Before visiting the world’s 5th largest island nation and discovering these 7 foods in Japan that aren’t sushi, that food was practically all I knew to anticipate eating. My first experience with sushi, some 13 years ago, was the cheap supermarket variety that nearly made me vomit upon contact with my tongue – mostly because I didn’t expect “raw” fish to mean actually uncooked seafood. Since that time I’ve come to try higher quality sushi in several countries that weren’t named Japan, yet wondered, as many of you have, is sushi better in Japan than elsewhere?
I waited a few days before stumbling into Uogashi Nihon-Ichi in the Jimbocho area of Tokyo, a part of town known for its independent and original eateries of all sorts. With no common language between us aside from sushi, I pointed shyly to a simple sashimi sitting in front of me – and the itamae handled the rest. Sushi is serious business in Japan, both literally (over 100 billion dollars worth annually) and culturally, when you begin the generally quick 15-minute meal. The itamae (another term for sushi chef) guides your selection of rolls based on your previous orders to give you the ideal gustatory sensation. Some rolls are held in hand by the itamae to bring them to body temperature prior to serving, while others should be eaten at milder room temperature.
Soy sauce is your option with spicy wasabi typically placed in each roll or between the rice and fish by your itamae server. The secret to the superior taste of Japanese sushi is in the quality of its ingredients. For example, Uogashi Nihon-Ichi gets their fish daily from two markets (the famous Tsukiji and Ota) with agreements to make early bids for a higher quality catch. Aside from the fish, rice, and other ingredients, there’s something to be said for the personal care devoted to the culinary experience throughout the thousands of sushi restaurants in Japan.
To see a detailed look at sushi passion in one special Tokyo restaurant, I highly recommend you watch the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I did my best to visit the famous Sukiyabashi Jiro, but unfortunately reservations had to be made more than a month in advance when I tried to make (my usual) last-minute arrangements.