How to eat Counter Sushi | Otsumami (side dishes) and sushi which go great with sake!
Coming to Japan and going to a fancy sushi restaurant with a counter can be a nerve-wracking experience. What should you order first as you face the chef at the counter? How should you eat it? There are so many things you may not know. In this installment, we asked a sushi restaurant in Kachidoki, Tokyo, about the world of counter sushi!
Table of Contents
Start with an otsumami
If you are invited to sit at the sushi counter, the first thing to do is check your appearance. If possible, avoid excessively informal styles such as shorts and T-shirts. Also, when sitting at the counter, it is rude to the customer next to you to have excessive perfume or smell like cigarettes.
At counter sushi restaurants, it is standard to start with beer and otsumami. Sushi restaurants offer a wide variety of dishes in addition to sushi. Let’s start by ordering the sashimi platter (left) and the recommended otsumami of the day (right).
The sashimi assortment is prepared at the chef’s discretion after informing him of the number of customers and the budget. Let them know in advance of your favorites as well as any dislikes or allergies you may have.
When eating sashimi, it is common to place wasabi on the fillet side and dip it in soy sauce.
From grilled dishes to deep-fried dishes
Next, let’s move on to the second round of otsumami. After the light dishes, we will move on to grilled and then deep-fried items. On the left is grilled fish and on the right is kaki-age deep-fried corn.
Sake goes great with sushi! You are more than welcome to ask for sake recommendations to go with the otsumami of the day. Ask them what sake brand goes well with the seasonal ingredients.
We recommend taking the salt that comes with tempura and fried foods with your fingers from the small plate and sprinkling it on top of the dish.
Ordering sushi to finish off your meal
After enjoying the otsumami, it’s time for sushi. You can order sushi à la carte or as a combo. At counter sushi restaurants, a separate plate or board called a geta is placed on a higher level of the counter, and freshly made sushi is placed upon it.
It is proper etiquette to eat sushi straight from the dish with your hands. Use your thumb, index finger, and middle finger to take a bite. If you bite off half of the sushi, it will fall apart, which should be avoided if possible.
Of course, it is not against etiquette to eat with chopsticks. Grab the sushi lengthwise with chopsticks and hold it sturdy so it does not fall apart. Incidentally, at counter-style upscale restaurants, sushi is served with soy sauce or nikiri (boiled-down soy sauce) flavor already added, so you will not get a small plate of soy sauce. Asking for additional soy sauce may not be too appreciated.
By the way, it is not acceptable to put your plate or geta down on the bottom level on the counter. Leave them in the top level and enjoy your sushi.
Let’s review the top sushi items that you should try when you visit a counter sushi restaurant.
Medium fatty tuna 中トロ chu-toro
The fatty back or underbelly of the tuna.
Sea bream タイ tai
This is a standard white fish. It is prepared in a style such as kombu-jime (wrapped in kelp).
Gizzard shad 小肌 kohada
It is served vinegared.
Japanese tiger prawns 車エビ kuruma-ebi
After being boiled, this masterpiece features fine handwork.
Scallops 帆立 hotate
This is a classic bivalve shellfish which features thick, sweet meat.
Splendid alfonsino 金目鯛 kinmedai
This deep-sea fish features large, golden eyes.
White squid 白イカ shiro-ika
This is a swordtip squid with a tender texture and sweet taste.
Salmon roe gunkanmaki イクラの軍艦巻 ikura no gunkanmaki
You don’t need to add anything to this salmon roe. Just enjoy it as it is!
Sea urchin gunkanmaki ウニの軍艦巻 uni no gunkanmaki
Beyond the profound sweetness, the aroma of the sea fills your senses.
Boiled conger eel 煮穴子 ni-anago
It is served coated with nikiri (boiled-down soy sauce).
Fried egg with minced shiba shrimp 芝エビのすり身の卵焼き shiba-ebi no surimi no tamagoyaki
This is an authentic Edomae style omelet.
When you are served not only sushi, but also other dishes, the chef will tell you where the food comes from, how it is prepared, and how to eat it. The conversation with the chef is the best part of dining at a sushi counter!
Finish off with some tea
Once you’ve had your fill, finish it off with miso soup and tea! It is customary to pay your bill at your seat. When you finish, say “Gochiso-sama deshita” (Thank you for the meal).
What did you think of counter sushi etiquette? There are many famous restaurants in Tokyo and throughout Japan that welcome foreign tourists. We recommend that you learn the minimum level of etiquette and experience the profound world of counter sushi!
* The published information is current as of August 2022. Prices and other details are subject to change.
【Advised by】Sushi Kurami（鮨くらみ）
This popular Edomaezushi restaurant is located in Kachidoki, Tokyo. Using seasonal seafood purchased at the Toyosu Market every morning, the restaurant offers exquisite sushi made with careful handwork. Reservations are required when visiting.