Part 3 of 5
The difference between high class restaurants and reasonably priced restaurants is the amount of devotion to quality in the “neta” (topping) that sits atop the rice. In Tokyo restaurants, the chef heads out to Tsukiji fish markets early in the morning and selects freshly caught fish of the best quality using very strict standards.
Seasonal ingredients are considered high class, but the flavor is exceptional. Particularly high end neta toppings include “toro” (fatty tuna), sea urchin, abalone, and the salmon eggs called “ikura”. Toro is the tender, fatty belly portion of the tuna, and the fattiest “otoro” type practically melts in the mouth. For the sea urchin (my favourite), the testes and ovaries are eaten. Despite its thorny exterior, the edible portion has a very soft texture. Also, sushi with the Japanese style chicken egg omelet called “tamagoyaki” is popular at sushi restaurants even though it is not made from fish, and you can find innovative styles at different restaurants.
The quality of sushi prepared by hand is said to fluctuate widely depending on the skill of the sushi chef. Some chefs are even more concerned with the quality of the rice than the “neta” toppings. Detailed care and high-level skill in elements like the rice temperature, quality of the pressing, and ratio of vinegar in the rice is required for sushi at a high class restaurant.
Many sushi restaurants are based around counter seats similar to those found at a bar, and the chef prepares sushi with rice to order. If you sit at a counter seat, you will most likely be able to see the amazingly efficient hand movements of the chef. It’s best to eat the sushi you are handed right away before contact with the air begins to alter the flavor. The market price for fish can change with each day, so some restaurants do not have set prices.
If you don’t know what is good to eat, you can try telling the chef an average cost and then saying “omakase”, which means “you decide”. The chef will prepare some sushi for you with the recommended toppings for that day. If there is anything that you do not like or cannot eat, you should mention that up front.
~Stay tuned for Part 4!~