Secrets you want to know about eating at sushi bar

Secrets you want to know about eating at sushi bar

Eating at a sushi bar is fun! I’ll teach you secrets you want to know about eating at sushi bar and how to enjoy it. Be knowledgeable and brave – it’ll pay off. 

Secrets you want to know about eating at sushi bar

secrets you want to know about eating at sushi bar

Eating at a sushi bar could be intimidating. There seem to be lots of “silent” rules and sushi etiquette. What to do and what you shouldn’t do to offend sushi chefs? How to eat sushi properly? What about the sushi ingredients? NO WORRIES!

Let’s learn the secrets you want to know about eating at the sushi bar so that you can be confident and enjoy eating at a sushi bar!

TIPS: Don’t listen to many of “sushi etiquette” online. So many people don’t know what they’re talking about, which makes me laugh!

Eating sushi bar is fun, not intimidating! Sushi chefs are hell a lot nicer than you think! I was born and raised in Tokyo, here to help you enjoy sushi better!

If you want the best sushi, you MUST sit at the sushi bar – especially if you go to the great sushi bar. Otherwise, what’s the point of going to a sushi bar? It’s not that you get less quality stuff when you sit at the table (though it could be true sometimes). There are some reasons why you should eat at a sushi bar:

You have opportunities to interact with sushi chef

If you sit at the table, you only get what you ordered on the menu, nothing else. When you sit at the bar, you’re given opportunities to interact with a chef. If you communicate with the chef, the chef can understand your preference better and come up with something better based on it – a lot more than you expected.

Chef will show off hidden gem (if you could get along)

Once you talk, the chef would understand what you like and what you don’t like. Chef wants you to enjoy it more, so the chef is likely to give you something special that is available only for a few pieces for the day and/or something off the menu or special only for you to impress you.

You can get what you want – Not what the chef wants to give you

You have preferences: more/no wasabi, not liking octopus, love uni, etc. The chef most likely has a plan in his/her mind for guests already (whatever the reasons are – maybe the chef wants to get rid of some items, something special for the day, etc.) – despite your preference.

Surprisingly, the chef is willing to switch/adjust the plan for you, ONLY IF you communicate. So tell the chef what you want as much as you can before ordering.

It applies to even “Omakase”. I know you’re not supposed to ask for your requests on Omakase. But why not? I think that’s a total newbie move! I have some items I must have and some items I don’t want when I eat sushi. So I’ll tell the chef about it first so that I can get what I want and let the chef work for the rest.

It’s totally ok to do so. I get a lot more respect if I do – because it shows the chef that I know what I’m talking about and my respect for his/her skills and creativity (you don’t challenge if the chef isn’t skilled, right?). A chef is here to serve you. Good sushi chefs love challenges and set the menu – just for you.

You can build rapport with chef

The more you talk/visit, the better the chef takes care of you. You could understand your chef better while you’re offering the chef drinks. The chef can know your preferences more while having a conversation. The chef could go extra steps to enhance your experience to the maximum extent. Trust the chef’s judgment, show respect, and build rapport. A chef will love that. You can’t do it at the table.

How to enjoy sushi at sushi bar – like a pro 

1. Check the sushi display case first!

Check the fish in the sushi display case (at the sushi bar) to see which fish looks great. You can judge the fish quality visually. Oxidation is the enemy – it changes the fish color darker, dries out the surface, and lessens the quality. That’s why much uncut fish are wrapped up well to prevent it.

A general rule of thumb: The older the fish gets, the darker its color gets.

Fresh fish should NEVER smell fishy. You can’t always tell it all, but at least you could judge the quality enough visually. I’d avoid the ones that look darker/dull (FYI: it doesn’t always apply to all the fish) and try good looking ones.

2. Sit in front of the owner or older chef than younger ones

Making great sushi requires lots of time and skills. Oftentimes in Japan, it takes a few years (and more) just to wash sushi rice, a few years more to make “shari” (sushi rice in Japanese), many more years to be able to make nigiri sushi – Sushi is deep. Sushi chefs need to step up from the bottom up. Hence, it’s safe to say “go for an older chef (more skills and experience)” for better sushi and experience.

3. Tell your sushi chef about wasabi

Typically sushi comes with wasabi, yet some sushi bars serve you sushi without wasabi as a default. If you don’t want it, tell the chef first. If the chef put too much wasabi, just tell him/her right away. The chef is willing to accommodate your requests.

4. Tell your sushi chef what you want, what you like, and what you don’t like

Omakase or not, it’s very important to tell the chef your preference first. Based on your preference and what the chef has, the chef will plan, decide the items and their order. The order of items is critical. So tell the chef your basic needs first when you order.

5. Communicate if needed

The chef will ask you whether if you like your sushi or not – even while your eating. Communication is very important! Interaction with the chef enhances your experience – the chef can’t read between the lines. (well, some great ones do). If you don’t like it, tell the chef right away. The chef can always accommodate and adjust the next items for you.

That’s one of the best parts of eating at a sushi bar. You can’t do that if you sit at the table. Eating at a sushi bar is actually fun! You want to see the surprises that a skilled sushi chef can make – just for you.

6. Ask questions to the chef

Ask questions, the chef will be happy to talk to you. No chef will ever expect you to be a sushi expert. They’re there to serve you.

Eating at a sushi bar is a great opportunity to try new things and learn more about sushi. “Where is this fish from?” “When is the usual season?” “How else is it usually prepared?” However, observe how busy the chef is and be aware of when to engage him in conversation.

7. Skip cut rolls at sushi bar

There are so many better things than sushi roll – sashimi, sushi and appetizers. Why do you waste your money and opportunity to enjoy something you can only get at the sushi bar? Great sushi chefs can make amazing appetizers – even stuff off the menu, too. You can never get that if you sit at the regular table.

It’s ok to order the cut roll at the end. But if you order only cut rolls and teriyaki chicken dinner combo at the sushi bar, you’ll definitely embarrass yourself. Leave the cut rolls for dining at the regular table or to-go.

8. Go outside your comfort zone

Sushi is all about enjoying the taste of the ingredient. Many sushi ingredients might not be familiar to you, but don’t be afraid. Try “uni” (sea urchin) and “ankimo” (monkfish liver). You might love those unfamiliar!

9. Trust your chef and enjoy!

Once you tell the chef what you want, trust the chef, and let him/her do the work (for you). Buy a drink for the chef and enjoy your meal with the chef. However, just be considerate on the amount of alcohol consumption for the chef who has to work! 

The right way to order sushi

If you don’t want to think about it, choose “omakase”: you let the chef decide what sushi to give you. You can order sushi in any way you like, but it’s better to follow certain orders (especially if you don’t know what you’re talking about).

A basic rule of thumb: From light to heavy / sweet.

If you eat sweet unagi before snapper, you’ll ruin the delicacy of light snapper flavor. It’s good to progress from light to heavy. 

  • Start with a mild white fish – flounder, red snapper, or sea bream.
  • Order red fish with stronger flavors – fatty toro tuna or yellowtail.
  • Eat some gari or sip green tea to cleanse your palate.
  • Order hikarimono – mackerel, sardines, and Pacific saury.
  • After the above strong flavors, go back to a simple neta – octopus or squid.
  • Try some bold shellfish – abalone, scallop, and then shrimp.
  • Finally something sweet and bold – eat uni (sea urchin) or eel. 
  • Finish with Kappa maki (cucumber roll) or tamago (egg)

Conclusion: Eating at sushi bars is so fun! Now you cover all the basics and more, so you can be confident and enjoy eating sushi at sushi bars a lot more!

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