[Ultimate Sushi Guide] Learn the Manners and Tips and Visit Tokyo's Best Sushi Restaurants!
Sushi is one of the most well-known Japanese foods, and a guide to sushi restaurants in Tokyo might be just up your alley! In this article, we will introduce popular sushi restaurants in Tokyo that provide easy online reservations in multiple languages. We've also picked the brains of professional sushi chefs and compiled together their top tips and manners to keep in mind while dining at a sushi restaurant. Take a look and make a trip out to these restaurants and you'll be guaranteed an unforgettable sushi experience!
Nov 29 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
*This article is written in collaboration with Savor Japan.
Turn Into a Sushi Connoisseur With These Useful Sushi Terms!
Before we jump into the intricate world of sushi etiquette, let's first start off by introducing a few sushi-related jargon that you may or may not have heard of before. If you take the time to learn these terms, you might even catch these words being used at a sushi restaurant, and you might even be able to strike up a conversation with the sushi chef, too!
The commonly used term for sushi toppings, such as seafood ingredients. The salmon that sits on top of your nigiri? Yep, that's neta!
Sushi rice is called "shari". It's commonly flavored with vinegar, sugar, and salt. Shari plays a very crucial role in the flavors of sushi and shouldn't be overlooked!
"Murasaki" is the Japanese word for the color purple, but in the sushi world, it's the term used for soy sauce. It's said that during the Edo period (1603-1868), soy sauce was referred to as murasaki because of its purple color. It was also believed that, as soy sauce was regarded as a luxury ingredient in olden days, it was dubbed "murasaki" due to the view of purple as a symbol of wealth in Japan.
Other ways to say wasabi. "Namida" means "tears", and it was named this because it can cause one's eyes to start watering after eating a bit too much of it at one time or getting a huge whiff of its sharp, distinct smell.
Nigiri is what most people think of when it comes to sushi - sushi rice seasoned with sugar, vinegar, and salt, then topped with items like seafood or egg. Gunkan is a type of sushi in which a strip of seaweed is wrapped around the rice to form a "boat" shape then topped with a neta. The name "gunkan" (or "battleship") comes from its boat-like appearance.
"Zuke" is derived from the words "tsukemono" (Japanese pickles) or "shoyuzuke" (soy sauce marinade), a preparation method that was born in olden times with the aim of preserving food for long periods of time.
Gyoku is another way to read the first character of the kanji characters for tamago (egg). Sushi topped with tamagoyaki (Japanese egg omelet) is one of the standard choices for sushi. It's even said that you can determine the skills of a sushi restaurant's chefs by the quality of their tamagoyaki.
If you ever go to a sushi restaurant, you'll almost certainly see these thin slices of pickled ginger, which are called "gari". They have a slight sweetness with a little kick of spice, which has the effect of washing away any residual flavors from fatty fish so that you can taste your next bite of sushi with a clean slate.
You've probably experienced difficulties deciding what to order at a sushi restaurant. With the omakase, you'll not only be rid of the burden of poring over the menu, but you'll also be served all the sushi chef's top neta recommendations! The sushi is served one at a time to ensure they are enjoyed at their peak state of deliciousness, and it often features seasonal ingredients and seafood stocked fresh daily.
The hot green tea served at sushi restaurants at the end of the meal. The word "agari" includes the meaning of "the last item". The type of tea served differs by sushi restaurant, but Japanese green tea and bancha (coarse green tea) are the most common. You'll feel nice and relaxed after wrapping up your delicious meal of sushi with a cup of hot green tea.
This article seeks to briefly go over all the different aspects of the sushi experience. For a comprehensive list of sushi toppings that you should check out, see our article here!
First-Timer Tips for Elevating Your Sushi Experience
How much do you know about correctly eating sushi? Well, an editor here at tsunagu Japan went out and asked professional sushi chefs about tips and tricks to know when eating sushi so that we can help you in fully enjoying your upcoming sushi meal!
Struggling with Chopsticks? Hands Are A-OK!
If you're not too confident in your chopstick skills, feel free to use your hands instead. If you're having trouble picking up nigiri with either your hands or your chopsticks, one tip is to knock it on its side first so that you're securely gripping both the topping and the rice. Freshly prepared sushi in particular is very delicate and comes apart easily as the rice is still warm, so be sure to give this trick a go.
Ask for No Wasabi for Less Heat
Although this varies depending on the neta, sushi is usually served with wasabi applied in between the neta and the shari. If you know you're not good at handling the spicy wasabi flavor, you can try ordering your sushi without wasabi, or "sabinuki".
Dipping in Soy Sauce: Rice or Fish?
Soy sauce adds a nice touch of flavor to round out each mouthful of sushi. When you eat sushi, which part do you dip into the soy sauce? Take a look at the two images above - which one do you think is the correct way to dip your sushi? (Correct answer: the second one!)
Many people often go straight in by dipping only the rice, but ideally you want the soy sauce to touch the topping. If you dunk the shari into it, it's likely to lose its shape and make it harder to eat. The saucer will be completely filled with scattered grains of rice by the end as well!
Eat Your Sushi Upside Down
This might be a bit of a surprise, but when eating sushi, it's recommended that you keep it sushi face-down as you place it into your mouth. The reason for this is so that you can immediately taste the full and fresh flavors of the fish as it hits your tongue.
Eat in Order From Light to Heavy
This won't be an issue for those who order omakase, which is served a piece at a time, but if you order sushi right off the menu or get a lavish platter of sushi, the order in which you choose to eat it is very important. The correct order is to go from light, simple flavored fish, then work your way towards fatty fishes and bolder flavors. By warming up with a refreshing, lean start, then wrapping up with some powerful heavy hitters, you'll be able to fully savor each and every bite without having the stronger flavors overpower the others.
Ask for the Daily Recommendations
Don't be afraid to ask the sushi chefs for their recommendations! They know the best of what's in season, so you really can't go wrong. Just keep in mind that toppings that aren't on the regular menu are often served at market value and you won't see the prices written anywhere, so feel free to ask about prices before ordering.
Learn About Proper Sushi Etiquette to Enjoy Sushi to the Fullest
As with many traditional cuisines in the world, sushi also has a set of distinct etiquette rules. We asked the sushi chefs at the three sushi restaurants we'll introduce below about sushi manners. These are rules that you'll want to keep in mind especially when seated at counter seats of authentic, high-class sushi restaurants. They are a form of respect to the chefs, so it's a good idea to read and learn more so that you don't accidentally commit some form of sushi faux pas.
Just a Dab of Soy Sauce
You only need a little bit of soy sauce, and you should try to avoid dipping it for too long. You'll find that some customers pour more soy sauce than needed into their saucer, then drop their sushi into it. You need less than you think (refer to the picture above). At traditional sushi restaurants in particular, sushi is often brushed with soy sauce and seasoned beforehand, so it can be considered rude to the chef to add too much, similar to how Western chefs find it insulting when customers add extra salt before first trying their dish. Dip only just enough so that you can taste the sushi how the chef intended.
One Piece, One Bite
Sushi is not typically meant to be eaten in several bites. If possible, you should eat each piece in one bite. Sizes may vary depending on the topping or the amount of rice, but if it's too large, you can also request them to make it smaller for you.
Eat Sushi Immediately After Its Served
This rule applies specifically to omakase courses, where the chefs serve you a piece of sushi one by one. As soon as they place it in front of you, you should eat it right away to appreciate the fresh quality and taste. The chef takes great effort to consider the best flavor at the most optimal moment when serving it to you, so try not to let it sit too long.
Be Mindful of Strong Smells Like Perfume, Cologne, and Cigarette Smoke
The experience of slowly delving into the flavors of each and every bite of sushi is what high-end sushi restaurants are all about. This is why it's absolutely crucial that customers refrain from wearing any strong fragrances such as perfume or cologne, as it will affect the flavors of the sushi. Take care not to bother other customers with any overwhelming scents.
Make a Reservation in Advance! 3 Recommended Sushi Restaurants in Tokyo for Delicious, Authentic Sushi
Now that you've gathered a decent amount of knowledge about everything sushi, you're probably worked up quite an appetite for it! We'll introduce three amazing, high-quality sushi restaurants in Tokyo so that you can enjoy the full sushi experience!
Sushi is not only incredibly popular with Japanese locals, but also with many visitors from abroad, so reservations are an absolute must at popular spots. You can easily make a reservation at all of the sushi restaurants we'll be introducing in this article through a popular food guide website called Savor Japan. The website is available in English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and Korean, which makes it super easy to place reservations. Take a trip out to these restaurants and show off some of the information that you've picked up in this article!
Sushi-Takehan Wakatsuki (Ebisu)
Sushi-Takehan Wakatsuki is tucked away in the stylish, sophisticated neighborhood of Ebisu. They specialize in Edomae sushi (Edo-style sushi), which was first born in the early 1800s and is characterized by the harmonious combination of sushi rice and neta skillfully prepared with various techniques such as salt and vinegar seasoning, steaming, and boiling.
The restaurant has a stylish and classy design with a relaxing, special atmosphere lit by the warmth of the wooden interior. There are 14 seats in total, and while the seats are very close in proximity to the chef, in comparison to your average sushi restaurant, the space is very wide and comfortable, with long counter tables and ample room from seat to seat. It's a great place for any situation, from family dinners and meet ups with friends, to special occasions like business meetings and dates. It's guaranteed to provide you with memories of an unforgettable meal.
The traditional sushi rice used in Edomae sushi is red sushi rice, which is made with akazu (red vinegar, brewed with sake lees) instead of white rice vinegar, and has a unique sweetness and stronger fragrance. While most sushi bars have switched over to white vinegar and it's not common anymore to use akazu, Sushi-Takehan Wakatsuki has kept to tradition, serving up exquisite pieces of nigiri made with akazu rice, so you'll be able to taste authentic Edomae sushi.
The only available option on their menu is omakase, and reservations must be placed in advance. You'll be guaranteed only the top seafood of the season, as the restaurant owner picks up fresh seafood from Toyosu Fish Market daily, and also directly receives the best ocean treasures from his hometown in Shimane Prefecture. If there's anything you aren't able to eat, you can mention it to the chef beforehand, and they will gladly adjust according to your preferences.
You can tell just by a simple glance that everything they serve will taste amazing, but the top recommendation here is their original item, the Torotaku Nigiri (lower right image). It features minced fatty tuna and pickled radish with salted kombu (seaweed) and a generous serving of fresh wasabi on top, which they grate right in front of you. The combination of creamy tuna and the crunch of sweet, tangy radish accented with kombu and wasabi with a cloud-like texture will absolutely be an unforgettable experience.
English menus are available, and some of the staff can provide simple explanations in English as well. Be sure to check out Sushi-Takehan Wakatsuki to experience up-front seats to the art of sushi in a stylish and comfortable atmosphere.
Tsukiji Koromo Sushi (Tsukiji)
Tsukiji is a market that receives daily shipment of fresh ingredients from all across Japan, and it's also one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Japan, bringing together top chefs, foodies, and tourists from around the world. Tsukiji Koromo Sushi newly opened its doors in the spring of 2018 in the outer market of this famed neighborhood, and serves up authentic Edomae sushi at very affordable prices.
The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere with only nine counter seats, so customers will be able to feel connected and close to the sushi chef. The day's fresh stock of seasonal seafood sourced from the market line the insides of the wooden sushi topping boxes placed on the counter, so you can get a good look at what's available right before your very own eyes.
Their menu includes English and Chinese explanations, so you don't have to worry about ordering if you can't read Japanese. While you can order both a la carte and omakase courses, the top recommendations here are the nigiri sets, which provide top-notch ingredients of the day at very reasonable prices. The Maguro Nigiri Set shown in the picture above features tuna, a long-beloved favorite of many sushi fanatics, and here you can try all the big tuna hits - akami, chutoro, otoro - plus a seared otoro version called aburi otoro.
There are other attractive neta on offer here, such as the kohada (gizzard shad), which has a stunning presentation that makes it look like a silver pearl of the ocean, and the delightfully fluffy anago (conger eel).
In regards to sushi sets, the sushi chef here recommends the Hon Maguro Tokusen Salmon Nigiri (3,500 yen excl. tax) for lunch and the Tokujo Nigiri (4,200 yen excl. tax) for dinner, so if you're having a hard time choosing what to order, you definitely can't go wrong with these choices.
Depending on the day's stock, you might even be able to try different types of sea urchin! It's not a commonly available option, but if you're lucky, you might be able to try and compare the tastes and textures of various sea urchin along with some premium sake.
If you're looking for fresh, high-quality, skillfully prepared sushi at a reasonable price, Tsukiji Koromo Sushi is the place for you! They open as early as 8 am, so how about dropping by early in the morning for a quick, luxurious meal to start off your day?
Make a reservation with Savor Japan and get a coupon for 1 free drink per party.
Otaru Masazushi Ginza (Ginza)
Otaru Masazushi is a well-known sushi restaurant that was established over 80 years ago in the port city of Otaru in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido. Hokkaido is famous even within Japan for its exceptional bounty of fresh and delicious seafood, and you can try sushi prepared with fresh ingredients from Hokkaido in the busy Tokyo neighborhood of Ginza at Otaru Masazushi Ginza!
The restaurant takes great care in sourcing fresh seafood daily from Hokkaido. Unlike the other two sushi restaurants introduced, since Otaru Masazushi's roots lay in Hokkaido, they also follow a different style of sushi from Edomae sushi called Ezomae (Hokkaido-style) sushi, which is made with seafood freshly caught in Hokkaido's waters and served unseasoned and raw to showcase the freshness of the ingredients.
The restaurant is very spacious, with several seating options available, including table seats, counter seats, and even six private rooms. The counter seats are a treat, as you'll be able to see the sushi chefs hard at work right in front of you, but the cozy private rooms designed with refined Japanese aesthetics are recommended to those who want to comfortable dine in private with family, friends, and so on. You'll completely forget that you're in the heart of Tokyo when you sit down for a meal here surrounded by the gorgeous interiors and the excellent service.
Another great feature here is the wide variety of courses on offer. You can choose the course that best suits your budget, with lunch platters that range from 3,240 – 7,000 yen and dinner courses that range from 8,000 - 12,000 yen. The most popular lunch course is the Otaru (5,500 yen incl. tax), which comes with 12 pieces of sushi, including otoro (fatty tuna), botan ebi (botan shrimp), and uni (sea urchin), along with appetizers, soup, and dessert. If you decide to come for dinner, you'll want to go with their popular Omakase course (10,000 yen incl. tax), which consists of a generous serving of the chef's top picks of the day.
If you don't want to go all in with a course, you can also order a la carte. English menus are available as well, so you can pick out delicious seasonal neta that you're interested in tasting. The sushi chef here especially recommends ordering uni, ikura (salmon roe), and botan ebi, as Hokkaido is especially famous for these. Come here to enjoy the stunning bounties of the ocean and that luxurious melt-in-the-mouth sensation that you won't be able to experience outside of Japan.
Make a reservation with Savor Japan and get a free drink when ordering a course.
Sushi is one of the most iconic foods in Japanese cuisine, and it's widely adored both within and outside of Japan. It's not an easy feat to pick up sushi vocabulary, learn about sushi etiquette and how to properly eat it, or even make a reservation at an established, authentic sushi restaurant in Japan, but we hope this article has helped in covering all of these points, and we hope that you are able to have some really amazing sushi while you're here in Japan!
*All prices listed above are estimates.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.