Sushi Etiquette (1 of 2)

Makizushi of Tuna and CucumberSome basic sushi etiquette tips from my article in Metropolis magazine. (text follows)

If you are worried about the cost of your meal, ask when making reservations what the average price is for an omakase (tasting) course. If you arrive without reservations, it’s best to ask before you sit down.

An obvious but oft-broken rule—especially when sitting at the counter—is that you should be a considerate diner. This means remembering that you’re not only sharing the space with other guests, but you are also sharing the chef. Avoid excessive noise and boisterous behavior.

If you are going to order piece-by-piece instead of asking for an omakase course, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what fish are in season at that time of year. In the spring, ask for katsuo (bonito); a fantastic summertime fish is iwashi (sardine); in the fall, sanma (Pacific saury) is at its peak; and wintertime is perfect forkanburi (winter yellowtail).

Alternately, you can converse with the chef about shun, or seasonal items. Some fish, like salmon, maguro,anagohamachi, and ika, are available year-round thanks to imports and farming operations.

Eat sushi with your fingers, not chopsticks. That’s what the oshibori is for!

Gari, the pickled ginger, is used as a palate cleanser. This should never be placed on top of a piece of sushi and eaten.

At some restaurants, the chef will season each item for you, so there’s no need to dip the sushi into soy sauce. If you decide that you do need shoyu, lightly dip a part of the fish side into the soy and put the whole piece in your mouth. Be careful not to dip the rice into the shoyu—it not only soaks up too much soy, but also will often fall apart.

The only other “rule” that comes with dining at a sushi restaurant is that you do not get drunk here—there are many other places available for that. It’s not a good idea to linger.

Very few independent sushi restaurants are open on Sundays. A safe bet is to visit department stores or hotels on Sundays or holidays when Tsukiji is closed. Don’t worry about freshness—hotel sushi restaurants and depachika counters will have good-quality sushi all year long. And, in fact, some fish taste better after they sit around for a day or two.

Sushi Etiquette part 2 of 2

B Kyu Gourmet – Cheap Eats in Tokyo B級グルメ


Here are some of my favorite restaurants that won’t break the bank. This article first appeared in Metropolis on November 5, 2009.

The most sought-after tables in recession-hit Tokyo can be found at so-called B-kyu gurume restaurants. These eateries typically specialize in a single cuisine—soba or tonkatsu, for example—served in simple settings without the lacquerware or heavy linens found at more upscale establishments. While B-kyu gurumerestaurants have always been around, the economic downturn has sparked a new interest in them, as reflected in the flurry of books, magazines and TV programs documenting the best finds throughout the city. Here are some of our favorites.

Nihonbashi Sapporoya

For an exceptionable bowl of ramen, try the hiyashi chukka goma dare (¥1,000) at Sapporoya in Nihonbashi. This basement restaurant, with only a few communal tables and chairs, serves up a large bowl of chilled noodles with tomatoes, cucumbers, ham, bamboo shoots, egg and more, topped with a creamy, nutty sesame-soy broth. The hot bowls of noodles are also excellent, notably the miso butter corn ramen. B1, 3-3-5 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3275-0024. Open Mon-Fri 11am-9:30pm, Sat 11am-4pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Nihonbashi or Tokyo (Yaesu exit).

Kanda Matsuya

Kanda Matsuya (pictured) has been serving up rustic, handmade soba noodles for three generations. While connoisseurs would advise simplicity with the mori sobaserved on a bamboo tray with a dipping sauce (¥600), we can not resist the ten-nanban, a hot bowl of soba noodles topped with shrimp tempura (¥950).
1-3 Kanda-Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3251-1556. Open Mon-Fri
11am-8pm, Sat & hols 11am-7pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Ogawamachi or

Tsukiji Market’s Nakaya Donburi

Tsukiji Market is filled with B-kyu gurume restaurants. While throngs of visitors are queued up at Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Dai, we prefer Nakaya Donburi, located just up the street. Nakaya specializes in rice bowls topped with seafood—make sure to ask about seasonal (shun) items that are only available a few weeks of each year, or check the handwritten menu outside the front door. Popular donburitoppings include creamy uni, vermillion-colored ikura, and fatty tuna, or you can combine all three for just ¥1,700—a steal. 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3541-0211. Open daily 6:30am-1:30pm (closed Tsukiji hols). Nearest stn: Tsukiji.

Santa Tonkatsu in Shinjuku

The tonkatsu at Santa in Shinjuku is unique—the panko (bread crumbs) are julienned instead of finely minced. Ask to be seated on the lower floor at the counter to watch the chefs frying the pork cutlets and thinly slicing the cabbage. The premium rosu katsu teishoku is just ¥1,680. 3-33-10 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3351-5861. Open Tue-Fri 11:30am-2pm and 5-9:30pm, Sat-Sun & hols 11:30am-9:30pm, closed Mon. Nearest stn: Shinjuku or Shinjuku

Asakusa Yoshikami

Located near the historic Asakusa temple district, Yoshikami feels like a retro diner, with round stools lined up at a counter overlooking the open kitchen. These are the best seats in the house for a view of the toqued chefs creating the restaurant’s popular omu-raisu (¥1,250), the classic yoshoku dish of ketchup-flavored rice enveloped in a soft omelet. The tender pieces of beef in a rich demi-glace sauce will have you dreaming about Yoshikami’s stew long afterwards (¥2,350). 1-41-4 Asakusa, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3841-1802. Open daily 11:45am-10:30pm. Nearest station:

Shibuya Tokyu Food Show’s Uoriki Sushi Counter

For fresh sushi at bargain-basement prices, head to Uoriki in the Tokyu Food Show depachika, inside Shibuya station. Don’t let the age of the chefs behind the counter fool you—these elderly gents are adept at molding the rice and slicing the seafood. We love the maguro zukushi with three parts of tuna—akamichutoroand ootoro—for just ¥1,190. B1 Tokyu Department Store, 2-24-1 Shibuya. Tel: 03-5428-3813. Open daily 10am-9pm. Nearest stn: