the right. When there is no soup, the main or soupy dish is placed next to the rice. Other dishes are mostly placed behind the rice and soup; dishes that would be eaten while holding the plate or bowl are usually placed to the left (so that they are easy to pick up with your left hand). Drinks go at the right far corner (or left corner, for lefties).