Teishoku, pronounced “Tay-show-ku” means “meal set.” In the U.S., hearing “meal set” tends to invoke the image of french fries, a pickle and a soft drink, or if you’re into Italian, perhaps bread, salad and a side of pasta accompanying one’s main food item of choice. In Japan, a “meal set” refers generally to combination of white rice, miso soup, “sozai,” (which can be any of variety of possible side dishes) and picked vegetables (called “Tsukemono”) which come with the main item ordered. Many different food items are offered as Teishoku. The most common types of food offered as Teishoku are grilled items, deep fried items, broiled items, noodle-centric items and Chinese dishes. Grilled items are usually meat, such as beef or chicken. Deep fried items range from meat, often pork, to fish to vegetables. An example of a broiled item is salmon broiled in soy sauce. Common noodle dishes can be ordered as Teishoku are Udon and Ramen. Lastly, a good example of a Chinese item is dumplings, refered to in Japan as Gyoza.
Providing meals as Teishoku is convenient for Japanese restaurants because it allows them to streamline their menus, lowering overhead. This results in drastically lower prices, which in turn make restaurants that provide Teishoku a filling and economic favorite of students and working professionals on a budget. Many restaurants that provide Teishoku are run cafeteria style, with a meal ticket dispensing machine out front or near the entrance where you must buy a ticket. You then present to receive your meal. Cafeteria style restaurants can often be found near train stations in the large cities of Japan or in the area near a college or high concentration of schools. Eating at a cafeteria style restaurant is a great way to experience a place where Japanese people regularly eat.
Traditional Japanese restaurants and cafeteria-style restaurants aren’t the only ones who offer Teishoku. Restaurants of all kinds throughout Japan offer lunch or dinner specials. In places such as Italian restaurants and “Famiresu” (family restaurants,
along the lines of Denny’s), ordering a Teishoku will get you the standard Western fair one would expect to receive.It is also handy to note that in Japan as in the West, the most popular menu items are often offered as sets, so if you don’t know what to order, ordering a Teishoku may be a good call.
Whether you’re on the go, on the cheap, or on the fence about what to order, remember the word Teishoku and you’ve got yourself a new ally in Japan, as well as at any Japanese restaurant you go to at home!