(part 1) Ordering At A Japanese Sushi Bar Guide: Stepping Inside & Ordering

Sushi Bar

Stepping inside a Sushi Bar

You will be greeted with the saying -  Irashai Mase!!

This is a greeting meaning to “Come on in”. 

They may also greet you with Konnichi-wa (daytime) or Konban-Wa (evening)

Ask the hostess to be seated at the sushi bar and she will gladly find a seat for you.  If the sushi bar is full, you will have to wait until a seat is open. 

What about communication issues? 

You will have no problem communicating in limited English, as they hostess will know you are a foreigner and will do their best to aid you.  If for some reason the communication is very difficult, you can always communicate by writing or drawing on a piece paper.  Apparently many have had success this way in Japan.  Another plus is the menus will have images of the food.  Overall you shouldn’t have a problem.

Once seated

Being at the sushi bar is all about relaxation and being patient.  Make sure you give yourself time for this experience, so it is not a good idea just before a flight.

You will be served Oshibori; a hot towel in a basket. Use it to cleanse your hands and use it only once.  Do not use it anywhere else, for example back of your neck.  

Oshibori by mdid
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by mdid

Next you will be served a complimentary mug of Green Tea (Agari), and will be filled throughout the meal.  At the moment when the waitress brings your Green Tea, you can then place an order of Sake or a Beer.

Understand the waitress will take your drink order behind your shoulder, as most sushi bars are small in dimension.

Ordering Beer

Japanese Beer from Sushi Bar

Beer is a perfect choice as it complements any types of sushi.  Most restaurants in Japan carry the big 4 beer companies.

  • Sapporo – Medium bodied
  • Kirin – Full bodied
  • Asahi – dry crisp
  • Suntory – dry crisp

Types of Sake

If you are indulging in Sashimi, Sake is the way to go. They are over 2000 Sake breweries in Japan and the price can range drastically.

Sake is served in 3 ways.

  • Chilled for hot days like summer (cold-filtered called Namazake)
  • Heated (common way of drinking)
  • Unfiltered (milky white marginally sweet)

If you are on a budget and want to try Sake, ask for Futsu-shu which is basically the house brand.  If you want to try an expensive Sake, ask for Ginjo-Shu.  Ginjo-Shu is a premium sake and is costly, and served at only expensive sushi bars.  Sake is known to have some health benefits as contrary to belief.

Alternative to Sake and Beer

If you are not a fan of Sake or Beer, try Sho-Chu.  Sho-Chu is a spirit and has high alcohol content between 25% and 42%.  Sho-Chu is actually quite popular in Japan. 

Ordering Sushi

ordering sushi at sushi bar

When you are seated a menu is given.  Most eateries in Japan will have images of the food items on their menu which is extremely helpful.  Ask your waitress for any assistance.

Ordering sushi from the Waitress

If you prefer, you can order a variety of sushi and other food items from the Waitress.  The best beginner plate is a combination plate, as most sushi bars have this option.  This is a good choice if you aren’t sure what to order, but understand there may be some items that you may not like. Ask to substitute any of the items. 

Ordering Sushi from the Sushi Chef

By far the best experience is ordering from the Sushi Chef, even though the process takes longer.

To place an order with the Sushi Chef  (Itamae San), catch his attention and then place an order. Don’t be impatient but be forward and ask for what kind of sushi you would like. 

You can order 2 different ways to place an order at the Sushi bar.

O-makse” : Chef will pick the sushi for you if you trust him!

O-Konomi”: Choose yourself, and ask for recommendation!

If you choose yourself, follow this order.

Order one or 2 pieces at a time and after every piece, move to something more exotic or heavier.  To start, try ordering Nigiri, which comes in pairs.  Nigiri Sushi is vinegar rice that is topped with sliced fish.  If you want Sashimi have it at the start of your meal as well since it is light.

Next follow up with a Maki roll.  Maki rolls are very common and popular in North America and Europe.  It basically has the same ingredients as Nigiri but rolled in seaweed and cut into 6-8 pieces. 

For the finale, try something exotic or out of your norm like Roe, Sea Urchin, Octopus, or Tako. 

During the whole Sushi Bar process remember to relax and enjoy the food.

Tip: Always order beverages or anything else like noodles, refills, drinks extra condiments from waitress only and NOT from the Chef.  Only order sushi from Sushi Chef!

Click -> (Part 2) Ordering at a Japanese Sushi Bar Guide: Food List & Japanese Words

Images source 1

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