Features

Japan-easy?

Chirashi maki with green beans at London's Roka restaurant

If you don’t know your teppanyaki from your yakitori, it may be time to brush up on your menu decoding skills

Just when you thought you had mastered the tricky art of eating with chopsticks without dropping the preserved egg congee into your lap, there’s the dilemma of grappling with difficult Asian menu terminology.

Much as 50 years ago British diners may have struggled to translate French or Italian menus, deciphering dishes in an Asian restaurant can often require the skills of a Bletchley Park codebreaker.

And it isn’t simply the problem of not understanding the language or the chef’s menu descriptions. There’s also the head-scratching conundrum of which dishes are starters and which ones are main courses.

In a Japanese restaurant, for example, there are no rules but a typical meal might begin with tempuras or soup before moving on to sushi or teppanyaki main courses followed by dessert.

No diner wants to wave the white flag of surrender by asking the waiting staff too many questions for fear of being labelled a novice, but pride comes before a fall.

After all, if you don’t know your sui mai (hot dumplings) from your ching bo leung (cold soup), you might find yourself getting more than you bargained for.

Encouraging people to look at their smartphones during meal times is not usually the done thing but when it comes to decoding difficult-to-understand menus, a quick check under the table can sometimes be the best answer.

Let’s just hope Siri knows the difference between kung pao and dong gua tang or otherwise you’ll be the none the wiser by the time your order is taken and you may end up with a very different dish than you asked for.

Have you read our feature on Italian menus?