Japanese cuisine is simple, without lots of seasonings ― with the exceptions of soy sauce and wasabi, a spicy horseradish paste served on the side. (The two are mixed together to create a dipping sauce.) Appearance and presentation are extremely important in Japanese cooking. Key ingredients include fish, rice and noodles, soy and soybeans, seaweed, and vegetables (often pickled).
Chicken sukiyaki: One-pot dish of chicken, tofu, bamboo shoots, and vegetables simmered in broth at your table. Try this without the egg-based dipping sauce that's often provided.
Shabu-shabu: Sliced beef and vegetables with noodles, cooked and served at the table. This dish comes with dipping sauces that are high in sodium, so use them sparingly.
Nigiri sushi: Pieces of fresh fish served on vinegared rice, secured with a seaweed wrap (called nori), and served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. If you're a beginner, ask which types of fish are cooked ― not all sushi is raw.
Surprise thumbs-down to:
Tempura: While assorted vegetables are usually a healthy choice, these have been battered and fried, significantly raising their fat and calorie counts.
Hints for the savvy Japanese diner:
Go easy on soy and teriyaki sauces as well as miso dressing (try our healthier version), since they contain a lot of sodium. Get them on the side when possible, ask for a smaller amount, or ask if low-sodium sauces are available.
Sushi eaters: Don't overdo it on higher-fat fishes such as yellowtail, salmon, and eel.