Food in the U.S.

The following websites and resources are provided for informational purposes only.  The TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice Program, Rice University, and the U.S.-Japan Council is not responsible for content contained on any external sites.

At the Hotel – Full Kitchen
Dietary Restrictions: Food Translation Cards
Cooking On Your Own
Convenience Stores – Not So Convenient in the U.S.
Grocery Stores in the U.S.
Eating Out at Restaurants

At the Hotel – Full Kitchen

All student rooms at the Wyndham Houston Medical Center have full kitchens with a fridge, stove, oven, a pot with lid, plates, cups and utensils.  The kitchens all have cupboards or pantry where you can store items you have purchased at the grocery store.

Final Week on East Coast: During the final week trip to the East Coast, the hotel rooms will not have kitchens but a free daily breakfast will be included each day.

Small coffee maker and sink. Remember, there is no electric hot water kettle provided. Hotel rooms in the U.S. typically only have a small coffee maker in the room.


Your hotel room will have an assortment of cutlery, cooking utensils, and an ice bucket. There is an ice machine at the end of the hallway on each floor. Chopsticks/cooking chopsticks are not provided. If you need more forks/spoons/knives ask at the front desk. Note the two small glasses by the ice bucket. There will also be two glasses in the bathroom. You can ask for more glasses at the hotel front desk. If there is not a coffee mug, you can buy inexpensive mugs at the grocery store/target or buy a mug from the Rice University bookstore as a souvenir and use while you are in Houston too. Just be careful if you and your roommate buy the exact same mug – you may not be able to tell them apart. 🙂

In the cupboard, you should find at least 1 pot with a lid, a frying pan, plates, and bowls. One roll of paper towels is provided upon check-in along with a small towel to dry dishes. You must purchase new paper towels at the store when you run out and wash/dry the dish towel as needed. If you need more plates/bowls as the front desk.

The fridge/freezer, stovetop, and microwave in your kitchen. There is no oven. There is a also a dishwasher and you can buy dishwasher detergent at the grocery store/target. DO NOT USE LIQUID SOAP IN THE DISHWASHER! You will have bubbles all over your kitchen. Buy the special, electric dishwasher detergent at the store.

You can ask the hotel front desk for the following additional items if they are not already stocked in your kitchen:

  • Cutting Board and Knife
  • Additional Plates/Glasses/Cutlery as Needed
  • Bottle/Wine Opener
  • Ice Cube Trays
  • Liquid Dishwashing Detergent
  • Dish Scrubber/Sponge
  • Potato/Vegetable Peeler
  • Food Strainer/Colander
    • The colander/food strainer available at the hotel will be for cooking large pasta. The holes will be too big to use to wash/strain cooked rice. You will need to buy a wire mesh strainer if you want to easily wash/cook rice.  You can find these in the kitchen supply aisle at grocery stores like Kroger or at Target. 
  • Toaster (for sliced bread only)
  • Salt & Pepper

The hotel room kitchens at the Wyndham will not have the following:

  • No Rice Cooker
  • No Electric Tea Kettle
    • Option 1: You can boil water on the stove, heat up water in a microwave safe cup in the microwave, or get hot water from the small coffee-maker. Add water, but no coffee grounds, and turn on.
    • Option 2: Buy an inexpensive electric tea kettle from Target after arriving. (Note: Options available to purchase in the store may be more limited than what is available online)
  • No Oven
    • There is a stovetop with two electric burners but there is no oven. When buying frozen food at grocery stores in the U.S. check the instructions carefully to make sure you can prepare in the microwave or on the stovetop.  Frozen foods that need to be cooked in the oven (like frozen pizza) won't work. 
  • No Chopsticks/Cooking Chopsticks or other Japanese/Asian Cooking Utensils and Pots
  • Measuring Cups/Spoons
    • You can buy these cheaply at any homegoods/department store (such as Target).  Check to see if the set you are purchasing has both the English and Metric measurements listed.  If not, be sure to consult a conversion chart/app. if you are making a recipe that uses metric measurements.  See the section on 'Temperature/Measurements' in Cooking below. 
    • If you plan to cook a lot from Japanese recipes, it may be helpful to bring a set of metric measuring cups/spoons with you from Japan. 

I bought a electric tea kettle, water pitcher, or other kitchen supplies. I don't want to just throw them away.  What should I do? 

The first option is to ask the other students in your research lab if they would like to purchase these items from you (usually at a reduced cost from what you paid) or just offer to give them away to your group members/lab for free.  For example, if you purchase an electric tea kettle and some cooking supplies for $30, sell them for $15.  That way you will be more likely to have someone offer to buy them. 

You can also post something to the OISS Marketplace email list and see if there is someone at Rice who would like to buy these items from you or, take the items if you'd like to give them away for free.  If you post something on OISS Marketplace, send out the email at least 3 days prior to departure and make sure it is clear the date you depart.  For safety and convenience, offer to meet the potential buyer on campus in a public location for payment/exchange of the items. Information on how to sign up for the OISS Marketplace email list will be provided at the OISS orientation/check-in upon arrival to campus.  

The general rule is that items that are free or very cheaply priced will usually have someone willing to accept them.  After all, the favorite words of a poor student is free and the second favorite is cheap or free! 

During your first few days in Houston, you will receive tickets to use at the Wyndham Hotel breakfast buffet in the restaurant in the lobby. After you have used these tickets, you will need to cook breakfast on your own. It is not free/included at this hotel. During the final week trip to the East Coast, a free/complimentary American-style breakfast will be provided at each hotel we stay at. 

This is an American style breakfast buffet and will not have typical Japanese breakfast foods like rice, congee, fish, soup, salad, or vegetables. 

Typical American hotel breakfasts will have things like scrambled eggs, bacon and/or sausage, fruit (typically cut up melons or apples/bananas), yogurt, cold cereal and/or oatmeal, and bread/bagels or pastries.  You will also have a choice of juices, coffee, or tea but the tea options will likely be just black/English tea bags; not green tea.  

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Dietary Restrictions: Food Translation Cards

If you have any food allergies or dietary restrictions we strongly encourage you to order Japanese-English food translation cards from Select Wisely.  These can be very helpful to show the waiter/waitress or clerk at the grocery store so they clearly understand what you cannot eat and can give you advice on what is beset to order/purchase.  If you are having an allergic reaction you can show this card so that those around you know how best to help.  Carry this card in your wallet/pocket at all times so it is easily available.

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Cooking On Your Own

Eating out at restaurants is comparatively more expensive in the U.S. than it is in Japan.  There are not as many ready-made or quick food options other than fast food and eating out can quickly get very expensive. Most Americans who want to maintain good health (and save money) eat out only 2 – 3 times per week. Instead, they cook dinners at home and pack a lunch box to bring with them to school or work using the left-overs from dinners or salads, sandwiches, or other items.  At the grocery store, you can also buy frozen meals that can be heated up in the microwave and these can also be convenient to bring to campus for lunches.

To save money and maintain good health, you should be prepared to cook some meals on your own.  This way, you can control the portion size, how the items are prepared, and bring any left-overs with you to Rice the next day to eat for lunch. If you do not usually cook on your own, you may want to learn a few simple recipes for everyday Japanese dishes that are quick and easy to prepare.

Each building on campus (or research group) will have a small fridge and microwave that you can use – just ask your labmates where this is in your building.  If you plan to bring your own lunch each day to save money and eat more healthy, you may want to bring a bento box with you to the U.S. or purchase an insulated lunch bag and some food storage containers at Target (which is just 1 1/2 blocks from the hotel).

Basic Cooking Skills: If you do not normally cook on your own, it would be a good idea to learn how to prepare some basic/staple food items that you would typically eat in Japan. This is something that most American students have to learn to do for themselves too when they get to college or graduate school.  Below are some links to websites with simple recipes geared towards students just learning how to cook.

Cooking Basic American Food 

Cooking Basic Japanese Food 

Rice is not commonly served with meals in the U.S. and white rice and rice congee is not typically eaten as a breakfast food. It is typically only served for lunch or dinner as a side dish and often will not be just plain white/sticky rice. It may be flavored, wild rice, long-grain rice, or basmati rice.  The only exception is if you are eating at an Asian-style restaurant such as Japanese, Chinese, Thai, or Vietmanese as then they will have many rice-based options or you can order a side dish of white rice.  

If you prefer to eat rice with each meal you will need need to prepare it yourself at the hotel kitchen.  Instead of rice, American meals are typically comprised of a main course (often meat) and one or two side dishes that may be vegetables, a starch such as a potato, or grain such as rice or quinoa.  At dinner, a salad, bread, and dessert may also be served but not always.  Some Americans also think that eating too many carbohydrates, including rice, is unhealthy.   Instead, many nutritionists recommend eating grains and other foods that are higher in protein, such as quiona.

Spices/Seasonings: It may be helpful to bring some of your own spices and seasonings with you from Japan. However, be sure they are new, bought from the store, and individually packaged/sealed.  It is not recommended to bring bulk spices or grains that you have put into smaller bags or packages.

The fact that these are listed on English language websites about Japanese cooking/food means that these are things are not as commonly found in the U.S.; particularly at major grocery stores.  While there may be a very small section of Japanese ingredients/sauces/spices/condiments in most major grocery stores in large cities in the U.S. the variety and brands will be very limited.  You may have to travel to a Japanese grocery store to find the exact brand/type of ingredient you are looking for. If you cook Japanese food frequently and there are ingredients you use all the time you may want to bring a bottle/packet with you.  

For any food ingredients you bring with you to the U.S., be sure they are packaged foods that you bought at a store and they should be unopened and packed in your checked luggage. Do not bring bulk spices/food items that you just put in your own plastic bag or containers.  New/unopened packages are best.  

Also, be aware of the customs and immigration rules regarding the types of food items you cannot bring into the U.S. These include meat items, dairy/animal products, and fresh fruit/produce.  


Temperature & Measurements: Outside of the research lab, the U.S. does not use Celsius for temperature or the metric system for measurements. This means that stoves, measuring cups and spoons, and recipes you find in the U.S. will be different from what you are used to in Japan.  If you plan to cook or bake a lot on your own using Japanese recipes you will need to convert these to American measurements. There are many helpful apps you can use too. 


Unsweetened vs. Sweetened Beverages in the U.S.:  In the U.S, especially in the Southern part of the U.S. where Texas is located, most teas and other bottled beverages that you can buy at convenience stores or in vending machines are sweetened and/or carbonated.  In fact, the CDC warns Americans to be careful of just how many calories they drink each day due to sugary beverages.  You may be able to find unsweetened bottled tea or beverages at the grocery store, but you should carefully read the label first and buy a small bottle to try and see if you like the taste before purchasing a large quantity. Many beverages in the U.S. are also carbonated.  The general rule, if you buy it from a vending machine or convenience store in the U.S. and it is not a bottle of plain water – it will probably be a sweet and/or carbonated beverage.  

If any of these ingredients are listed towards the top of the ingredient list the drink/food item you are buying will taste sweet: 

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose

Is it safe to drink the tap water in the U.S? Can I buy bottled water in the U.S.? 

Yes, it is safe to drink tap water from the sink or a water fountain in the U.S.  However, the taste of the water will vary from place to place in the U.S. due to the mineral content and type of water treatment methods use.  So, some people, don't really like the taste of their tap water. In this case, you could buy a re-usable water filter pitcher. Simply fill this up at your kitchen sink, place in the fridge, and then you will always have cold, filtered water that tastes good at home.  You can find water filter pitchers at any grocery store or homegoods/department store such as Target.  This usually ends up being much cheaper and more convenient than buying bottled water at the store.  

If you prefer to drink bottled water, you can buy large 12 or 24 count flats of bottled water at grocery stores, pharmacies, and homegoods/department stores such as Target.  These can be big and heavy to carry though.  Individual bottles of water are also sold in vending machines and small shops/stores but buying bottled water individually is more expensive than buying a large flat of bottled water and storing at home. Look for the beverage/soda/water aisle at the store.  

In the U.S., it is usually very easy to find free, public water fountains in any building.  Most Americans will carry a reusable water bottle with them each day and simply fill up – for free – whenever they are near a water fountain.  This is also more sustainable/environmentally friendly as you don't throw away as many plastic bottles. You can even find reusable water bottles with a built-in filter that may make the water taste better.  If you don't like the taste of plain water, you can get flavor packets to add to your bottled water in a variety of fruit flavors.  Just be sure to look at the ingredient list and make sure they are sugar free. Look for these in the beverage/coffee/tea aisle of the grocery store near the lemonade and other powdered drinks. 

Every type of bottled beverage I buy in the U.S. tastes sweet!

Bottled beverages in the U.S. that do not taste sweet can be difficult to find in the U.S. and may only be available at certain types of grocery stores.  Check the beverage/soda aisle at your local grocery store or specialty stores such as Whole Foods (see below) to find out what types of unsweetened bottled drinks they have for sale. 

In terms of cold/bottled tea and beverages it will be very hard to find unsweetened options in most places in the U.S. For example, Itoen tea, such as Oi Ocha is sold everywhere in Japan but can be very difficult to find in the U.S.  You may be able to find a wider variety of Asian/Japanese bottled beverages at Asian Grocery Stores (see below), bulk stores such as Costco (requires a membership), or by ordering online via Amazon and having the item delivered to your hotel room.  If ordering online, be sure you are ordering from the U.S. Amazon site and use the following delivery address format: 

Your Name 
Attn: Room (Number) 
6800 S Main St
Houston, TX 77030

Why are there no electric hot water kettles anywhere? Doesn't anyone drink tea? 

In the U.S., it is more common to drink coffee than it is to drink tea. Most office buildings will have a shared coffee pot in their kitchen/lunch area but it is less common for there to be a tea kettle or hot water dispenser.  It will depend on  your lab/building at Rice University.  If there are many tea drinkers in a research group, someone may bring in/donate a hot water kettle for the group members to use.  Ask your group members if there is a hot water kettle/hot water dispenser in your building/lab.  

You can always make your own tea at home in the morning and bring with you in a reusable hot beverage thermos. You can also buy an inexpensive hot water kettle to keep in the office or in your hotel room from any homegoods/department store such as Target.  This link shows the variety they have for sale online but the options available to purchase in the store might be more limited.  

Tea is usually sold in tea bags in the U.S. If you order tea at a restaurant in the U.S., they will typically bring you a Lipton's/English tea bag and a small kettle of hot water. You need to specifically ask if they have green tea.  At the grocery store, you can find a wide array of tea bags/types in the coffee/tea/beverage aisle. Be sure you buy tea bags made for hot tea not iced tea. Then, just carry a few of these tea bags with you each day and at a restaurant ask if they can just give you hot water.  There are also speciality tea shops in most U.S. cities where you can buy loose leaf and other varieties of tea.  You can also buy loose-leaf or Asian/Japanese tea at most Asian/Japanese grocery stores if you cannot find it at your local grocery store.  You can buy hot, unsweetened tea at coffee shops, such as Starbucks or the Rice Coffeehouse.  These are typically sold as individual tea bags and they will give you a cup of hot water or  you can give them your thermos and they will fill that up for you with hot water.  Just ask at the counter for what types of tea they have and they will show you the list/options.  


Why do Americans not eat burdock? I can't find it in any grocery store or on any menu? 

  • Burdock root is not native to the U.S., though it is a native plant in Asia and Europe.  So, people in the U.S. don’t eat it as it was not an ingredient that you could easily obtain since it didn’t grow here.  The burdock plant was introduced to the U.S. eventually, it was a wild plant and seen as a weed. Not eating burdock isn’t cultural so much as Americans simply not knowing you can eat it or how to cook/prepare it – after all there are lots of root vegetables we do commonly eat like potatoes, carrots, radishes, etc. Since the burdock plant is seen as a weed, its root is not typically sold at grocery stores in the U.S. though you can sometimes find it at Japanese or Asian grocery stores. For most Americans, the first time they will eat burdock root is when they travel abroad to Japan where it is more common. The American will often ask “What is this?” and be told “Burdock” only to have them be even more confused and ask again, “What’s burdock?”.

What do Americans eat when they are sick? Japanese people usually eat watery cooked rice or udon. I cannot find any stomach-friendly American food.

  • We eat the same thing soup – usually chicken noodle soup! You can find canned soup at the grocery stores or prepared soup in the deli/prepared food section of the grocery store.
  • While there are not many udon restaurants in the U.S., it is becoming more common to find Ramen restaurants in many cities. If you can't find a good ramen restaurant, look for Vietnamese Pho restaurant.  Pho has a clearer broth that can be very good to eat when you aren't feeling well. Ramen and Pho will be more common than Udon, though you can usually find Udon on the menu at most authentic Japanese restaurants. If it is just a sushi restaurant though, they will probably not serve udon. 
  • Remember, that most Americans don’t eat just plain, white rice or congee. Instead, people will make bland/plain foods at home to eat, such as soup or toast, and drink plenty of fluids to stay well hydrated.  If you have diarrhea, doctors recommend the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) diet. If you are ill, prepare a large pot of white rice or congee on the stove in your hotel room kitchen to heat up and eat throughout the day.  
  • 15 Best Foods to East When You Are Sick
  • Exactly What to Eat When You Have a Cold or Flu
  • The Best and Worst Foods To Eat When You are Sick

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Convenience Stores – Not So Convenient in the U.S.

If you read websites or blogs about living in Japan that are written for foreigners, one of the common topics discussed is  how awesome and convenient convenience stores in Japan really are.  There is always one nearby where you can stop in for an onigiri, hot or cold drink, or bento box at any time day or night. Americans are always very impressed by convenience stores in Japan. In the U.S. – well, things are not so convenient.  The konbinis are actually one of the top things that U.S. Fellows say they will miss about living in Japan.

In the U.S. we do have convenience stores, including 7-11s, but they are very different from the convenience stores you are used to.  Convenience stores in the U.S. are typically attached to gas stations and this means they are usually located on busy streets or intersections where it is convenient for cars/drivers.  The food available in convenience stores is typically limited to soda, coffee, chips, and candy or other small snacks that you can easily eat in the car. For pedestrians in Houston, convenience stores are not convenient at all. In more densely populated cities where most people use public transportation and walk, such as New York City or Washington, DC, there are more pedestrian-friendly small stores that are often located near subway stations where you can purchase drinks and snacks.  They also have 24-hour pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreen's or Duane Reede and these pharmacies usually have a small food section where you can buy frozen meals, drinks, and snacks.  Pharmacies in Houston are also often 24 hours but you may have to drive to get to your closest one.  

There is one small convenience store at Rice University, call RechargeU, and it is located in the Student Center. However, it is an American-style convenience store and mainly sells soda, coffee, chips, candy and other small snacks. Most things here will be more expensive than buying the same items at the grocery store or Target; so we recommend purchasing food/drinks in advance from the grocery store and bringing them with you each day.

Convenience stores are ubiquitous in Japan and can be found on every street corner – sometimes one one each of the four corners of a single intersection.  Unlike in the U.S., they are also very convenient as you can buy a quick, an inexpensive meal or snack, make photocopies or scans at the copier, purchase tickets for sporting events, concerts, and other events, access international ATMs at 7-11 konbinis, send or receive items using the baggage delivery service, pay bills, and much more! Though you may wonder why there are so many konbinis everywhere –  it’s certainly handy to know that there is a 7-11 open somewhere near you at any time day or night though – especially when you are low on cash and need to find an international ATM! You’ll probably end up frequenting your local konbinis regularly and their convenience is something you will likely miss after returning to the U.S.

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Grocery Stores in the U.S.

There are no grocery stores or convenience stores within walking distance of the hotel. The closest grocery store is the Kroger on South Main St. and there is a regularly scheduled, free hotel shuttle that can take you there. The hotel shuttle can also drop-off/pick-up at Target, a home-goods/department store that also sells groceries, and is just a block away from Kroger. Buying groceries and cooking on your own will be more economical than eating out every meal while in Houston. Plan to shop for groceries each week and cook with your roommate in your hotel room to save money and maintain good health while in the U.S.!

Grocery stores in the U.S. are typically very large with huge carts, many varieties/brands of the same type of food, and very large package/portion sizes.  Most Americans do not live within walking distance of a grocery store so they drive there, usually once per week, and 'stock up'.  You typically buy all the groceries you need for that week and store them at home in your large fridge, freezer, cupboards, or pantry.  There are even warehouse stores that require a membership, like Costco, where you can buy even larger size packages of groceries and household good.  All home-good/department stores in the U.S. now have a grocery section (e.g. Wal-Mart/Target) and some pharmacies even have a small selection of canned, boxes, and frozen foods.  So, if you have a car, grocery shopping in the U.S. is very convenient as you can drive to the closest store when ever you need. If you don't have a car though, like most visiting students,  you will need to use the free hotel shuttle or find a friend with a car who is willing to take you shopping.

Common/Major Grocery Stores in Houston: Grocery store chains in Houston include Kroger (can take the hotel shuttle here), Safeway, HEB, Whole Foods Market, and Fiesta.  These are chains so you will find these them all throughout different areas of the city. Grocery store chains/brands also vary by region in the U.S.  While, in Houston HEB, Kroger, and Randall's are the most common in another part of the U.S. Publix, Albertson's, or Safeway might be the common/major grocery store chain.

  • Kroger (Hotel shuttle will drop-off/pick-up from here)
    • Nearest Location for Hotel Shuttle: 7747 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77030
    • Many other locations throughout Houston
  • Target (Hotel shuttle will drop-off/pick-up from here)
  • Randall's
    • Nearest Location to Hotel: 3131 W Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX, 77025
      • Note: This is not a scheduled grocery store for the hotel shuttle, but if you ask the driver they may be willing to drop you off or pick you up here.
    • Many other locations throughout Houston
  • HEB
    • Check out their wide array of Texas-themed and Texas-shaped items at HEB Totally Texas
      • This is online, but most of these items can be purchased in the store as well.
    • Nearest Locations:
      • Hotel shuttle will not drop-off/pick-up here. It is outside their free shuttle radius. You must take an UBER/Lyft or ask a friend with a car to drive you.
      • 1701 W Alabama St, Houston, TX 77098 OR
      • 5225 A Buffalo Speedway, Houston, TX 77005


Speciality Grocery Stores in Houston: Houston also has a number of specialty grocery stores and you might want to take an UBER or ask a friend to drive you here. They sometimes have a wider array of 'Texas' or 'local/regional' food items that could make good omiyage. Prices at specialty grocery stores tend to be more expensive than at the major/common chains.

Note: These locations are too far from the hotel and outside the free hotel shuttle radius. You must use Uber/Lyft or ask a friend with a car to drive you. 

Japanese Grocery Stores in Houston:  There are two main Japanese grocery stores in Houston. Both are located in West Houston and very far from the hotel/Rice University area.  You would need to take an Uber/Lyft there (check the price though) or ask a friend with a car to take you to these stores.

Asian Grocery Stores in Houston:  While the number of Japanese grocery stores is quite small, there are a lot of options of different types of Asian grocery stores in Houston.  Houston has a very large Chinese and Vietnamese population, and this is reflected in the type of Asian grocery stores we have. All of these stores will have a larger selection of Japanese ingredients than what you would find at the common/major grocery stores in Houston but the options will still be limited.  They can be an excellent place to get high-quality rice, thinly sliced meats, and many types of vegetables and fruits that you may not find at Kroger/Randall's.

None of these grocery stores are located near the hotel or Rice University. You would need to take an Uber/Lyft (check the prices) or ask a friend with a car to drive you.

  • 99 Ranch Market at 1005 Blalock Rd, Houston, TX 77055
    • This is a very popular location for many students to shop at.  It is not too far away and the prices are very reasonable.  They also have bakery, wide array of prepared foods, and food court.  See Yelp for photos.
  • H Mart Houston
  • Hong Kong City Market at 11205 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77072
    • The largest international grocery store in Houston and is located in Hong Kong City Mall in Houston's Chinatown area in Bellaire. This is quite far from the hotel/campus so you will need to take an Uber/Lyft or ask a friend with a car to drive you.  There are many restaurants nearby and a large food court so plan to come out here to eat lunch/dinner with friends and then do some grocery shopping before going home.  Most of the smaller food-stalls or stands only take cash.
    •  Hong Kong City Mall 
    • Visit Houston: Hong Kong City Mall 
    • 5 Must Do Things in Houston's Chinatown (Houston 365) 

Grocery stores in the U.S. have lots of inexpensive produce, but sometimes the fruit and vegetables you buy at the grocery store might not be very flavorful. Why?  This is because the varieties of fruit and vegetables sold at major grocery store chains in the U.S. have been developed to be transported long distances.  The fruit and vegetables on sale at your grocery store in Houston might have been grown in California and trucked long distances.  Or it could even have come from another country and been shipped into the U.S. from places in South America or elsewhere around the world.  Therefore, farmers that sell to major grocery store chains often grow produce varieties that are less likely to get damaged in shipping. Or, the vegetables and fruit are picked before they are fully ripe to allow them to become ripe while being transported.  This practice means that grocery stores sell all types of fruit and vegetables all year round – regardless of whether they are 'in season'.  Even if they are not 'in season' in that local area, they can simply be shipped from another part of the U.S. or a different country.  This keeps prices down and variety high but the tradeoff is that the produce might not be a flavorful or fresh. 

Rice Farmer's Market ~ Etsuko Ishii (2017 NK RIES JP Fellow)

Instead, you can look for vegetables and fruit that are marked 'Locally Produced' or 'Grown in Texas'.  This produce will not have been shipped as far and, typically, has been just recently picked and is therefore 'in season'.  An even better option though is to visit your local farmer's market.  These are very common in all cities and towns in the U.S. and a great place to go to purchase fresh, locally produced fruit and vegetables. At most farmer's markets in the U.S. you can also buy locally produced eggs, baked goods, sweets, and sometimes even meat. Rice University even has it's own farmer's market!  It's held each week, rain or shine, and is a great option. Bring cash with you though as some merchants at farmer's markets do not accept credit/debit cards. 

Buying in Bulk: At grocery stores in the U.S. it is common to purchase large or bulk packages of items such as bottled water, soda, chips… well everything.  Since most Americans don't live within walking distance of a grocery store, they usually make 1 trip per week via car and purchase everything they need to cook for the entire week.  This means that the sizes of packages may be much larger than what you are accustomed to in Japan.  It is also usually cheaper if you buy the larger package rather than the smaller package. 

The packages are so large! I'm only here for a few weeks and will never be able to finish everything!  What should I do? 

It can be helpful to buy groceries/supplies jointly with your roommates and fellow participants.  For example, you and your roommate could share the laundry detergent or dryer sheets. Or you could buy one large sack of rice to be shared among 2 – 4 students. This will help you save money and will also help ensure you don't buy too much food/supplies that you are not able to use during the time you are in Houston.  You may not be able to buy everything jointly/shared (as you might not want to eat the exact same types of food) but it can be helpful for some things. 

I'm leaving tomorrow and still have a lot of left-over food/laundry detergent/supplies at my hotel room.  What should I do?  

The first option would be to ask the other students in your lab if they would like any of your left-over food/supplies.  Graduate students are often on a tight budget and free is always a word they love!  You can also simply leave the unused items in your hotel room trashcan.  


Prepared Foods at Grocery Stores: Most U.S. grocery stores will have a small section with some prepared foods in their Deli area which is usually located close to the front of the store as you walk in.  This may include rotisserie/fried chicken, freshly sliced meats/cheese, prepared food/dishes that you order at the counter by weight and heat up at home (if needed), a small section with American-style sushi, a cold salad bar that is charged by weight, and sometimes hot soup options too.  There may also be a small area with prepared cold sandwiches, dips, and cheeses.   Prepared foods and items you purchase from the deli area/front of the store will be more expensive than buying ingredients and cooking on your own. 

Grocery stores in Houston that are know for having the best selection of cold/hot prepared foods include:

  • HEB Central Market
  • Whole Foods

Where are the bentos? 

Unless you are at an Asian/Japanese grocery store you will not find prepared bento boxes.  There may be a very small section in the prepared food area with sushi but it will, typically, be American style sushi.  

How to Purchase from a Self-Serve Bar/Counter: If it is an open salad/bar area just look for the containers and add the food items you would like.  There is usually a small scale nearby where you weight your box/container and then a sticker with the price will come out. Close your container/put on the lid and place the sticker with the bar code and price on the top.  Take it to the cash register to pay. Some stores may not have you weight your own food, but rather it will be weighed by the cashier when you pay. Some items may already be heated/cold but other items you may need to warm up on your own. Look and see if there is a small sitting area with a microwave you can use or take the items back to the hotel.   If you don't see a scale, just take your food to the cashier and they will help you.  Also, see if there is an 'Express Line' if you are only buying a few things.  That will save you time and keep your hot/cold food at the right temperature.

How to Purchase from Deli Counter:  If the item you want to buy is behind a glass counter, just walk up the counter and someone will likely be there and ask if they can help you. There may also be a bell to ring if no one is there.  Tell/point to the item you want and they will like ask how much/how many?  You could say, "Just a small container" or "A half pound please" or "2 pieces of fried chicken please."  If you aren't sure how much to ask for, just tell the clerk something like "Just enough for 1 or 2 people please", or "I'm not sure how much I need, I'd like to have one meal and enough for leftovers".  Then, they will usually show you the container size or give you a recommendation. Watch how much they are adding to the container and when it's full enough just say "That's enough.  Please stop."  They will then weigh your item/s and put a sticker with the barcode/price on it.  You then take that to the cashier to pay.  Some items may already be heated/cold but other items you may need to warm up on your own. See if there is a small sitting area with a microwave you can use or take the items back to the hotel. 

Purchasing Alcohol at Grocery Stores: To purchase or consume alcohol in the U.S. you must be 21 years or older and will need to show your passport to the clerk when checking out to verify your age.   Each state in the U.S. has different laws regarding where and when you can purchase alcohol, even if you are old enough and have proper ID with you. Remember, it is illegal in the U.S. for someone to purchase alcohol to provide/give to a minor (someone 20 or younger). Even if you are 21 or older, you should not purchase alcohol for anyone who is 20 or younger. 

In Texas, you can purchase beer and wine at grocery stores but to purchase hard liquor (e.g. whiskey, vodka, etc.) you must go to a separate liquor store. In Texas, stores cannot sell any alcohol from 11:59 PM on Saturday until 12:00 PM (noon) on Sunday. Beer is typically sold in 6-pack, 12-pack, or 24-pack containers.  There may be a small section where you can buy single cans but you should not remove just one can or bottle from a package/box.  

For more, see Alcohol and Smoking in the U.S.

This shopping vocabulary sheet may be helpful when grocery shopping if you are looking for specific ingredients and aren't sure of the English name or if you need to ask someone where to find that food item or ingredient in the grocery store.

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Eating Out at Restaurants

Trying out some Tex-Mex Food ~ Mio Kamasaka, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

According to the Visit Houston site, “With 10,000 restaurants representing cuisine from more than 70 countries and American regions, Houston’s restaurant scene is as ethnically diverse as its more than 6-million residents. With so many options, it’s not surprising that visitors leave the city with plenty of good things to say about dining in Houston. In fact, Houston was named the “newest capital of great food” by Food & Wine in 2013 and the country’s most exciting food city by Tasting Table that same year.”

For dining options at Rice, see Only degree-seeking undergraduate or graduate students are able to purchase a meal plan to eat in the residential college cafeterias. Food options for visiting researchers are only available as described at the above website and below.

  • @Sammy’s (Rice Memorial Center, 1F)
    • 4point Taco: Tacos
    • Whoo Deli: sandwich and soup
    • In The Loop: pizza
    • Grillosophy: hamburgers
    • Parliament of Chefs: daily different dishes by Rice Dining’s chef
  • Ambassador Chinese (Rice Memorial Center, basement)
  • Droubi’s (South Servery near Hanszen College): Mediterranean and American grilled lunch and dinner
  • Valhalla’s: set of a sandwich, a bag of chips and a can of soda for from $5
  • Salento at Brochstein Pavilion: : coffee, muffin, croissant, sandwiches and salad
  • The Faculty Club: Members only dining. You can become a member by paying one-time fee of $30.
  • Rice Coffeehouse: coffee, muffin and cakes
  • Mobile Dining/Food Trucks:
    From 5:30 – 9:00 PM, located on the Mudd Loop Road (in between the Mudd Building and Hamman Hall, north side of Brockman Hall) there are food truck options on Monday – Friday Night. Food truck options vary by day.

Restaurants Near Rice University: The most convenient restaurant area near campus is Rice Village.  Rice Village Apartments/GreenbrierVillage at lunch time. There are free, Rice University shuttles that go to the and you can always take the shuttle there.  The Wyndham Hotel shuttle will also drop-off/pick-up at Rice Village during their normal scheduled hours.  When visiting restaurants or shops in Rice Village, be sure to ask "Do you have a Rice University student discount?"  If they say yes, just show them your Rice ID and you might get 10% or more off the price of your bill! 

Restaurants Near the Hotel: The Wyndham Houston Medical Center is located in the Medical Center.  This is a hospital/office building area of Houston and while there are some restaurants many are only open Monday-Friday during the working day (~9:00 – 5:00 pm) and some may even close around 2:00 or 3:00 PM after lunchtime.  If you are working in the BRC, ask your labmates for their suggestions of nearby restaurants to go to for lunch. 

If you go south on Main St. (towards Kroger and Target), you will find an array of less expensive fast-food/casual options.  If it is a restaurant that is very close to Target or Kroger, the hotel shuttle might be able to drop you off or pick you up but, if not, you may need to take an Uber/Lyft.  Ask the hotel driver if they will go to the restaurant  you want to visit and you may need to show them the address/location on Google maps. However, this is a very, very busy area with many large streets that people drive down very fast! Be extra, extra cautious if you are walking across Main St. or one of the other majors streets in this area.  Always cross at the light/cross-walk and walk very quickly as you may not have much time until the light changes.  


Here are some general things to keep in mind when eating out in the U.S. 

Keep the following in mind though: 

  • Houston is huge!  The 'newest'/'best' restaurant you want to try in Houston might be a 30 – 45 minute drive away! Always use Google maps to see just how far away a restaurant is from Rice University or the hotel. 
  • Houston doesn't really have restaurant streets or arcades.  Restaurants are typically located in strip malls that you must drive to. You will probably have to ask a friend with a car to drive you there or use Yelp/Lyft.  
  • The restaurant market is very, very competitive in Houston.  Many new restaurants open each month and many restaurants close each month. Always double check Yelp, Open Table, or the restaurant website to be sure that the restaurant is open and what their hours are.  
  • Typically, you won't need a reservation.  You just show up, put your name in for a table, and wait if needed.  However, if it is a very new/fancy/popular restaurant or if this is an important holiday (such as Valentine's Day) you may need to make a reservation. You can always call the restaurant (find the number on Yelp, Open Table, Google-sensei) and ask if you need to make a reservation. 
  • Most tables at restaurants in the U.S. are set up for 4-person or 2-person parties.  If you have a large group eating together, you will likely have to wait longer as they will need to wait for there to be enough free tables near each other to pull together.  
  • Eating out with friends is a social activity in the U.S.  If you want to eat quickly, you need to go to a fast-food or fast-casual restaurant.  If you go to a sit-down restaurant it will take longer.  

What's the difference between a fast-food and a fast-casual restaurant? 

The cheapest, fastest, and usually least healthy restaurant options in the U.S. are fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, and KFC. In the South, two of our regional fast food chains are Whataburger and Chick-fil-A (not open on Sundays).  There are many other regional fast food chains as well. There are also sandwich fast food chains such as Subway and Quiznos. You do not tip at fast-food restaurants and usually you are given a cup to fill up your beverage on your own with soda.  Soda refills at fast food restaurants are, typically, free. If refills are not free there will be a sign/note about this at the beverage station.  'Healthy' food options are typically limited to salads. 

The next step up is a fast-casual restaurant.  These are very popular/common now in the U.S..  Typically, you walk into the store, order at the counter, and then receive a number to take to your table.  When the food you ordered in ready they will bring it directly to your table.  Fast casual restaurants are faster than a sit-down restaurant (see below) because they tend to have fewer menu options and you order everything you want to eat and drink at the same time.  Since you pay before you sit down or get your food, when you are done eating you can just throw away your garbage and leave the restaurant.  They tend to have higher quality food, are more expensive than fast-food, and may have a broader array of healthy food options.  

Why does it take so long to get my food at sit-down restaurants???? 
Eating out at a restaurant is a social activity in the U.S. Menus are very large and have many options and it usually takes a long time to get your food.  Restaurant menus in the U.S. tend to be very long and have many, many options and depending on what you order it may take longer or shorter to prepare.  While you are waiting for your food in the U.S., you will typically see people talking with their friends or (increasingly) staring at their phones. It is not like in Japan where the food stalls/restaurants in a train station only offer a small number of types of dishes and prepare/serve them quickly so people can get to their next train. If you go to a sit-down restaurant in the U.S. you should be prepared to be there for about 45 minutes to an hour. 

Here is a 'typical' service schedule at a sit-down restaurant in the U.S. Depending on the restaurant and how busy they are, it may take more or less time to be served.  

  • Enter the restaurant. Give name and total guest number to host.  Wait 10 – 30 minutes for a table depending on how busy it is. If it is not busy, they will seat you right away. If you have a large party (6+ people), you may need to wait longer.  
  • Sit down at table and begin to look at the menu (it will be long and have many options). Within about 5 minutes your server should greet you and will ask what you would like to drink. Ice water is usually free and brought to the table. If not, just ask the waiter/waitress for a glass of water. 
  • Unless you ask, typically there will just be one bill for the table.  So, if you want to pay individually you will have to divide the bill among your friends.  If you ask before the waiter/waitress takes the order they may be able to ring up each person separately.  Depending on how large your table is and the policy of the restaurant this may not be possible.  
  • The server may also ask if you would like to order an appetizer for the table.  Typically, appetizers are shared and will come out before your meal.  You can also just order a selection of appetizers to share if you don't want to order a full meal but should then tell the server you are just ordering drinks and appetizers.  If you ordered appetizers, these will typically take 10 – 15 minutes to be brought out to the table.  
  • After the server returns with your drinks, they will ask if you know what you'd like to order. If you are ready, you can order your food now. If you are not ready, you can ask the server to come back in a few minutes. The longer it takes you to order the longer it will take for your food to arrive.
  • From the time you place your order it may take anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes for your food to come depending on what you order (e.g. fire/brick oven pizzas takes a long time to cook) and how large your party is.  Typically, they will wait to bring out the food until everyone's order is ready. (i.e.. it make take longer for a table of 8 to have their food arrive than a table of 2).  
  • After the food arrives, the waiter will leave the table but will return every 10 – 15 minutes or so to ask "Are you okay?" or "Do you need anything else?"  They will also typically refill your water or soda/tea as these refills are usually free.   By checking on their customer they are providing 'good service' and this helps them get tips (see Tipping section below). 
  • When you are done eating, put your silverware or napkin on your plate as a cue to the waiter/waitress.  Or simply call them over and ask for check/bill.  "Excuse me, can we get the check please?". 
  • The waiter/waitress will clear your plates and ask if you'd like to order dessert or anything else. If no, just say "No, just the check please.".  They will then walk away, ring up your bill, and bring it to the table.  
  • Typically, you will pay the bill at the table by leaving your credit/debit card or money in the small folder provider. If you are unsure, just ask if you pay at the table or up front at a cash register.  You can write your tip into the credit/debit card receipt or just leave cash in the folder or on the table.  Be sure that if you are paying via credit/debit card or need change back from the cash that you wait for the waiter/waitress to bring the receipt back to your table. 
  • If you are dividing the bill/payment among friends you usually have a few options: 
    • Paying Individually: If you want individual/separate bills be sure to ask for this before you order your food!  If the restaurant allows split/individual bills, it is easiest for the server know in advance before they place your order.  
    • One Person Pays:  This is the very easiest for the server and fastest.  At the end of the meal, one person pays the bill (via cash or card) and then the other people at the table simply give them cash to cover their portion of the meal.  Someone at the table will have to be the accountant to figure out how much everyone owes. Just don't forget to factor in sales tax and any tip.  
    • Cash: One total bill and everyone puts in cash for their amount. Easiest but it means everyone must have cash in the proper amounts. 
    • Credit/Debit Card: 
      • Split Equally (Easiest): At the end of the meal, put 2 or more cards in the folder and when the server picks it up from your table let them know you want to spilt the bill equally among those cards. This is usually okay if there are just 2 or 3 cards.  Some restaurants may not allow multiple cards to be charged on a group/table.  
      • Split Individually (Harder): If each person wants to pay individually for only their specific order then someone will need to be the 'accountant' and divide up the bill.  Remember to factor in the cost of tax and any tip as this will not be included in the line item price. You can write down on the back of the receipt how much you want put on each card and explain to the waiter/waitress how you want to divide the check.  This can be time consuming and not all restaurants will allow this.    

With so many restaurants in Houston how do you choose?  Houstonians use a variety of websites and apps to help them figure out where to eat. But the #1 tip – ask your friends and labmates!  Everyone eats out in Houston and if you ask your friends where they would recommend they'll likely give you some excellent suggestions. They may even want to join you and (if they have car) drive you!  When asking for recommendations though – be specific.   If you just ask "What restaurant do you recommend in Houston?" they will likely respond "Hm, there are so many. What type of food do you want to eat?"  So be prepared to say Chinese or Indian or Tex-Mex or "I'm in the mood for a good salad or sandwich."  

The restaurant field is very competitive in Houston and many restaurants open and close each month.  The hottest restaurant from 2016 might be closed in 2017.  It's important to consult Yelp or the website of the restaurant to be sure it is still open and what the hours are. If in doubt, look for the phone number and call the restaurant to inquire about its hours.  

Restaurants by Neighborhood

Remember, Houston is huge!  The 'best'/'newest' restaurant that you want to try may be a 30 – 45 minute drive away. If you have a car this may be no big deal but if are traveling via Uber/Yelp or bus that could be an expensive or long trip.  In order of closeness to Rice University and the hotel here are the neighborhoods most convenient for you. Always double check the address/location on Google Maps though as, even if it says it is the West University/Rice Village area it may still be too far to walk.  Most of the apps/websites listed above also allow you to search restaurants by neighborhoods. 

While Tex-Mex might be the most well-know local/regional food the reality is that Houstonians love to eat out and try different types of food from all of the world. There are many fusion restaurants in Houston where they combine certain elements of multiple food styles/heritages. For example, Kata Robata, is a very popular Asian/Japanese fusion restaurant. 

Restaurants are spread all across the city and metro area and while there are certain areas of town that may have more of one type of food than another, Bellaire Chinatown for Chinese or Vietnamese or Little India for Indian and Pakistani food – the reality is that you will find all types of restaurants throughout the city.  Since Houston is so large, most people will drive to restaurants nearby their homes/work but if they want to try something new Houstonians will just hop in their cars and may drive 30 minutes to a different area/restaurant across the city. If there is a country you've not yet had the chance to visit there is a 90% chance you will find a (country name) restaurant in Houston to try! 

Check out the websites below for more on the various types of restaurants/food you can try in Houston. But, be prepared to take an Uber/Lyft (check the prices) or ask a friend with a car if they want to try out/check out the restaurant with you.  After all, you can to the U.S. because you wanted to try new things right?  If you leave Houston having only eaten hamburgers or Japanese food you will have missed out on a huge part of Houstonian culture – the diverse food scene!

Diversity of Food in Houston

Videos/TV Shows

Food trucks are a huge deal in Houston.  There aren't any food halls/arcades in Houston be we do have over 1,400 food trucks.  Since Houston is so huge, a food truck enables a restaurant to come directly to the different areas of Houston.  There are food truck festivals and at there may even be an array of food trucks at different outdoor events you go to in Houston. Did you know that there are even food trucks that come to Rice University each evening outside of Brockman Hall/Mudd Lab?  Sometimes, a restaurant will start out as a food truck and, once successful, transition to a 'brick and mortar' restaurant with a fixed location.

Tip: If there is a particular food truck you really like, follow them on Facebook or other social media and then you will get updates on their planned schedule/locations for the week.

Japanese Restaurants in Houston: If you look on Yelp you will see that there are many Japanese restaurants in the U.S., some more authentic than others.  However, they are not located very convenient to the hotel or campus so if you want Japanese food you may need to use an Uber.  The neighborhoods on Yelp that are closest to where you will be in Houston include Medical Center (near hotel), West University (near Rice), Downtown, Midtown, Montrose, and Upper Kirby.  Taking an Uber to these locations would likely not be too expensive.

Student Question: Why are there no restaurant for ‘TONKATSU’ which is fried pork though fried chicken is really popular in the U.S?

  • If you go to a Japanese restaurant in the U.S., you can probably order tonkatsu but we don’t really have stand-alone restaurants for that, yet.  In the past, there weren’t really stand alone ramen restaurants in the U.S. though these have become much more popular and common in the past 5 years or so.  Now you can find ramen restaurants in almost every major city in the U.S.  I’m not sure if the U.S. will ever have stand-alone tonkatsu restaurants in most places; you may need to go to an authentic Japanese restaurant to find this.  Or, visit Hawaii or other areas that have high numbers of Japanese-Americans and you may be more likely to find a tonkatsu restaurant.
  • You can also use apps like Yelp or Foursquare to look up tonkatsu in the cities that you are in.  For example:

Asian Restaurants in Houston: There are also many excellent Asian restaurants in Houston, particularly Chinese and Vietnamese, and these restaurants typically have more healthy/vegetable options.  Most of the best Asian restaurants and excellent Asian grocery stores are located in Houston's Chinatown District.  You will need a car or need to take an Uber to get here though.

No matter which city you are in, it is best to ask for advice about where the best Asian restaurants are as there are many in the U.S. that are not very good.  Your professor or lab group members are great people to ask for advice on where they would recommend you try to eat. Just remember, Japanese-style Chinese/Western/Asian food can be very different than authentic Chinese, Western, or Asian food.  Don't expect everything to taste the same as it does back home.  The Asian restaurants in Houston tend to be more authentic as we have large immigrant populations from all over this region.   

Staying Healthy When Eating Out: Eating out in the U.S. is comparatively more expensive than in Japan and the low-cost, fast-food options can be very unhealthy.  Most Americans only eat out a few times a week and cook more often at home, especially if they are trying to save money or eat more healthy foods. You will also notice that many of the foods you can buy in restaurants, especially in Texas, have a lot of meat, are fried or have a lot of cheese, and there may be only a few vegetables. 

The #1 tip is to not eat everything on your plate. Portion sizes are huge in the U.S., particularly at restaurants.  If you eat everything that is served you may be consuming your entire recommended calories for the whole day in one meal.  Eat only until you are full and then ask for a to-go box/doggie bag to take the rest home with you (see section below).   This not only prevents you from over eating but gives you two meals for the price of one! 

If you want to eat healthy at a restaurant you should look for items in salad or sandwich section or ask if they have any vegetarian meals. These are usually marked on the menu or you can ask your waiter or waitress.

Why is the only 'healthy' option on the menu usually a salad? Where are the pickled vegetables and other hot/prepared vegetable items? 

At restaurants, the less prepared/cooked a dish is the healthier it is (usually).  If a vegetable is cooked at a restaurant, they usually use a lot of butter and/or salt. Salads aren't always the healthiest thing on the menu though.  Be careful of the portion sizes, ingredients, and dressing.  However, if you order a salad you can generally ask for the "Dressing on the side" or "Light Cheese" or order options that do not come with cheese or meat.  These will then, usually, be a healthier option.  By ordering dressing on the side, you can add as much or as little dressing as you would like. Americans who are trying to eat healthy, may also snack on raw carrots, celery, or other vegetables and dip them in ranch dressing, hummus, peanut butter, or other spreads.  So, don't be surprised if you see someone in your lab snacking on some raw carrots. It's pretty normal in the U.S. 

At a restaurant, vegetables are typically served as a side dish to your main meal.  There is usually a list of options with the most common being potatoes (french fries or mashed potatoes), corn, broccoli or cauliflower, rice pilaf (not Japanese style white rice), or other types of seasonal vegetable dished/mixes.  Hot/cooked vegetable dishes may be prepared with butter and/or salt and so many not taste very 'fresh'.  Typically, the cheapest restaurants have the worst vegetable options.  The  more expensive a restaurant is, typically, the fresher and better prepared the vegetable options will be. We don't eat very many pickled vegetables in the U.S. though.  Typically, it is only cucumbers that are pickled and if you order a sandwich or burger at a restaurant you may get a pickle spear on the side.  The wide array of pickled vegetables that you find in Japan at restaurants is not common here.  

I've heard there are a lot of vegetarian options in the U.S.  Are these dishes/restaurants healthier?  

Yes, they can be but it depends on the ingredients and how the food is prepared.  Cooking french fries using vegetable oil make them a vegetarian dish but they aren't the healthiest food to eat every day.   Some Americans do a 'Meatless Monday' where one day a week they don't eat any meat as a way to eat healthier without maintaining a 100% vegetarian diet.  You can also usually find many vegetarian grocery items at the store, particularly at specialty stores like Whole Foods.  Reducing down your intake of  meat and dairy can be one easy way to consume fewer calories in the U.S.  You just need to carefully balance your protein and vitamin/nutrient intake too.  There are many unhealthy vegetarians out there because even though they aren't eating meat they are still consuming a lot of unhealthy food.  

One of the most confusing aspects of eating out for Japanese students or visitors when they come to the U.S. is tipping.  In Japan, tipping is not required but in the U.S. it is often expected for many service industry workers.  This is because they are often paid a very low hourly wage, sometimes even below the minimum wage, as it is expected they will make up the difference through tips they receive for good customer service.  Tipping is confusing to Americans too and many people are surprised at just how often and how many types of services it might be good to tip for.

Tipping is not required but it is a social expectation.  It is a bit difficult sometimes because the ‘rules’ are not so clear and can vary. What is good service versus excellent service?  If you are unsure how much to tip and out with other friends, simply ask them for advice.  It is so confusing sometimes, even to Americans, that there are special apps you can download that will help you calculate the best tip.

Lifehacker has a very helpful overview to who you should tip and how much  and also compiled the tipping chart below which can be a useful guideline. These are some of the most common situations where it might be good to leave a tip.  It is also helpful to tip hotel shuttle drivers, even if the shuttle is free to use.  Just giving $1 per ride or a $5 tip per week can really help ensure good service; particularly if you are regularly using the hotel shuttle for daily transportation.

For more on tipping in the U.S. see:

To-Go Boxes or "Doggie Bags":  Portion sizes at restaurants in the U.S. can be very large. If you cannot finish your entire meal, you can ask for a 'to-go box' or 'doggie bag' to take the left-over food home.  You can then eat that later for dinner or the next day for lunch.  This is a great way to get 2 (or sometimes 3) meals for the price of one. Taking your food to-go is very common in the U.S.  When you are done with your meal, just ask the server or the counter for 'to-go box'.  They will either take your plate and put it into a to-go box for you or they may bring and empty container to your table and you will dish the food into the container yourself.  They also will typically give you a plastic bag to put your food container/s in if there is more than one. At very nice/fancy restaurants it would not be as common to ask for a to-go box/doggie bag. However, the more expensive the restaurant the smaller/more normal the portion sizes typically are so you might not need one

Just be careful of food safety and be sure to refrigerate your left-overs as soon as possible and consume them within a couple of days.  If you eat left-overs that are too old or if you don't refrigerate them right away they could make you ill. So, if you are going to out and about all day sight-seeing and not have access to a fridge to store your to-go box in it might not be a good idea to take your leftover food home with you.   

To-Go and Delivery: At some restaurants you can even order food 'to-go' and take it home with you.  There are also services like Uber Eats where you can order food online and have it delivered to your hotel.    

Why are they called a doggie bag?  That's a weird name! 

Why does restaurant food taste different in the U.S.?  Why do Japanese restaurants only have sushi? And why are the sizes so big? What are some other differences between restaurants in Japan and the U.S.? 

For our Japanese Fellows:  Japanese restaurants are not as prevalent in the U.S. as many other types of Asian cuisines.  Many Japanese restaurants in the U.S., may only offer sushi or some very basic and Americanized Japanese style food.  

  • Ramen restaurants are increasingly easy to find in the U.S. and becoming quite popular. 
  • If you can't find a good Japanese restaurant, try a Vietnamese restaurant.  Vietnamese food uses a lot of similar vegetables and Vietnamese pho is a clear broth noodle soup typically made with pork that is a nice substitute for udon. 
  • At all Asian restaurants in the U.S., you can request the level of spiciness of the dish.  Typical levels are mild to hot/very hot.  
  • Curry in the U.S. is not Japanese style curry rice! If you go to an Indian restaurant and order curry with rice you will receive Indian style curry. 
  • Kewpie mayonnaise is difficult to find in the U.S. outside of Japanese grocery stores.  Other Japanese brands of condiments may also be difficult to find.  This is why some foods (such as salad dressings or ketchup) taste different in the U.S.; they are different, American brands rather than Japanese brands.  
  • Mayonnaise, corn, shrimp/seafood are not common pizza toppings in the U.S.  Pizza is considered cheap/college food and can be ordered inexpensively for delivery.   
  • Sizes in the U.S. are much larger than  you are accustomed to in Japan.  There is no short size at Starbuck's.  The smallest size is a tall which is the medium size in Japan.   You may need to ask for a to-go box/doggie bag to take any leftovers home to eat for lunch the next day. 
  • Hot tea is not served at the table when you sit down. You must order this separately. Instead, cold tap water is usually provided for free. At many restaurants, there are free refills of soda, ice tea, coffee, and hot water for your tea bag.  You may be charged for refills of other drinks. 
  • You can customize anything you order at a restaurant in the U.S. Don't like tomatoes? Just say no tomatoes on your burger or sandwich.  Allergic to shellfish?  Ask before your order and the waiter/waitress will let you know if they can be removed or if you should order something else. You will not offend the restaurant by asking for special orders/customization.  It is very common and you may see Americans asking many questions about how a dish is prepared before they place their order.  See Select Wisely to order Japanese-English food translation cards
  • Difference Between American, French, and Japanese Restaurant Experience (Blog) 
  • How Sushi Culture Differs in America vs. Japan (First We Feast) 

For our U.S. Fellows: Most Western restaurants in Japan serve Japanese-style American food.  It will look and taste different. For example, did you know mayonnaise and corn is common topping on pizza? Tokyo has the widest array of American-style and American branded restaurants and food choices.  Outside of Tokyo, you will find some American chains (McDonald's and Starbuck's are everywhere) but others may be more difficult to find.    

  • There are no free refills of soda at restaurants in Japan. You will be charged for each drink you order a refill of. 
  • Many restaurants will have a water pitcher and glasses that you can refill yourself and may bring a glass of tea to the table as you set down.  Water or tea is typically free or the charge is already included in the bill. If it is already included you cannot remove it from the bill even if you didn't drink any.  
  • All you can eat buffets in Japan are called Viking Buffets and you may also find tabehodai or nomehodai (all you can eat/drink) options at some restaurants. 
  • Curry rice in Japan is not Indian style curry.  It is Japanese style curry rice and tastes very different from what you might expect.  You need to go to an Indian restaurant to get Indian style curry.  
  • Most restaurants in Japan specialize in one or two types of food.  For example, you would have to go to two different restaurants to get ramen or udon.  This makes ordering and service much faster as their menus may be smaller. 
  • You may need to get a ticket and pay at a vending machine first and then give the ticket to the counter/waiter/waitress to receive your food. This is very common at ramen restaurants.  
  • Serving sizes are much smaller in Japan than in the U.S. A medium soda at McDonald's is the smallest size in the U.S.  This means that, typically, you should be able to finish your entire meal when eating out.  To go boxes/doggie bags are not common in Japan and may not even by allowed due to health codes.  Get in the habit of only ordering what you can eat at that time and cleaning your entire plate in Japan. If you are still hungry, you can always order more.  
  • You cannot customize your orders in Japan. It is considered very rude to ask for things to be removed or added to the dish as it insults the chef/cook and says that what they have prepared is not 'good enough' for you.  The exception is if you have a food allergy or other dietary restriction.  Show your Allergy Card to the waiter/waitress so they clearly understand that you cannot eat something.  See Select Wisely to order Japanese-English food translation cards
  • Difference Between American, French, and Japanese Restaurant Experience (Blog) 
  • Eating McDonald's in Japan: A Comparison to American McDonald's 
  • Guide to American Restaurants in Tokyo (Compathy) 
  • Japanese Restaurant Culture (Tofugu) 
  • Spaghetti Stir-Fry and Hambago: Japan Looks West (NY Times) 
  • Some Unusual Pizza Menu Items in Japan (GaijinPot) 
  • Why Are Cool American Food Brands Expanding to Japan? (Eater) 

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