Japanese Food 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Your Next Impressive Business Lunch

Posted by on Monday, May 19th, 2014 with 8 Comments

If you’re looking for a flavorful and creative cuisine to serve at your next business lunch, think Japanese — but this time, leave the raw fish out of it.

While sushi makes for a delicious lunch at the office, and is certainly the most famous kind of Japanese takeout food, there’s a wide range of other items that make excellent fare for meetings or a more formal business lunch. Like with any new cuisine, it can be tricky to know where to start, so here’s our primer for some of the most popular (and tastiest) items to consider for your first foray into the beyond-sushi world of Japanese cuisine!

ramen noodles with toppings

Ramen is perhaps the best-known Japanese food outside of sushi, but it’s an incredibly diverse dish.
Image source: Flickr user xxHxx


If the only Japanese noodle soup you’ve tried comes in a Styrofoam cup, you’re in for a treat. Savory, rich soups are a staple of Japanese food, and here are a few of the most common you’ll encounter:

Real ramen has little in common with Cup Noodles, that 50-cent dorm-room favorite, and is thankfully growing in popularity in the Western world (Chinese in origin, it’s long been popular and respectable in Japan). The beauty of ramen is its customization: while thin, lengthy noodles and a flavorful broth, usually meat or fish-based, are the foundation, ramen can be topped with a wide range of “mix-ins” like sliced pork, shiitake mushrooms, soft-boiled eggs, seaweed, and scallions.

Another popular Japanese noodle soup is made with udon noodles; made from wheat flour, these are thicker and “jigglier” than ramen. While used in many dishes, the most simple is to plop udon noodles in a broth with dashi (a kind of seafood stock), mirin (a light, sweet sauce), and soy sauce, and topped with seafood, fried meat, or delicate fish cakes.

Soba are buckwheat noodles, with a pronounced nutty flavor. Soba can be served in a hot soup, or chilled, with a thicker version of their traditional savory tsuyu broth alongside for dipping. 

soba noodles served chilled

Soba, often served chilled, is another Japanese noodle dish.
Image source: Flickr user Alpha


If you have a meat-and-potatoes-loving coworker, make sure to include tonkatsu in your Japanese order. Tonkatsu is a pork cutlet, breaded in panko, and fried to a crispy golden brown. Traditionally served with a mild curry or doused with its namesake sweet and tangy sauce — and almost always accompanied by rice and shredded cabbage — it’s a relatively straightforward dish that can be easily presented to wary diners as a kind of deep-fried pork chop.

tonkatsu pork cutlet

Tonkatsu is a fried Japanese pork cutlet that can appeal to even wary diners.
Image source: Flickr user pinlux


Okonomiyaki are savory Japanese pancakes. An egg-and-flour batter is plopped on a hot griddle with veggies, like scallions and cabbage, and an optional meat, like pork; everything is scrambled together into a thin, round pancake just begging to be drizzled with its own signature mayonnaise or even tonkatsu sauce. While going out for okonomiyaki at a traditional Japanese restaurant is a true adventure (some allow you to cook the pancake yourself on a hot griddle in the middle of your table), ordering pre-made okonomiyaki to be delivered to the break room is still a festive – and delicious.


Many countries can boast a signature stuffed dumpling (think pierogi from Poland, samosas from India, even ravioli from Italy), and Japan is no exception. Gyoza are similar to Chinese potstickers, but made with thin wrappers stuffed with minced pork and cabbage, then pan-fried on one side for a crispy finish. Gyoza make a fantastic appetizer for office meals. 

gyoza Japanese dumplings

Gyoza are Japanese dumplings, traditionally stuffed with minced pork and cabbage.
Image source: Flickr user Hajime NAKANO

For a festive celebratory occasion or to impress clients at a more formal business lunch, Japanese takeout and delivery offers a wide range of flavors to explore, right in the office. With prompt delivery and easy online ordering, your Japanese feast can begin in no time when you contact Waiter.com!

When it comes to feeding employees and coworkers, make your company's food program really count! If your workplace dining plan needs to take it up a notch — or if you don't have one at all — Waiter.com is here to help. From Virtual Cafeteria Service to diverse menus to local takeout & deliveryWaiter.com offers customizable dining solutions for every business and budget. Contact us today to get started!

8 responses to “Japanese Food 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Your Next Impressive Business Lunch”

  1. Lydia says:

    Japanese cuisine is a fantastic idea for a work lunch! I mean, let’s face it, sometimes getting people to participate is like pulling teeth. This is a novel idea that I think coworkers would more readily jump into. This article is particularly helpful, because nobody wants to be “that person” that doesn’t have a clue what the food is in front of them. And it’s even more important if you’re like me, and are the one in charge of the ordering. It’s great to know some basics like this, so that you can make sure everyone is able to eat something and enjoy it, without too much pressure.
    But for the more adventurous… what would you recommend in addition to these favorites? Something with a little oomph and some wow factor?

    • Sara says:

      Thanks Lydia – great question! Let’s see, there’s takoyaki (octopus balls), umi-budo (a specialty seaweed also known as sea grapes or green caviar) and Fukagawa-meshi (a clam-and-miso soup over rice) just to start… but they might be a little trickier to find on most menus 🙂 Perhaps this is a future post all on its own!

  2. Tyler Marinara says:

    I absolutely love Japanese food and I agree with the author, the main foods are very versatile, especially ramen. You can cook it so many ways and if you become good enough, you can even learn how to hand pull them yourself!

  3. Susan says:

    Thank you for the article! I am totally “that person” who doesn’t know much about Japanese cuisine… or many others, for that matter. I’ve always been particular and nervous to try new foods, but the descriptions here actually made me hungry and curious. I never thought of a pork cutlet as Japanese! I have always been scared off by friends who insist on sushi, but the savory pancakes and dumplings and noodles described here sound like they are tame enough for anyone to try. Thanks so much!

    • Sara says:

      Thanks Susan! It’s true – Japanese food is much more than sushi (although that’s pretty delicious, too). Good luck in your culinary adventures!

  4. Vivian Black says:

    After moving to our current area, my husband I began a search for some of the best local restaurants. As he often hosts dinners for business executives, we decided to search for a restaurant that would allow for us to have a dinner other than pizza delivered. I’m glad you mentioned the versatility of flavors and options of food available when ordering food for delivery from Japanese restaurants. I’m grateful for your advice about Japanese sushi and other alternative Japanese dishes to try.