Looking for the best sushi restaurant in Tokyo? Then you need to read this guide on where to eat in Tokyo, how to order sushi, the differences between sushi and sashimi and Japanese dining etiquette.
The gastronomical experience in Japan is orgasmic. There are so many restaurants to choose from and so many difference experiences in dining.
In Tokyo alone, there are more than 100,000 restaurants and more Michelin-star establishments than any other city in the world.
There are street markets, budget restaurants, novelty restaurants, neighborhood restaurants and over the top expensive restaurants (over U$1,000 per dinner). With such variety, finding the best restaurant in Japan should be easy, but with so many options, it can be overwhelming to decide where to eat in Tokyo.
If you rely on Trip Advisor and Yelp for places to eat in Tokyo, chances are it will be an easier experience because you will be eating in all the restaurants that are popular with tourists, but not necessarily the best restaurants in Japan.
Where to Find the Best Sushi in Tokyo
If you want to find authentic Japanese food in Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan, you need to look for places where the locals eat, where the lines aren’t filled with foreigners and where the menu is often not in English.
One such place in Tokyo is Ooiri Sushi 大入鮨 . With two tables and a sushi counter, this restaurant is tiny and popular with locals, but what it lacks in space, it makes up in authenticity. You will be served by the owner and his family and since it’s located on the outskirts of Tokyo, the prices are reasonable and the portions are satisfying.
Mr. Oiri, the proprietor and chef, buys his fish fresh from the Toyosu Fish Market every morning making sure the seafood is fresh and delicious, which makes for the best sushi in Tokyo. Mr. Oiri speaks no English, but if you are adventurous enough to make it to his restaurant, the language barrier is not a problem.
Why do I consider Ooiri Sushi to be the best sushi in Tokyo? Because it is such hidden gem that it’s not even listed on Yelp or Trip Advisor. Yet, Ooiri sushi has been in business for a long time, serving mainly loyal local patrons. Most travelers only find it through the occasional foodie blog or word of mouth. It’s truly an authentic dining experience.
If having such an experience scares you, here are some things you should know before you eat sushi in Japan that will make it less scary and a lot more pleasurable.
How to Order Sushi in Japan
Ordering sushi in Japan is actually easier than you think. Most restaurants have pictures in their menu or you can just point to the type of fish you would like to eat and the chef usually understands what you want.
The only place I ever had to use my Google translator in Japan was in a Ryokan in the mountains, where most travelers are Japanese. And even then, in the end, we understood each other.
If you seat at a sushi counter, order as you go and enjoy the whole experience of watching the chef prepare your food.
If you are not as adventurous, it’s helpful to know the names of the fish/seafood you enjoy in Japanese.
Here are a few of the most common names:
- Sake (salmon)
- Maguro (lean tuna)
- Uni (sea urchin)
- Toro (fat tuna belly)
- Hamachi (yellowtail)
- Ebi (cooked shrimp)
- Amaebi (raw shrimp)
- Tamagoyaki (omelet)
- Ika (squid)
- Anago (eel)
- Tako (octopus)
- Kappa (cucumber)
All you have to do is add Maki or Nigiri after it to order.
Sushi vs. Sashimi
Let’s start by addressing the different types of Japanese food that you will most likely encounter in a sushi restaurant in Japan.
Sushi is usually a general classification of vinegar seasoned rice with vegetables or meat, which can be raw or cooked.
The most common sub classifications are maki, temaki and nigiri.
Maki is what most people associate with sushi – rice, vegetables or/and meat (cooked or raw) wrapped in seaweed and cut into slices.
Temaki is loosely wrapped rice with vegetables and/or meat in seaweed in a cone shape.
Nigiri is raw fish/seafood that is served over rice that is not wrapped in seaweed.
Chirashi: usually served in a small bowl with rice, raw seafood on top.
Sashimi is raw fish/seafood that is filleted into small portions and served without rice.
How to Eat Sushi, Sashimi, Nigiri
Eating sushi, sashimi and nigiri in Japan is an experience that will change how eat these foods at home. These tips will allow you to avoid faux pas.
Chopsticks or Hands
It’s actually okay to eat with your hands in Japan, specially Nigiri. For Sashimi, I would stick with chopsticks as it might be easier that way.
The only rule that I think is an absolute must when eating with chopsticks is that you never stick the chopsticks vertically in the rice. That is a bad omen in Japan and considered rude. Simply rest your chopsticks on the ceramic or wood resting pieces or across the bowl’s edge.
Soy Sauce and Wasabi
Before I traveled to Japan, I never knew I was eating sushi wrong by dipping my rice into the soy sauce and by mixing wasabi and ginger in the soy sauce.
But once I learned how the Japanese eat sushi, sashimi and nigiri, it actually made a lot of sense.
For Sashimi and Nigiri, you want to only dip the fish into the soy sauce and only a portion of it, not the whole thing. The logic is you want to season the fish, not soak the rice so much that it crumbles or gets too salty.
The same with wasabi, apply it directly to the fish, instead of putting into the soy.
For the ginger or other garnishes, eat it in between foods to clean your palate.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Sushi
Is Sushi Healthy?
Sushi is a very healthy food when it comes to nutrition. Full of omega 3s, it’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates. However, if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, it might not be your best bet. Certain types of fish can be high in mercury and food pathogens usually found in raw meat can be harmful if you have certain conditions.
Is Sushi Gluten Free?
Some sushi can be considered gluten free, but since soy sauce, wasabi and even vinegar can contain gluten, it might be best to order plain rice and sashimi at a sushi restaurant.
Depending on your level of gluten intolerance, you might benefit from carrying a gluten allergy card in Japanese or a gluten sensor, but be mindful that just as people at home might not be aware of food that contain gluten, the Japanese restaurant staff might not either, so it might be prudent to also have a list of ingredients that you can’t eat or that contain gluten written in Japanese just in case.
Can You Eat Sushi While Pregnant?
In the Western hemisphere is not advisable to eat sushi while pregnant. Even if the sushi is made with vegetables only or cooked meat.
Most people think it’s because of the mercury content in certain fish, but it’s more to do with the pathogens that can live in raw food. Even vegetable sushi or sushi made with cooked meat can be exposed to these pathogens since most sushi places prepare all the sushi on the same surfaces as raw fish.
If you are craving sushi during pregnancy, the best alternative is to make it yourself at home using cooked seafood low in mercury or vegetables. It’s not complicated and you can get very creative with the flavors. All you need is good Japanese rice, vinegar, nori and a roller.
How to Get to The Best Sushi in Tokyo
The easiest way to get to Ooiri Sushi 大入鮨 is to take the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line to the Minami-Asagaya station. From there it’s a couple blocks walking. If you print the directions in Japanese or rent a pocket wi-fi, you should be able to find it with no problem. Here is the address for Google maps: 3 Chome-22-2 Asagayaminami, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0004, Japan
Here is the address in Japanese : 大入鮨 〒166-0004 東京都杉並区阿佐谷南３丁目２２−2
TIP: always have the address in Japanese on a piece of paper or on your phone in case you need to ask for directions.
If you visit Ooiri Sushi 大入鮨 during the weekend, arrive during off hours or make a reservation. There is usually a line of locals lined up before the place opens at noon.
If you are traveling to Japan, you might also like these posts:
- Okonomiyaki: Hiroshima Cuisine
- 4 experiences you must have in Kyoto
- 3 Places You Must Visit Near Kyoto
- 10 tips before you climb Mount Fuji
- Itsukushima Shrine
- Hiroshima Peace Ceremony
If you are looking for a place to stay in Tokyo, I highly recommend this place.
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