I'm reading an article at Quora and one answer provides the text quoted below.

If you’re dining in a formal Japanese restaurant, they serve rice last, after everything else. Dessert is…almost nonexistent. The set meals (which are expensive, costing around 20,000 to 30,000 yen on the average) also don’t include the usual dishes that we see in Japanese restaurants in other countries (you know, tempura, gyoza, gyudon, tonkatsu). Sashimi is always a staple.

I can't figure out what a staple is in this context. Nor can I judge if it means that there is or there is not any sashimi to be found. The whole sentence seems to me a bit awkwardly styled in this paragraph.

Am I missing something and if so what?

  • 14
    Have you checked a dictionary? Sense 4 here
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 16, 2018 at 10:22
  • 19
    @KonradViltersten - To avoid such misunderstanding (and save others providing a link), next time you might add the link yourself - to show you did the effort. Yes, you might looked to dictionary, but from your question it was not obvious. ESP is very flaky over TCP/IP :-) Apr 16, 2018 at 13:41
  • 2
    I've seen many straight up definition requests mis-tagged with meaning-in-context. The key to phrasing a true "meaning-in-context" question is to include your interpretation of the context, the definitions you already know or have found, and some explanation as to why you find these things incompatible. All three elements are needed for people to really understand and properly help.
    – Gossar
    Apr 17, 2018 at 1:29
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    "I know that X usually means A and I found out that it can also mean B according to dictionary D. But here in this quote Y (which seems to be about Z) neither of these makes sense. If X means A in this context, then qwerty and if it means B, then azerty. I think definition B is closer to making sense here because C, but I feel like I'm still missing something. How does the meaning of X change in the specific context of Y?"
    – Gossar
    Apr 17, 2018 at 1:32
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    @KonradViltersten - BTW don't feel bad about not providing the link. You want to learn and improve how you interact with ELL, which is already better than 95% of average visitors. Apr 17, 2018 at 13:47

3 Answers 3


A staple is short for a staple food. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about this term:

A staple food, or simply a staple, is a food that is eaten routinely and in such quantities that it constitutes a dominant portion of a standard diet for a given people, supplying a large fraction of energy needs and generally forming a significant proportion of the intake of other nutrients as well. The staple food of a specific society may be eaten as often as every day or every meal, and most people live on a diet based on just a small number of staples.

So, sashimi is always a staple probably means that you can always find sashimi in any formal Japanese restaurant as it's such an inalienable part of Japan's dietary culture that one simply cannot imagine a decent food place where something based on sashimi is not found.

  • Aha, just to verify that I got you right - check my comment on CharlieB's reply, please. It's the second alternative, right? Expected dishes are missing but sashimi is present despite that surprise. Correct? Apr 16, 2018 at 12:29
  • @KonradViltersten Yes.
    – jaxad0127
    Apr 16, 2018 at 16:26
  • @Konrad Viltersten Correct. At least, that's what it appears to be saying. Apr 16, 2018 at 18:13
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    @KonradViltersten: I don't see the need for any connective such as "but". The original paragraph can be summarized as: "Characteristics of a formal meal in Japan: Rice goes last. There is no dessert. There is no Americanized, sweet, or fried food. There is usually raw fish." You could perceive a "but/however" connection between the last two items in this list (Americans expect gyoza but get sashimi); but you could equally well just take it as a list of four disconnected observations. Apr 17, 2018 at 2:29
  • In my experience in the US, there are Japanese restaurants where you can gorge yourself on sashimi as easily (though perhaps not as cheaply) as tempura, and others where sashimi is not on the menu. I would consider the latter kind of restaurant to have a limited menu, but I wonder if that kind is the typical kind in the experience of the writer of the quoted passage. If so, to the writer, sashimi would not be one of the "usual" kinds of food, and far from a surprise, one would expect that the "usual" foods are likely to be replaced at least in part by sashimi.
    – David K
    Apr 17, 2018 at 12:16

There are two meanings for the word staple, and the first is the small metal fastener for paper which has probably caused this confusion. The second (which is the meaning used in your example) is:


noun: staple; plural noun: staples

  1. a main or important element of something. Example: "bread, milk, and other staples"

So in your example, this means that although the usual dishes that we see in Japanese restaurants in other countries are not included in the set meals, Sashimi is always available and is considered a main dish.

  • Nope, sorry. Still don't get it. I understand there are multiple meanings and it's obviously not the office supply here. But what do they mean in the quoted text? As I wrote in the question - it seems that they mention that despite the common expectation based on what we're familiar with in the West, x, y and z are not present in the restaurant in Japan. Then - sashimi is a staple. So... Is it a main part of the expected but missing dishes? Or is it such an important part of the cuisine so that it is present despite the other dishes missing?! Apr 16, 2018 at 12:27
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    @Konrad Viltersten: Your question is really not about the word staple but about the apparent lack of a connective word like however or nonetheless. You're questioning the underlying logic of the syntax, not the meaning of the word.
    – TimR
    Apr 16, 2018 at 12:31
  • @KonradViltersten updated my answer. I can't comment below Michael's answer, but what you put there is correct.
    – CharlieB
    Apr 16, 2018 at 12:51
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo I'm prone to agree with you. One way or the other, I wasn't sure which way the author was leaning. I assumed that it's due to my ignorance of some aspect of the English language and made a judgement call diagnosing it as word in context. Feel free to edit the wording of the question, should you feel that a change is of benefit for the clarity. Thanks. Apr 17, 2018 at 13:41

It is an awkward and poorly expressed paragraph.

  • It is factually wrong (rice is served with the meal not after, tempura can be part of a formal meal, sashimi is frequently, but not always, served).
  • It would be clearer with a word like "However" to link to the final sentence.
  • It misuses the word staple. It is poor phrasing to say "X is always a staple", as a food is either a staple or not. Properly "staple" should refer to a food-type, not a prepared dish. Rice is a staple food in Japanese cooking, as bread is in Western cuisine, but a riceball or sandwich are not staples.

The writer should say "However, sashimi is often served".

  • +1 to that. It was very clear and tothepointy. When I went back to reread the article, I immediately got the point this time. Thanks mate! Apr 17, 2018 at 13:43

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