Here is a basic glossary of terms you’re likely to see on Japanese menus or hear in sushi bars and izakayas in North Texas (and elsewhere in the United States). It is by no means comprehensive, but a good page to bookmark to help you order smart.
Red-fleshed fish, a sushi category. Tuna is an example. Akami should be eaten after shiromi (white-fleshed fish) and before sushi using cooked fish or rolls.
Salt-water eel. Brushed with sweet, rich tsumé reduction, it is popular as sushi.
Monkfish liver, a delicacy. Traditionally it is steamed, sliced and served with ponzu, grated daikon mixed with red chile and sliced scallions.
Abalone. May be served grilled, simmered in sake or raw, as sushi or sashimi.
Pressed sushi, a specialty of Osaka. It is made in a special wooden box, then sliced.
A multi-component meal served in a sectioned box.
Super-hot-burning Japanese oak charcoal, used for grilling yakitori or robatayaki.
Seafood, pork and Chinese noodle soup, a specialty of Nagasaki.
Sliced roast pork. Often made with pork belly, it is a popular garnish for ramen.
A savory steamed egg custard filled with chicken, shrimp, gingko nuts and more, served in a ceramic cup with a lid.
Chirashi zushi, chirashi sushi
Sushi rice topped with sliced raw fish.
Japanese radish. Maybe be grated (oroshi is grated daikon) or spiralized as a garnish, or served pickled or braised.
A simple, quick stock made with kombu and katsuobushi, dashi is the foundation for a plethora of Japanese dishes, including miso soup.
A ceramic bowl, often with a lid, or a dish that’s served in one.
A prawn or shrimp.
Soybeans. Boiled in their pods and salted, they’re a popular appetizer or izakaya snack.
A savory dry seasoning mix to sprinkle on rice. It might include toasted seaweed and sesame seeds, ground fish, salt and spices.
A fat, nori-wrapped sushi roll — traditionally filled with tamago, mushrooms, dried gourd and dried tofu — and cut into thick slices.
Thin-sliced marinated ginger served with sushi.
Burdock root. Pickled, it is a often included in sushi rolls.
A type of sushi in which a sheet of nori is wrapped around a pat of seasoned rice to form a cup; raw fish or roe is set atop the rice.
A pleated-top dumpling filled with pork and cabbage, often pan-fried.
Shiny fish — in other words, fish with shiny skin, such as sardines, smelts or mackerel. It is one of the categories of sushi, to be eaten after shiromi, white-fleshed fish, as it has a stronger flavor.
A Japanese-style tavern that serves a variety of snacks to go with sake and beer.
An elaborate, formal meal of many courses, all chosen by the chef to highlight the best ingredients of the season.
Small or chopped seafood and/or vegetables that have been clumped together, battered and fried as tempura.
A type of amberjack.
Dried gourd, a common ingredient in sushi rolls.
Cucumber-filled sushi roll.
Bonito that has been dried, smoked and cured, then shaved. It is an essential ingredient in dashi, as well as a garnish for many dishes.
Salted herring roe.
Richly marbled Wagyu beef raised in Japan’s Kobe prefecture.
Gizzard shad — one of the hikarimono (shiny fish). It is marinated in salt and vinegar for sushi.
A type of dried seaweed that’s an essential element in dashi.
Red sea bream.
Nori-wrapped rolls, a sushi category. These are usually eaten toward the end of a sushi meal.
A square wooden box used to serve sake.
Salted pollack roe flavored with chile pepper.
Lightly sweet shochu-based sauce.
A large clam. Eaten raw as sushi or sashimi, it has a distinctive crunchy-chewy texture.
Richly marbled Wagyu beef raised in Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture. The best quality is A5.
A green vegetable in the onion family, almost like a cross between a leek and a scallion.
The style of sushi that’s a pad of rice topped with a dab of wasabi and a slice of fish.
Moro Q, morokyu
Cucumbers with miso paste, a popular izakaya snack.
A type of ginger of which only the buds and stems are eaten. They’re often pickled, sliced and used as a garnish.
One-pot dish or hot-pot, often cooked at the table.
A hot-pot dish of udon with seafood and vegetables.
Fermented soybeans. They have a gooey texture and strong flavor.
A slice of fish or piece of seafood, often raw, dabbed with wasabi and set atop an oblong ball of seasoned rice. The fish may be cured, marinated or brushed at the last minute with nikiri shoyu or tsume reduction.
A combination of mirin and soy sauce. The sushi chef lightly brushes the sauce onto the fish slices of nigiri sushi just before serving.
A thick, savory pancake, often filled with cabbage, seafood and pork, brushed with a Worcestershire-like sauce and topped with shaved or grated bonito flakes.
Oyakodon or oyako donburi
A rice-bowl dish with chicken, egg and vegetables.
Literally “I will leave it to you,” this refers to a tasting menu in which the chef chooses the dishes.
Japanese pickles. Also called tseukemono.
Literally, citrus juice. Commonly ponzu is shorthand for ponzu joyu, a citrus and soy sauce, often used with sushi or sashimi.
Hokkaido-style seafood grilled over binchotan, hot-burning Japanese oak charcoal.
Mackerel. It is delicious grilled, or pickled with salt and vinegar and served as sushi.
Saury, a shiny fish also known as pike mackerel.
Japanese mountain vegetables. A mixture of sansai is often used as a topping for udon, soba or ramen.
Halfbeak. A small, slim shiny fish with a needle-like beak, it has a lovely delicate flavor.
Thin-sliced beef and vegetables cooked at the table in a simmering pot of stock.
White-fleshed fish, a sushi category. Shiromi should be ordered toward the beginning of a sushi experience.
Perilla, an herb. Green perilla, a large leaf with a beautiful perfume, is commonly used as a garnish with sashimi and sushi.
A spirit, usually distilled from rice, barley, buckwheat or sweet potatoes.
Chrysanthemum leaves, used as a vegetable in nabemono or fried as tempura.
Buckwheat noodles. Can be served cold or hot, traditionally on a zaru (woven bamboo plate) with a dipping sauce. When the noodles are finished, soba cooking water is poured into the remaining dipping sauce and it is sipped as a drink.
Vinegar-dressed salad, often involving cucumbers and sometimes seafood.
Cooked balls of chopped octopus in batter, a popular izakaya snack, served with a thick sauce.
A lightly sweet omelet. It may be served on its own, cut into bite-size pieces, or as nirigi, usually at the end of a meal.
Marinated tuna sushi roll.
A sushi hand-roll.
Seafood, fish or vegetables deep-fried in a batter. The best tempura is super light, so the flavor of the thing being fried shines through. Shrimp is classic. It is usually served with a hot dashi-based dipping sauce flavored with soy sauce and mirin.
Flying fish roe.
Ground chile-pepper, a condiment.
Pork cutlet coated in egg and panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and fried. Traditionally it is served with a thick Worcestershire-type sauce and a mound of shredded raw cabbage.
Ramen noodles in a rich, long-simmered pork broth.
Fatty belly of a fish.
Japanese pickle. Also called oshinko.
A thick, sweet soy-based sauce used with eel, squid or other seafood for sushi.
Thick, soft wheat noodles.
Dried, salt-pickled Japanese apricot. Red shiso leaves are often used to dye them red.
Freshwater eel, usually served broiled with a lightly sweet soy-mirin-sake sauce.
Sea urchin ovaries. Often served as sashimi, nigiri sushi or gunkan maki.
A breed of beef known for rich marbling of its meat.
Japanese sweets, including cakes, cookies and confections.
Japanese horseradish. Grated, it is used to season the fish for sushi and sashimi. Better Japanese sushi bars and restaurants offer fresh wasabi, often for an upcharge (it is expensive). The much more common “wasabi” is paste reconstituted from dried, powdered horseradish that has been colored green with mustard added.
Japanese-style Korean barbecue.
Skewered chicken and other meats cooked over blazing-hot binchotan coals.
A Japanese citrus that looks like a small, wrinkled lime.
A woven bamboo mat or plate traditionally used to serve soba.
Tuna marinated in nikiri shoyu.