Sushi Etiquette 101: How to Order Sushi in a Sushi Restaurant



This is part 3 of the 5 part article series Sushi Etiquette 101.

Now that you know a little bit more about the itamae-san, let’s discuss how to get settled in, tips, and how to order in different types of sushi bars.




1. Omakase

If you order omakase, you’re giving the itamae-san the opportunity to showcase his/her skills. This literally translates to “I leave it up to you”, and you’ll get seasonal dishes that are not in the menu.  Of course, this also means that’s you’ll be spending a little more because you will be getting the finest ingredients served in the best order for your palette.


2. Okonomi

This literally translates to “as I like it”.  If you say okonomi, you’re telling them that you know what you want, and will order one dish after the other, til your belly and heart is content.  Of course, if you will be ordering okonomi in Japan, I suggest that you learn your Sushi Typesand take note that most of the rolls we know are probably American makis.


3. Okimari

This literally translates to “it’s been decided”.  Basically, you’re opting for the restaurant’s standard set meal.  This will probably be a standard sushi sampler at a fixed rate.  Here you get all your sushi all at once.


Now, the ways of ordering are pretty much a standard in Japan.  While this is easy for your homey family-owned sushi-ya, or a modestly priced restaurant, some people are still uneasy when it comes to the more posh sushi bars, and even in the ever-casual conveyor belt sushi place.  If you’re one of these people, fear not.  This is an easy guide on getting settled in and basic etiquette.


High End Sushi Bars

Shira Nui by Alpha


If you’re sushi aficionado with a big budget, then you’re probably aiming for Michelin Star Sushi-yas.  If you’re the type to frequent high end restaurants, I’m sure you know the importance of research.  Everything’s in Google so it shouldn’t be too hard to look for contact information, dress codes, whether or not they accept credit cards, and other vital information. 

If you’re fortunate enough to be in Japan, the first thing you should figure out is if the sushi bar or sushi restaurant you want to go has staff that speaks English.  If not, you should probably have your Japanese friend, or Japanese speaking host, or even your hotel concierge to reserve a table in restaurants for you.  Keep in mind that some places are harder to get reservations than others.  Places like Sushi Saito,  a a3 Michelin Star restaurant near the US embassy in Tokyo, require a reservation months ahead if you want to dine there.   Take note that when you’re in the more posh sushi-yas, more often than not, you’re expected to order omakase.


If you’re going to a high end place with a set menu or chef’s pick, be sure to tell the itamae-san or a server of any food allergies you may have.  This is a better alternative to letting the itamae-san prepare the edible work of art, only for you to refuse it later on.  Or worse, out of courtesy you eat it and have an allergy attack sometime during the meal.



Kaiten-zushi by John Picken Photography


The more casual, fast-food sushi bars are called kaiten-zushi (回転寿司), which is also fondly called kuru kuru sushi (くるくる寿司 roughly translated to sushi-go-round).  Since this type of sushi place is more casual, walk-ins are always welcome.  All you have to do is pick a booth.  After settling in your booth, no matter how tempting it is, don’t just start grabbing plates. 



Let’s get you properly settled in first.  Grab a pair of chopsticks,  an oshibori (remember PART 1?), then get two small containers.  Fill the first one with soy sauce and the other one with gari (pickled ginger).  Now, that little spigot (probably in the middle) is for hot water.  The ceramic mugs are for tea, not anything else.  You’d probably find a container (tin or ceramic) with some sort of green powder, that’s green tea.  Add some green tea powder to your mug and pour in hot water.  If you want cold water, you can ask one of the servers around to bring you some.


On Plates and Courtesy

Now that’s you’re all settled in, it’s time for the fun part: food, food, food!  Be mindful of the prices per plate. Remember that your bill is calculated based on how many plates you have and, typically, the color coding of your plates.  Oh and, when you’re done, be courteous enough to stack your place according to type.  Let’s not give the people calculating your bill a hard time, okay?


Note: Some kaiten-zushi places have touch screens where you can order specific items.  If you’re in Japan, don’t panic.  You can set the language to English.


Quick Tip!

If it’s meant to be fried or broiled, order it fresh. Remember that broiled and fried food loose its freshness easily.  One go around the belt, and what should’ve been an explosion of flavor in your mouth  can quickly turn into a less than stellar sushi – soggy or just limp and dull.



Do you have any other tips in ordering in sushi bars? Let us know!