Many sushi restaurants claim to serve authentic sushi, but only a few can make this claim and actually have it be true.
How do you recognize authentic sushi restaurants? First is the simplicity of the place, with authentic Japanese establishments preferring to forgo gaudy decorations and interior designs. They make up for this by serving their food in the most meticulous and perfect manner possible, from the portion sizes to the garnishing. Restaurants with Japanese names work too.
Thinking that you are eating at an authentic Japanese restaurant even though you aren’t can be quite an embarrassing experience, so you have to be able to spot the right ones.
How to Spot Authentic Sushi Restaurants
There are literally thousands of Japanese restaurants in the US today but only a handful of them can even be considered truly authentic. This goes double for sushi restaurants since there are many who assume that just because they can mold rice and put raw fish on it that they are sushi chefs. This is just not the case.
In order for you to know that a sushi restaurant is actually authentic, it needs to pass a few tests. Many of them will be obvious but some will be less so. A lot of them will involve such things as the:
Those are the factors that you will definitely want to watch out for if you are looking for an authentic sushi restaurant. Just to drive the point home even deeper, you can take the considerations in the table below as examples:
|Japanese Surname||If the restaurant is named after the owner and is something like Jio, Abe, or Sakuragi, there is a good chance that it is authentic|
|Fresh, Raw, Varied||The quality of the food in an actual authentic sushi restaurant will always be fresh, will always involve raw ingredients, and the variety will be distinct|
|Small, Impeccable Arrangements, Organized||The presentation of the food in authentic Japanese restaurants will be all about showcasing the items in the best light by focusing on their sizes, ingredients, and types|
|Polite, Efficient, and Accommodating Staff||The Japanese are polite and accommodating people, and true sushi restaurants embody these traits in their staff to the letter|
|Responsive and Proficient Service||Questions, concerns, and orders are all received in a calm, professional, and pleasant manner that will then be addressed with proficiency and efficiency|
|Emphasizing Good Manners from Diners||The customers in authentic sushi restaurants will be expected to behave a certain way just as the staff are expected to act a certain way, which then promotes harmony|
|Actual Japanese Sushi Chef||Any good sushi restaurant will have an actual Japanese sushi chef at the helm or at least one that received a similar level of training|
Those are some of the most reliable methods for you to find authentic Japanese establishments where you can find good sushi. However, they are never a complete guarantee since there are exceptions to these rules. There are actual sushi bars out there that would not look at all like they serve authentic sushi but actually do.
Even then, however, it is still more useful for you to pay attention to the contents that were listed in the table above. You will certainly get a lot more out of them than reaching for those rare exceptions.
Name – The name of a restaurant is a very important thing. It is quintessential to its entire existence and contains the essence of what it is supposed to be. In the case of western cuisine, for example, it’s not strange to find restaurants with such names as Basil, Olive, and so on. However, it is the restaurant with the chef restaurateur’s name on it that really stands out.
Japanese restaurants are no different in that the name of the chef being on it is what makes it authentic. In most cases, it is the family name of the chef that is on the board and this is what signifies the confidence of the owner with regard to the quality of the products that they serve.
Now, this not to say that all sushi restaurants with the names of the chef that owns them will be good. However, they will be much more likely to be great if they do. At the very least, this can help you narrow down the list of candidates of restaurants that you can check out.
Quality Ingredients – Authentic sushi is practically synonymous with fresh ingredients simply because it must in order to be good. The entire experience of eating sushi hinges on the freshness, quality, and origins of the things used to make it. This includes the fish, the vegetables, the fruits, the condiments, the garnish, and the accompaniments.
You simply cannot ignore any of those if you are looking for an authentic sushi experience from an authentic sushi establishment. If the sushi has already been prepared and stored in a display case, for example, you are not likely in an authentic sushi restaurant.
Presentation – Then we have a presentation, which is an incredibly important part of Japanese cuisine. Rather than going with all the unnecessary frills of western serving, though, the Japanese prefer to let the food do the talking. In sushi, this is done by making the pieces small, numerous, and endlessly colorful.
They are also arranged in such a way as to mesmerize diners so that you can look at plated pieces like they were a work of art. At that moment, the conviction that you are at an authentic sushi restaurant will solidify, especially when you see how each piece glistens with quality and freshness.
Staff – A real Japanese restaurant has staff that will make you feel welcome the moment you step through their door. Their yell of welcome will be authentic and cheery, instead of forced and awkward as it is in some restaurant. They will actually make you feel that they are happy to see you and you will not feel any resentment or hostility in them at all.
If this is something that you sense in the staff that is serving a particular sushi place, chances are high that it is not an authentic establishment. This is because it is very important for actual Japanese servers to give you a sense of belonging and when they are serving you, it’s not just a transaction. It is an actual conversation with one of the goals being to keep the atmosphere harmonious.
Service – One of the ways in which the staff can really make you feel welcome in an authentic sushi place is in how enthusiastic they are to fulfill your every whim. There are limits to what you can ask for and there is such a thing as becoming abusive, but for reasonable requests, the servers at an authentic Japanese place will gladly oblige.
If there is a reason that they cannot fulfill your requests, they will profusely apologize and provide you with that reason. Your response should then be nothing but magnanimous because they will also be relying on you to be amenable. For requests that they can do, though, they will be quick and efficient about getting them done.
Etiquette – Speaking of things that you can do in an authentic Japanese sushi restaurant, you need to understand that there are etiquettes in play. You are expected to be polite, understanding, and accommodating just as the staff will be. If there is anything you may not be aware of, all you have to do is speak with the servers and they will gladly give you the information you need.
At that point, you will have no excuse to talk in a loud voice, laugh in an uproarious manner, ignore the waiting staff, or distract the chef as they work. You already know not to do any of those things and when you still do them, you better believe that you will be told off. If not by the staff themselves then by other customers who are aware of how one should act in an authentic sushi restaurant.
Chef – Finally, an authentic sushi restaurant will have the services of a real sushi chef. These are not just people who took a few classes either but rather, experts who spent years or even decades just doing that one thing. They will have such a fine understanding of sushi that nothing about the dish will surprise them even if they are in a foreign land.
You will know a real sushi chef when you meet one because they will be quite polite when speaking to you but will be quite serious when making the sushi. Their hands will seemingly glide over the counter, chopping board, or table as they skin, cut, mold, assemble or arrange your sushi. Such an instinctual feeling can’t be faked.
Why Eat at Authentic Sushi Restaurants
With all of these discussions about how you can find an authentic sushi restaurant, the question now is why you would even bother to do that. The obvious answer would be that an authentic sushi restaurant will simply give you the real sushi experience that you might be looking for if you are a fan of eating the Japanese dish.
Now, sushi enthusiasts can generally be split into two camps. One is the camp that is in love with the concept of sushi where you eat fresh ingredients and the food is created in a masterfully artistic manner. Then there are those who appreciate sushi for its origins and the culture that it comes from, which is where the purists and the authenticity goblins fall under.
However, even if you are just a casual diner who simply likes the taste of sushi, experiencing the authentic kind at least once can be beneficial for one big reason: perspective. You see, it is simply game-changing about eating food as it was meant to be consumed rather than what it was presented after it was brought over by someone else.
For example, did you know that most of the pad thai in the world is not a real pad thai? It just takes the idea of pad thai and presents it in the manner that is now most widely known. When you go to Thailand, you will see that there are some key differences between what they have to serve you there and what you might have already had.
The same goes for sushi. A real sushi chef will give you something way different compared to what an imitator would. After you have had that version, you will either not want any other or you will want only the other.
Sushi Restaurants Vs. Sushi Bars
Moving past the signs of an authentic sushi restaurant and why you would want to eat there, we can now talk about a topic that is often misunderstood: sushi restaurants and sushi bars. Simply put, all sushi bars are sushi restaurants but not all sushi restaurants are sushi bars. The biggest difference between these two would have to be the demographic.
Sushi restaurants are basically for everyone, including friends, family, and even children. Sushi bars, however, are basically like the haunts of either committed sushi enthusiasts or beaten-down workers who simply want a place to relax. Well, that’s what it is in Japan, anyway.
A fundamental aspect of sushi that purists understand is that sushi did not start out as luxury food. It was finger food that would be consumed with a bottle of sake. In Japan, there are these places called Izakaya, which is basically the sushi bars. They are establishments where office workers go to eat and drink after work either alone or with friends.
Sushi restaurants are different in that they are more likely to have bigger tables, more light, and more staff. In a sushi bar, the most authentic ones basically only have the chef that is making the sushi for waiting customers and no one else.
How Do You Know if Sushi is Safe to Eat?
The safest sushi to eat is one that was just made and from ingredients that were procured that day. All other cases apart from that will always come with the risk of being unsafe. This is doubly true when the sushi has become discolored, has developed a slimy texture, and has begun to smell of brine.
How Do You Eat at a Sushi Restaurant?
The rules when eating at a sushi restaurant can be mixed, which is why it is always advised that you make sure you
Authentic Restaurant Prices
You might think that the prices of sushi in authentic restaurants would be higher than what you would find with convenience store sushi and the like, and you would be right. However, it should not be exorbitantly higher to the point where it is completely out of your reach. The reason for the elevated costs simply has to do with the procurement of the right ingredients and tools.
You see, in order to create the authentic sushi that you are looking for, there might be a need to purchase such items as wasabi rhizome. This is basically the kind of root crop that you grate in order to create wasabi to pair with your sushi. The wasabi that you find in other restaurants are not the real kind and are either bought in powder or paste form.
As you might expect, procuring those kinds of ingredients will cost quite a bit of money and this will then be added to the price of the sushi. However, if the chef is competent, the difference in price should not be that big while still maintaining the quality of the sushi.
US Vs Japan Sushi Restaurants
It is only to be expected that there will be a certain difference between the sushi restaurants in Japan and those in the US or even in other countries. This is only natural since there will be deviations in terms of the local produce, the types of fish that are readily available, and of course, the tastes of the customers who will be served.
The reason why sushi is still avoided by many western diners today despite its status as a popular food item is that it simply doesn’t suit their tastes. In contrast, the Japanese enjoy sushi just fine. As such, authentic sushi restaurants in the US will need to adjust a bit, including in terms of smoking, drinking, and even in the kinds of people who will be accommodated.
In Japan, for example, children are not often found in sushi bars. In the US, even authentic sushi bars would allow young customers in. When dining in sushi restaurants or any restaurant in Japan, you are expected to be considerate of others, almost to an authoritarian degree. In the US, this aspect is quite a bit looser.
On that note, the flavors of the food you will find in Japan will be purer and easier to appreciate than those in the US. A lot of this is due to the amount of time it takes for ingredients to reach one or the other.