Japan’s sushi restaurants range from some of the finest cuisine in the world, to cheerful conveyer-belt gigs where everything is 100 yen (oh, alright then, 108 yen) and comes with a free toy. For those of us accustomed to the “sushi-go-round” that is kaiten-zushi, visiting a “proper” sushi restaurant in Japan where there’s no rotating belt of plates to choose from can be a daunting experience.

When there’s no menu, and you’re alone at the counter, quivering under the watchful eye of an intimidating chef armed with giant swishy blades, how do you order with confidence? Who better to ask than a sushi itamae, a high-end chef of Japanese cuisine. One of our intrepid Japanese reporters went to ask one of these top sushi chaps, who gave us his best three tips for sounding like you know what you’re doing at the counter.

“Gimme something giant!!!” is probably not the right way to begin.


#3 – Name your price

When you visit a sushi restaurant in Japan, you can choose a set-priced o-makase (the chef’s choice; o-makase literally means “leave it up to you”). But you can also tell the chef how much you want to spend, instead. “Many people order the ‘special’ or ‘extra special’ o-makase, but when I hear someone name their own price instead and say ‘I’ll leave it up to you’, I know they know what they’re doing”, our expert says.

Telling the chef what your price-range is doesn’t necessarily mean you’re spending a lot – but it allows him to serve up as many delicious plates as you can afford. And in asking that of the chef, you’re also recognising and honouring his talent and experience. That’s what we call a win-win situation!

▼ It’s not about the money, money, money… (except for when it is).

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 22.25.33hiroyuki/YouTube

#2 – Gimme what’s good today!

Similar to the o-makase, asking the chef to serve what’s fresh today is a sure-fire sign of a customer who knows their stuff. “When I hear that, I know I can’t serve them anything that’s a bit lacking”, explains our man. “It makes me nervous! But it also actually makes my job a bit easier, as I can just serve up what I think the best thing we have today is.”

▼ It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get your green tea in a cup like this, but we reckon it’d be useful when ordering.


And finally, the number one tip, which as you might hope for from an expert in his field, is something of a wild card:

#1 – First off, order the cheapest nigiri on the menu

“When a first-time customer comes in alone and orders the nami nigiri [the cheapest chef’s selection of ordinary sushi], I’m 100 percent certain they know what they’re doing.” It might sound backwards, but ordering the nami (並 “ordinary”) instead of the more expensive jou (上, “special”) or tokujo (特上 “super-awesome special”), can actually work to single you out as a sushi pro. “If it’s good,” he explains, “you can keep ordering and try something more expensive, and if it’s no good, you can get the bill and go someplace else. That’s what people doing the rounds of different sushi restaurants do.”

Well there we have it! We’ve always felt a bit like a dirty skinflint ordering the nami every time, but it turns out we were signalling ourselves to be sushi experts! Now we can order sushi like a boss – which is to say, in unintimidated contentment.

Top image: luckykaerufabric/etsy
[ Read in Japanese ]