6

I'm traveling to a smallish city in Japan a little over a week from now (I'll be there two weeks), and I'm wondering what is the best way to ask a server whether or not a particular dish is pescetarian-friendly? I tried using the word "bejitarian" last time I was over there (because a vegetarian dish is pescetarian-friendly), but I was just greeted with blank looks. Note that last time I was there (about half a year ago) my Japanese was limited to saying hello, goodbye, and counting to 10. This time, it's still not great (I'd say I know fewer than 100 words), but I have been studying it using Rosetta Stone, so at least my pronunciation might be a little better.

Any and all advice is appreciated.

  • 2
    Is it animal flesh you are avoiding, or all meat products? It is very common to find animal-based stocks used in seemingly vegetarian or fish-only dishes. Even if your Japanese is good, asking about the dashi can get confused looks, as there is little awareness of why this should matter. – Darren Cook Jun 26 '15 at 10:08
  • I prefer to avoid animal-based stocks as well, but like seijitsu, I don't obsess over it. I'm think I had some fried pork or other non-fish white meat last time I was over there, but I'm not sure. It was combined with shrimp, in the picture, so I'd assumed it was a seafood platter, and as it was all deep-fried, until I bit into it, I suspected it was cod or similar. Last time I was over there, I also strongly favored restaurants with pictures of food on the menus. :) – Ben Hocking Jun 26 '15 at 11:01
  • 1
    Personally, I would vote against this question, as it is more than "translate [sentence]". From Should pure translation questions be allowed?: Allowed as it is more about the subtleties and cultural differences than the actual translation. -- "How do I say this in Japanese?" – blutorange Jun 27 '15 at 18:05
7

I'm a lacto-ovo-pescatarian who eats fish but not other seafood, who is living in Japan. The most bewildering thing about your question for the Japanese server is that most Japanese do not consider seafood to be meat. The other confusing part is that they don't generally think in terms of a dish being vegetarian or not (the majority of vegetable dishes in Japanese restaurants also include pork, or beef, or seafood and it doesn't occur to them to make the dish which primarily features veggies without sprinkling one of those in). This is why asking "bejitarian" was met with blank looks even though it is a Japanese word.

Since the thought that you don't eat meat is so foreign to the server and he/she is rather likely to get confused, start with the main point:

First, clearly enunciate as you say, "I don't eat meat":

「肉、食べない」(niku [brief pause], tabenai).

Next, say, while pointing at the menu item, "Does this contain meat?":

「肉は入ってますか?」 (niku wa haittemasu ka?)

Third, if it looks like the person caught on, you can say, "Fish and seafood are okay":

「魚、海鮮物、大丈夫」(sakana [brief pause], kaisenmono mo daijoubu).

Or, if you eat fish but don't eat other seafood, say:

「魚は大丈夫。他の海鮮物、食べない」(sakana wa daijoubu. hoka no kaisenmono, tabenai).

(The server is already likely to have assumed that you can eat fish and all types of seafood even if you don't eat "meat," so you may not find much benefit to saying this.)

One thing to be conscious of regarding sushi/sashimi is that sea mammals, such as whale and dolphin, may be overlooked as being meat, so if you say that you eat seafood, the server is likely to group these within that category, so just take note to avoid those particular dishes: whale = 「鯨」 or 「くじら」, dolphin = 「海豚」 or 「イルカ」

If the answer is that yes, the menu item you're inquiring about contains meat, and so does the next one you ask about, and so does the next one you ask about, then say, while twirling your finger over the entire menu, "Which item does not contain meat?"

「どれが、肉入ってない?」(dore ga, niku haittenai?)

Another option is to order something and ask, "please hold the meat":

「肉ぬき、お願いします」 (niku nuki, onegaishimasu)

This is what I usually do, since I am not strict, but sometimes, though the server agrees that the dish can be prepared without meat, it arrives at the table with the meat in it. This is why my Jewish friend was not able to order salad in any restaurant: she gave up on asking because often it would come with bacon bits or ham slices anyway.

Since you're new to the language, I wrote these in as simple Japanese as possible. Even so, you may want to print them out and carry a small piece of paper with you so you can show the server the printed sentences (or if you will be carrying a smartphone or tablet, to pull it up on the screen). I don't say this because I doubt your ability to pronounce the words, but even if you pronounce them perfectly, you might be met with a blank stare due to a mental block on the part of the server.

  • 2
    Consider writing "wa" instead of "ha". – Zhen Lin Jun 26 '15 at 7:36
  • 1
    I didn't vote down, but in general Japanese it seems, there is no word like 海もの (kaimono). Maybe you mean 海のもの (umi no mono)? Also I guess it should be どれ instead of どっち (which isn't どち). – dinogeist Jun 26 '15 at 7:51
  • 2
    海鮮物 is a little strange, too. Do you mean 海産物? Normally it would be safe to stick to 魚介類. Also どれ and どっち isn't a problem of politeness. どっち is for choosing between two things. You can't use it for more than two things. どちら is the polite one. – dinogeist Jun 26 '15 at 7:58
  • 2
    Thanks for this answer. I chose it exactly because it treated me like the newb that I am (although I greatly appreciated the other answers as well). – Ben Hocking Jun 26 '15 at 11:05
  • 2
    Usually, romanization is intended to represent the Japanese language itself, not to reproduce the quirks of kana spelling. That's why linguists almost invariably use wa. (Of course, you can use a transliteration scheme with ha instead if you prefer. There's no rule saying you can't.) – snailboat Jun 27 '15 at 3:41
6

Maybe you can try to ask whether the dish contains meat and say that you do not eat meat... something like this :

[肉]{にく}は[入]{はい}っていますか? 肉は[食]{た}べないんですが。。。

Is there any meat inside ? I do not eat meat.

I guess with this kind of sentence, they will understand that you want something without meat and they may advise you something else if you order something with meat by mistake.

You can even complete that with something like:

[魚]{さかな}は[大丈夫]{だいじょうぶ}です。
Fish is OK.

2

I can't think of a succinct word to express the idea of pescetarianism in Japanese. This may sound ironical, considering that the Japanese had been pescetarian before Meiji era.

That said, I would explain in layman's word like

[私]{わたし}は、[肉類]{にくるい}が[苦手]{にがて}なのですが、これは[魚介類]{ぎょかいるい}[主体]{しゅたい}の[料理]{りょうり}ですか?

This expression may sound stilted, but it makes sense (so I hope.)

  • 5
    This makes sense, but it's more like "I don't like meat" and doesn't make it clear that you want a dish without any trace of meat. Although I don't think anyone would recommend anything that contains meat in any form on hearing this, this is not the safest choice. – Yosh Jun 26 '15 at 4:54
  • 1
    @Yosh: I see your point, but I think pescetarians would like to avoid meat for some reason or another (religious, physico-constitutional, etc.) And I guess 苦手 can euphemistically convey that the speaker does not want to explain his/her situation in detail. – eltonjohn Jun 26 '15 at 6:02
  • 1
    A second point to consider here is that not all pescetarians eat shellfish and this answer may gave them shellfish instead of meat. – virmaior Jun 26 '15 at 6:56
  • 4
    This falls into a cultural, more than linguistic, issue, but you are infinitely more likely to succeed in your request by using 肉にアレルギーがある… Dietary restrictions is one area of Japanese where subtlety does not pay. Source: been witness to that exchange countless times. – Dave Jun 26 '15 at 7:24
  • 2
    苦手 could be interpreted as "I'm not too good with meat" (i.e. "I'm weak when it comes to meat," or "I don't like meat all that much"), which does not clearly convey that the customer does not eat/cannot eat meat and needs the server to make sure that there is no meat in the dish. – seijitsu Jun 26 '15 at 7:43
0

In complement to Seijitsu's answer, ‘pescetarian’ is a word you'll want to avoid in general, even at home and especially abroad. It isn't a word many people will recognise and the problem with all these irregular neologisms is that it's impossible to consistently deduce their meaning from their form. So a waiter might indicate he understands, but think you eat meat, but no fish. And nobody could blame him.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.