Sushi chefs are also extremely particular about the salt they use.

Salt is as important an ingredient in sushi as vinegar is. Special, natural salt is always used in sushi. This kind of salt has not only sodium, but also trace amounts of various minerals including potassium, calcium and magnesium. Types of natural salt include that made from seawater or lake water or rock salt and each restaurant selects the type of salt they use carefully.

For example, rock salt from Mongolia, Chile or the Andes will differ from solar salt found in Tosa or the Brittany Guérande. There is an amazing variety of salt selected by each sushi chef based on how well it goes with his own toppings and shari (vinegar rice).


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Revision date: November 19, 2018

What is Kakushiaji?

Kakushiaji refers to a technique where a single seasoning (For example, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, etc.) is added to a dish. The Kakushiaji contrasts with the finished dish’s flavor, and is added in an amount too small to notice when served. This produces a clear improvement in flavor.

Examples include adding a little salt to heighten sweetness, or adding a little vinegar to a simmered dish. Sometimes these combination of flavors can be quite surprising, like adding a touch of chocolate to a curry.


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Revision date: November 7, 2018

What is Umami?

Umami describes the delicious taste of savory flavor essences. For many years, people held to the belief that humans can taste only four basic flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter) unitil a japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered a fifth flavor (glutamic acid) in the early 20th century.

The main umami ingredients are glutamic acid in seaweed, inosinic acid in dried bonito and meats, succinic acid in shellfish, guanylic acid in shiitake mushroom.

Many ingredients contain a wide variety of umami essences. In combination, they create a  synergistic effect which produces an even more potent savory flavor.


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Revision date: October 31, 2018

What is the difference between Bafun uni and Ezobafun uni?

While they are very similar to Green sea urchins (Bafun uni), Short-spined sea urchins (Ezobafun uni) are a size larger and have thick spines.

Green sea urchins are 5cm in diameter and Short-spined sea urchins are 10cm in diameter. Green sea urchins are distributed from the southern areas of Hokkaido down to Kyushu. Short-spined sea urchins are mainly distributed in the Hokkaido and Tohoku areas. The most commonly eaten green sea urchins that are Short-spined sea urchins in Japan.


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Revision date: October 15, 2018

Do you know the difference between “Nami (並)” “Jo (上)” and “Tokujo (特上)”? Of course you know that Tokujo is the best deal when you order, right?

When you go into a sushi restaurant and look at the menu, you’ll see the terms “Nami (並)” “Jo (上)” and “Tokujo (特上). Japanese people know from the kanji that “Tokujo” is the best, but generally they don’t know what the specific differences are.

Today I’ll explain what each set consists of. If you order “Nami” for one person, this is the typical course:

Tuna Akami: 1 pc. Salmon: 1 pc. Shiromi (white fish): 1 pc. Silver-finned fish such as mackerel: 1 pc. Raw squid: 1 pc. Octopus: 1 pc. Egg: 1 pc.
That’s 7 nigiri pieces and there might be 4 cuts or so of dried gourd or cucumber rolls. To be more specific, the white fish may be different each day, depending on what the restaurant has. The silver-finned fish is also often changed to something like Kohada. The octopus will have been frozen. If the course includes shrimp, it will always be a giant tiger prawn.

If you’re a bit more adventurous and go for the “Jo” course, you’ll be served 9 pieces of nigiri sushi. Fatty tuna (chu-toro) is added to the lineup, which means that with the Akami that’s two of the most popular toppings. But you won’t get the salmon. Depending on the season you may be served bonito. The shrimp may be changed to sweet shrimp. Salmon roe will also be added, making the set more colorful. The thin rolls are changed to salmon roles.

When you upgrade to the “Tokujo” set it will include conger, which takes time to prepare, and the white fish will be top class flounder or sea bream. You will also be served more delicious parts of the tuna. The higher cost means you will get higher quality sushi, which is represented by the prawns and sea urchin. The egg nigiri is upgraded to a thick egg omelet and it will also include something like a blood clam. All this will go into 10 beautiful nigiri pieces and rolls worthy of an Instagram pic.

The price of “Jo” is twice that of “Nami”. So “Tokujo” at triple the price is really an excellent deal. Considering the value of the toppings, the price is unbeatable. The “Nami” set is made up of toppings in the “Nigemono” category (Nigemono includes squid, kohada, octopus and egg toppings). To put it bluntly, this set only includes toppings that are cheap and have a variety of uses.

Psychologically people tend to choose the average, so when presented with “Nami” “Jo” and “Tokujo,” an overwhelmingly large percentage of people choose “Jo.” “Tokujo” is a bit expensive, but you came to eat sushi so “Nami” isn’t going to cut it. You select “Jo,” right in the middle so you won’t be judged. The people running these restaurants know this well and they set items they want to sell the most at the “Jo” price. The items they want to sell the most are those with the best profit margins, so usually these are in the “Jo” set. This is exactly what the restaurant wants.

However, they can’t do that for the “Tokujo” set. “Tokujo” is the pride of the restaurant and they want to preserve the quality. Even if they change the type of topping, it will be a topping worthy of “Tokujo”. They don’t want to serve their most expensive dishes and have a disappointed customer.

So if you’re going to pay for sushi anyway, it’s better to pay just a little bit more for the “Tokujo” course.


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Revision date: September 17, 2018

The migrating route of Inshore bluefin tuna and fishing place!

Tuna caught in the coastal regions of the Japan Sea is notable as the best bluefin tuna in January. Iki, a small island in Kyushu area is one of the famous ports for tuna.

In February and March, the tuna auction market becomes slack due to rough weather. Just a few tunas from Nachikatsuura where is also the famous port for tuna are on the market.

In March and April, tunas become thin because their eggs need many nutrients.

In May, large tuna is seldom seen in the Tsukiji Fish Market. Even if there is, its body is really thin. “Kinkaimono” which means a shore-fish is generally considered as high-class tuna, but in this season, imported tuna is useful instead.

It is said that Pacific Bluefin tunas spawn around Japanese waters between Taiwan and Okinawa in April and May. And then, they go up to fertile, north sea along the eastern coast of Japan.

In June, “Chubo” which is young and small tuna is taken hugely off the coast of the Sea of Japan. The school of Chubo begin moving northward in this season.

In July and August, tunas can be seen occasionally but their bodies are still thin. Instead, Boston Tuna which is caught in the Atlantic Ocean and nicknamed “Jumbo” is on the market. Its fresh is softer than “Kinkaimono” and it doesn’t have medium-fatty part which “Kinkaimono” has.

In September, Boston Tunas are at their best with plenty of fat on them. The best season of Boston Tuna is limited and ends in October. But fortunately, Japanese tunas come into season.

The school of tunas split up into two groups, the one takes Pacific Ocean route and another takes the Japan Sea route and both of them move northward along the Japanese Islands. Some of them reach the Tsugaru Strait where and the season of Tuna begins from September to next January. Oma town and Toi town is famous nationwide for its catch of tuna from the Tsugaru Strait. The flavor of tuna in September is still weak but it becomes stronger in October. In November, feed of tunas such as Pacific saury or Japanese common squid with plenty of fat increase and flavor of tuna also gets stronger. In December, the peak season comes around.

A catch of tuna falls off in January and it enters the final season. The temperature of sea water gets cold and feed of tuna, squids decrease and the fishing season in this area ends.


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Revision date: August 20, 2018

Where should soy sauce be applied to the sushi?

The most delicious way to eat sushi at restaurants where the sushi chef applies Nikiri (soy sauce perfectly evaporated with sake) for you is just the way it was prepared. However, at restaurants where sauce is not applied for you, the sushi is eaten by dipping it in soy sauce. The soy sauce used for dipping is provided for you at the counter or table. Many restaurants use the same evaporation formula for the dipping soy sauce.

Soy sauce for dipping is put into a small dish for use, but don’t put in too much. It depends on the depth of the small dish, but the diameter of the circle of soy sauce after being poured should be approximately 25mm.

When dipping sushi into the soy sauce, turning it upside down (although it will be somewhat tilted) and dipping the topping seems to be the most common method. If you keep the topping on the bottom when you put the sushi in your mouth, the flavors of the soy sauce and the fish are in complete harmony and the delicious taste spreads through your mouth. There is also an opinion that turning the sushi upside down for dipping is unacceptable practice. There are also some with the opinion that whether to eat with your hands or chopsticks depends on the situation.

Make sure not to get any soy sauce on the Shari (vinegar rice). You don’t want to add unnecessary saltiness to the Shari, which has already been seasoned. It would be a terrible waste to cancel out the exquisite balance of the topping, wasabi and Shari with the saltiness of soy sauce.


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Revision date: May 28, 2018

What is Uwami and Shitami?

Large fish that are caught are always kept and transported on their side with their heads facing left from the port to the market and to the restaurant where they are served. The part of the fish facing down when in this position is called “Shitami” or the “bottom body” and the part facing up is called “Uwami” or the top body. The Uwami costs more than Shitami. This is because the Shitami takes on the weight of the Uwami, reducing the freshness and possibly causing cracks in the body (cracking occurs on the edges of the muscles).


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Revision date: May 21, 2018

Why is freshly-caught fish allowed to age?

The most delicious time to eat fish differs depending on if it is served as sashimi, as sushi, or boiled. Fresh does not necessarily mean delicious. For example, Japanese Amberjack should be used in sashimi 3-5 days after being caught, in sushi a week after being caught and it can be used in a stew or boiled once it turns black around the edges. This is because the inosine acid, which is responsible for the umami taste, increases after rigor mortis ends and understanding the timing of the peak in flavor is up to the skill of the sushi chef.


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Revision date: March 12, 2018

Why don’t I notice the fishy smell in sushi restaurants?

Many overseas visitors who aren’t used to eating fish have an aversion to fishy smells. This is actually the smell of a substance called trimethylamine and is generated by the breakdown of the umami component called trimethylamine oxide found in large amounts in fish by bacterial growth. The smell also gets stronger with the generation of ammonia as more time passes.

Bacterial growth can be controlled with refrigeration so toppings at sushi restaurants are kept cold. Trimethylamine is an alkaline, so smells can be eliminated by washing with vinegar, which is acidic. It is also possible to kill bacteria on the surface of the fish by soaking it in vinegar, reducing the number of bacteria. Basically, sushi restaurants are constantly taking measures to prevent bacterial growth and avoid fishy smells.


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Revision date: February 19, 2018

Is sushi eaten with your hands? Or should you use chopsticks?

Sushi was originally a food eaten with your hands. Even, for example, if you are in a prestigious sushi restaurant in Ginza, you can still eat with your hands. You can actually use your hands to eat the ginger too. Restaurants that prefer you to eat with your hands will provide an extra, smaller towel for cleaning your hands between sushi, along with the normal hand towel. Even then, feel free to use chopsticks if you prefer.


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Revision date: February 12, 2018

Why is sushi with tuna topping so expensive?

A purchase of raw tuna costs at least JPY 30,000 per kilogram. Furthermore, good tuna is judged not only by taste, but appearance is also highly regarded.

The surface is gradually oxidized by letting it sleep (mature) and the sushi chef makes sure that parts are cut of as they change color, when the timing is perfect for both the taste and appearance. In other words, skin is taken from the freshly purchased tuna, the meat of the fish darkened by blood (the blackened area that can’t be used as sushi toppings) is removed, the parts that have changed color are shaved off and then only the remaining, best parts used as toppings are left.

This is why the price is high.


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Revision date: February 5, 2018

Where should I grab the sushi when eating with chopsticks?

Laying the chopsticks sideways as if scooping up the sushi distributes the strength and the sushi won’t break easily. If you grab it in the middle then there will be too much force on that part and it will break in two pieces. Make sure to eat this beautifully formed piece of sushi in one bite.


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Revision date: December 4, 2017

Is there a certain order for eating sushi?

Generally, start by eating fish with a lighter flavor like white fish and move onto fish with a heavier flavor such as Toro, Uni, Japanese conger (Anago), and then Egg (Tamagoyaki). Finishing with Seaweed rolls at the end is a typical way.

The following menu is an omakase style at one famous restaurant in Ginza. Begin with white fish?

Marbled flounder (Makogarei)

Striped jack (Shima aji)

Golden cuttlefish (Sumi ika)

Akami

Chutoro

Ohtoro

Gizzard shad (Kohada)

Common orient clam (Nihamaguri)

Horse mackerel (Aji)

Kuruma prawn (Kuruma ebi)

Japanese halfbeak (Sayori)

Common octopus (Madako)

Mackerel (Saba)

Ark shell (Akagai)

Uni

Salmon roe (Ikura)

Japanese conger (Anago)

And Egg (Tamagoyaki) comes last, just along the general order. Perhaps the way this owner serves might have become common.

To maximize each flavor of toppings, have some pickled ginger or hot tea between different types of sushi for cleansing your palate. You don’t really have to stick to the specific order, though. It seems like having customers eat freely is the idea held in common by most sushi chefs. However, it is true that you won’t be able to taste the next flavor after eating something rather sweet. Japanese conger (Anago), Egg (Tamagoyaki), and Kanpyoumaki should be eaten at the end.


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Revision date: August 28, 2017

Why is Zuke used for lean meat?

Zuke is one of the traditional Edo-style sushi methods. It is said that it was started in the Edo period to stop tuna from rotting when there were large amounts of the fish in the market. Now that there has been advances in refrigeration technology, it’s no longer necessary, but maturing the fish gives it a completely different taste and brings out its umami. Zuke is divided into two broad methods. Here we describe the characteristics of each.

Recently, most sushi restaurants incorporate the “Single Zuke”.

Each slice of tuna is soaked separately, so it can mature quickly. The immersion time is only a few minutes. The idea is to marinate just enough so that the tuna’s aroma remains and the soy sauce doesn’t overtake it.

On the other hand, the old Edo-style method is to perform Zuke after parboiling.

Parboiling means to wrap the fish in a wet cloth, and poor boiling water on the wrapping until the color of the tuna changes color, then turn the fish over and repeat the process. The fish is then put in ice water so the heat doesn’t go too deep in the meat. It is immediately removed once it cools so that it doesn’t get too watery. The tuna is then put in Zuke soy sauce and left to marinate for about half a day. In this method, the soy sauce only soaks into the surface part where the color changed from the parboiling, so the flavor of the tuna remains.

Both methods keep the maximum tuna flavor possible. Tuna is an essential part of Edo-style sushi. There is great diversity between sushi restaurants in the parts, marinating time and flavor of Zuke, which creates a new, original flavor when the lean meat of the tuna soaks up the soy sauce. The fattiest cuts of tuna are most popular. The lean meat has only become more popular due to a rekindled interest in zuke, but in fact during the peak of the bubble economy, there was a time when high-end restaurants in Ginza didn’t know what to do with all their leftover lean tuna meat. It’s almost unbelievable to think of it now.


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Revision date: August 1, 2017