Tag Archives: Japanese

Ways to Identify Bad Sushi Restaurants

27 Nov

By virtue of the mass amounts of information circulating in today’s world of ever-growing technology and social media, it is almost impossible to be taken completely by surprise by a restaurant’s quality. Namely, people don’t go to 5-star restaurants expecting to eat fast food, and people don’t eat $1 pizza expecting a slice of Italy. So it goes without saying that people tend to roughly know the quality of the fish they are about to eat when they dine at a sushi restaurant. Just in case, however, I have decided to include a couple of pointers aimed at identifying sushi places that could potentially be worse than you think when you walk in. I have chosen not to include such obvious signs as buying sushi in odd places such as pharmacies, the cleanliness of the restaurant, etc.

1. A roll piece is bigger than the ‘ok’ sign – Make the ‘ok’ sign by connecting your thumb and index finger. Roll pieces in the best of Japanese restaurants will be around half that size. Anything as big or bigger than the sign and you’re dealing with poor quality sushi and a lot of rice.

2. The ginger is very rose/dark in color – Not always an accurate measure of the sushi’s quality, but a good rough estimate. Better sushi restaurants tend to serve fresh ginger, which is white in color rather than straight from the package ginger, which is rose or darker in color.

3. Buffet/all-you-can-eat sushi – Need I say more? There’s a reason you are getting a ‘bargain’ for $12.95.

4. Several rolls feature interesting names/ingredients – Sure, I enjoy a guilty pleasure now and then and order some exotic roll containing cream cheese, asparagus, mango, and/or filet mignon, but you’re not going to find any top quality sushi restaurants serving ‘Spicy Mexican’ or ‘Crazy Dragon’ rolls. Not sure if an ingredient is unorthodox? It probably is.

5. The sushi bar chef is not Japanese – Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure there are many places not owned by people of Japanese origin, but at the end of the day sushi is a truly exquisite Japanese treat, and just like any ethnic cuisine, the best sushi will be found in Japanese-run restaurants.

6. Artificial crab is used – You cannot expect much quality from any place that stuffs crab stick into rolls or serves pieces of artificial crab as nigiri pieces.

7. Pieces of nigiri or sashimi are paper thin/too much rice is used – It is hard to explain the exact colors that certain cuts of fish should be, even though this is the best way of telling the quality. An easier way of surmising its quality before consumption is noticing how thick it is cut – poor quality places will often include a large amount of rice with the thin cut of fish. All-you-can-eat sushi joints often use this trick with vinegar-ized rice to fill you up quicker.

Common Sushi Eating Mistakes

25 Oct

Upon watching my girlfriend drown an innocent chunk of yellowtail in a pool of soy sauce, I decided to quickly share a few of sushi-related eating errors I have noticed over the years:

1. Too Much Soy Sauce – You ordered sushi because you like the delicate and different tastes of raw fish, right? Submerging a piece of sushi in soy sauce kills the very taste of the fish that you have ordered, and in essence, renders the differences between restaurants moot. While we’re on the subject, I have been told by Japanese friends that it is customary and polite to fill the small soy sauce dish up only partially, and re-fill if needed, rather than filling it to the brim at first.

2. Eating Sushi with Fingers – Those wooden sticks that you probably think are impossible to use? Yeah, those are for eating the fish that you order. A friend recently told me that he thought it was polite in Japanese culture to eat sushi with your fingers. Wrong wrong wrong. Try eating with your fingers at the next five-star restaurant that you go to and see the looks that you get. Same principle.

3. Putting Ginger on Top of Pieces – The pickled ginger that is provided with virtually every sushi dish is to cleanse the palate between different cuts of fish. It provides a refreshing and strong flavor between bites, contrasting the fish that accompanies it. Heaping it on top of a slab of fresh tuna or yellowtail makes it impossible to taste the actual fish (see mistake #1).

4. Eating a Piece in Multiple Bites – This is a common mistake that I have been guilty of myself. Often, a piece of sushi will be too large for one bite, or I will want to savor a piece and divide it into two bites. Not only can breaking up a piece of sushi cause a great mess, but it is considered proper to eat each piece in one big bite. This belief stems from the principle that good sushi will be small enough to do this. (This is where you realize that the ‘cooked fish roll’ you picked up from Duane Reade yesterday sadly cannot be considered ‘good sushi.’)

5. Ordering only Rolls – Beginner sushi eaters will often order solely rolls, which they consider a safe bet. There is a reason for this – experienced sushi eaters like sushi for the distinct and various tastes of each type of fish, and not for disproportionate amounts of rice and seaweed, not to mention amateur desires like, GASP, spicy mayonnaise, masking the fish’s taste.

6. Saving Hand Rolls for the End – This is without a doubt the most nit-picky ‘mistake’ on the list, and serves more as a piece of advice than a request to change etiquette. Hand rolls are generally constructed by wrapping a large sheet of nori seaweed around the fish and rice, as if enclosing the ingredients in a blanket. This seaweed is often crisp, and should be eaten first to ensure that the seaweed does not become soggy, ensuring maximum freshness.

7. Eating Sushi on Sundays – In general, sushi served on Sunday will have actually been caught several days earlier. Japanese restaurants do not get fish delivered on Sundays (and sometimes not even on Saturdays), and this is a reason that many notable sushi places are also closed on Mondays.

8. Freshwater Fish as Sashimi? – I will leave this last topic open to debate. A handful of Japanese friends have informed me that it is not custom to eat fish from rivers, i.e. freshwater fish such as salmon, raw. More to follow as there have been various publications and websites musing about the topic now for quite awhile.

So there you have it. I tried not to mention any obvious errors of a sushi-eaters, such as ordering rolls named after American states (think: California, Philadelphia), going to All-U-Can-Eat establishments, or dunking your sushi in spicy mayo (may have briefly mentioned that one…). I will try to post common mistakes made by sushi restaurants as well.

Also, thoroughly enjoyed a meal at Shibui tonight. Look for a review in the coming days!