Japanese food is a great choice if you want to throw a themed dinner party with a difference. From the unique flavors, aromas, and textures to the aesthetics of the food and decor, a Japanese-themed dinner really is a feast for the senses. There are almost as many ways to throw a Japanese dinner party as there are foods to choose from: ideas can range from a Japanese movie night with light bites and beer to a sit-down meal with sides and a main.
Cookware and Tableware
The most commonly used cooking pots in Japan are donabe. These earthenware cooking pots are ideal for simmering soups, cooking fluffy rice as well as steamed or smoked vegetable and meat dishes, like spicy motsu nabe, a stew made with chives, cabbage, and offal in a savory broth.
As with many aspects of Japanese tradition, there is a very specific art to table setting:
Side dishes are placed to the left and center, while the main course is to the back and right of the table. Pickled vegetables are center-front, with rice on the left and soup on the right, and chopsticks are placed to the front with the tips facing left.
At the heart of every Japanese dinner party is the concept of omotenashi: kindness and hospitality towards guests. Traditional Japanese omotenashi rituals include leaving a cone of salt beside the front door to cleanse the space or splashing water on the path leading to the door.
While it’s important to do some prep before your guests arrive, getting them involved in the preparation and cooking of meals is all in the spirit of traditional Japanese dining. This can involve anything from table setting to helping prepare vegetables in the kitchen.
What’s On the Menu?
Traditional Japanese meals typically include one soup (such as traditional miso or ramen noodle soup) and three dishes (a principle known as ichiju sansai), except side dishes such as rice or gyoza (steam-fried dumplings with savory fillings).
You can make these dishes as a part of your own set menu, or you can even throw a hotpot party and get everyone to bring something they made themselves, like izakaya: (a variety of light bites such as crispy agedashi tofu or yaki onigiri rice balls).
Drinks and Desserts
Some popular Japanese desserts include taiyaki (a fun, fish-shaped pastry – try serving with a light, delicately-flavored matcha ice cream), or chewy, sticky mochi balls made with mochigome (short-grain glutinous rice) paste with sweet fillings.
For drinks, chilled Japanese beer or sake (which pairs especially well with sushi and sashimi) are always good options. Other drinks such as whiskey, cassis liqueur, or umeshu (plum wine) can be enjoyed during or after dinner, or for a non-alcoholic option, shiso soda.
As well as adding seasonal elements to the dinner table (for example paper sakura in springtime for cherry blossom season), you can also brighten up your table by using tenuigi (traditional Japanese help and silk towels folded into different shapes, or beautiful paper cranes.
Traditional Japanese seating in dining areas is low to the ground, so if you have a low coffee table, place some cushions around it for a cozy, authentic feel. This also adds to the sense of omotenashi by creating a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.