Making a Fool of Yourself in Japan 101: Get Little Old Ladies to Feel Sorry For You

Today after an appointment at the embassy I ran to the 100 yen shop (dollar store) to pick up some things. Then, since I was out, and hungry, and Jen gets to go out to lunch more frequently, while I’m usually at home eating whatever’s in the fridge, I decided to take myself out to lunch. The area we’re in is great for restaurants, particularly cheap lunch options. In Japan set-menus seem popular, so for lunch you pay 900 yen or something and get a salad, entree, tea or something like that.

Wandering down the street, I spotted one place that looked nice, seemed to have soba and udon which I hadn’t had yet since I’ve been here, and was full of Japanese people, which I figured was a good sign. So I stuck my head in the door. I think I’m not their normal customer — there was no english on the menu or spoken by any of the staff, but they motioned me to a seat, and I ordered by pointing at a picture on the menu. Most of the pictures looked roughly the same, to be honest, some sort of noodle, with some sort of other indistinguishable thing on the side.

When it came it was all separated out into a bowl of udon noodles in hot water, a pitcher with unknown hot liquid inside, a smaller empty bowl, a small dish of green onions, ginger, and some other spice, and a dish of tempura veggies.

Not my lunch, but similar.

I just stared at it for a moment, totally perplexed. Was the pitcher tea I was supposed to drink? What did I do with the onions? Apparently seeing my confusion, a little old lady (who worked there) came over and motioned for me to pour the pitcher into the bowl. Some sort of sauce. Ahh, so des.  Then she went away again. At that point the smell of it was making me even more hungry so I just tried to forge ahead on my own, although all the salarymen in the restaurant were staring at me with various degrees of subtlety/amusement. I dipped some tempura in the sauce. Delicious, oishi. But the noodles are a little bland just in water. So I dumped my onions and ginger into the water. At this point the little old lady comes scuttling back pointing back and forth rapidly between the noodles and the little bowl. Am I supposed to pour the sauce into the big bowl? Decidedly not, much hand waving. No, I am supposed to dip the noodles in the sauce, like I did with the tempura. And it was delicious. Although I’m pretty sure the onions were also supposed to go in the sauce.

So I’m glad I could provide the lunch entertainment for a bunch of white-shirts today. And the food really was delicious, once I developed the skills of a three year old and learned how to feed myself.

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4 Responses to Making a Fool of Yourself in Japan 101: Get Little Old Ladies to Feel Sorry For You

  1. Molly says:

    A similar thing happened to us on our first soba outing. We thought the soba sauce was soup and drank it straight. You actually can/do drink the sauce but only after finishing dipping the noodles in it and then diluting it with the hot water in which the noodles were cooked. So des ne.

  2. Vida says:

    This is brilliant! And lunch at a shop for salarymen is more fun than a place that does English. Look for the places that do a grilled fish – amazingly fresh! Oishii des ne?

  3. Alice says:

    OMG!!! Almost fell out of my chair giggling over your lunch adventure. You will be a pro before I come to visit for sure.

  4. It’s difficult to find well-informed people for this subject, however, you
    seem like you knolw what you’re talking about!

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