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.
Of course! This is precisely the reason why I am so hesitant to eat sushi (and patronize other Japanese restaurants) outside Japan, because I have lived there for 5 years and know what good Japanese food is about. It simply is so hard to replicate, and there are more times I was disappointed than not. I have this idea that proximity to the ocean is a big criterion; when I was in Buffalo, I found no Japanese restaurants able to match, and only when I was in Boston did I stumble upon one that was close to the Japanese standard I now miss quite a bit.
awesome post, anil. i loved japan and the food had a huge part to do with it – so many unforgettable experiences. and i really enjoyed that jiro documentary, although we never had the chance to check out his restaurant. next time! 🙂
Yes, I too had the same experience you described on my initial taste of cheap supermarket sushi. Thanks to your description here and the entertaining video, I’m looking forward to trying sushi in Japan. Thanks for the post!
You’re very welcome!
Just returned from Japan. Japan is the best in sushi making. It’s hard to come close to authentic Japanese cuisine in the United States. I went to some restaurant in the Narita airport and their sushi was excellent.