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Sushi-ya: The Harmony of Sushi

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Published: Jul 27 2023

Are you ready to dive into the exciting, colorful world of sushi? You've come to the right place! We're unlocking the doors to sushi-ya, the unique establishments where sushi, the iconic Japanese culinary delight, is celebrated.

Spotting a sushi-ya isn't challenging amidst the bustling streets of Japan. Look out for signs with the characters 寿司 or すし, both translating to sushi. Many sushi-ya also exhibit large lanterns (提灯, chōchin), a symbol of warm hospitality. They come in all shapes and sizes, from luxurious multi-storied buildings to cozy neighborhood haunts.

Sushi Lantern, Sushi Kanji

As you step into a sushi-ya, a friendly "Irasshaimase!" (Welcome!) greets you. Feel free to respond or simply nod in acknowledgment. The interior is a blend of culinary theater and gastronomic pleasure. Choose between the counter, offering a front-row seat to the sushi-making action, and the tables, promising a quieter ambiance.

Dining at a sushi-ya is more than just a meal; it's an immersion in Japanese culture. Remember, don't pass sushi with chopsticks or soak your sushi rice-side-down in soy sauce. Take your time to savor each bite, enjoying the harmony of flavors.

A quick word on "rolls"

Sushi restaurants outside of Japan, notably in America, are characterized by an abundant selection of sushi rolls; from the popular Dragon Roll to the ubiquitous California Roll, the list is endless. However, in the homeland of sushi - Japan, sushi restaurants take a starkly different approach.

Sushi menus in Japan are typically dominated by nigiri sushi, with rolls being notably less emphasized. Nigiri (握り, にぎり) translates to "hand-pressed" in English, referring to a style of sushi where a slice of raw fish is pressed atop a mound of vinegared rice.

Now, to the star of the show – the sushi menu. It's time to take your taste buds on an unforgettable journey:

Aji (あじ, 鯵) - Horse Mackerel. Cured with vinegar, this flavorful fish is a sushi-ya regular.
Akagai (あかがい, 赤貝) - Ark Shell. This clam's sweet, nutty flavor and crunchy texture make it a unique offering.
Amaebi (甘えび, 甘海老) - Sweet Shrimp. Often served raw, this dish is a testament to the freshness of ingredients in Japan.
Anago (あなご, 穴子) - Sea Eel. Similar to Unagi but less rich, this saltwater eel is usually simmered in a sweet sauce.
Awabi (あわび, 鮑) - Abalone. Considered a luxury ingredient, it offers a crunchy texture and subtly sweet flavor.
Botan Ebi (ぼたんえび, 牡丹海老) - Spotted Prawn. Larger and sweeter than Amaebi, often served with the head deep-fried.
Ebi (えび, 海老) - Shrimp. This versatile seafood staple can be enjoyed boiled, grilled, or even raw in sushi.
Engawa (えんがわ, 縁側) - Flounder Fin. The fin of the flounder is known for its chewy texture and sweet, subtle flavor.
Hamachi (はまち, 魬) - Yellowtail. Its buttery flavor and delicate texture make it a sushi-ya staple.
Hirame (ひらめ, 鮃) - Flounder. A white fish with a delicate, subtle flavor and firm texture.
Hotate (ほたて, 帆立) - Scallop. Known for their soft texture and sweet flavor, scallops are a real treat.
Ikura (いくら, 筋子) - Salmon Roe. Larger than Tobiko, these eggs are known for their rich, briny flavor.
Ika (いか, 烏賊) - Squid. Raw squid offers a translucent look and a firm, slightly sweet taste.
Iwashi (いわし, 鰯) - Sardine. Small and oily, it's known for its rich, robust flavor.

Kani (かに, 蟹) - Crab. Known for its sweet and delicate flesh, crab is often enjoyed in a simple sushi format.
Katsuo (かつお, 鰹) - Bonito. Known for its strong, distinctive flavor, often slightly seared on the outside.
Kazunoko (かずのこ, 数の子) - Herring Roe. A symbol of fertility and prosperity, it offers a unique crunchy texture.
Kohada (こはだ, 小鰭) - Gizzard Shad. A small, silver-skinned fish that's usually cured in vinegar and salt.
Kuruma Ebi (くるまえび, 車海老) - Japanese Tiger Prawn. A larger, meatier prawn that's often served boiled.
Maguro (マグロ, 鮪) - Tuna. Enjoy the tender, rich flavor that makes it a classic choice.
Saba (さば, 鯖) - Mackerel. Typically cured with salt and vinegar, it offers a unique tangy flavor.
Shake/Saamon (しゃけ, サーモン  鮭) - Salmon. Soft and delicate, this sushi item is often served raw and is a beloved choice worldwide.
Shako (しゃこ, 蝦蛄) - Mantis Shrimp. Steamed and served with a sweet sauce, it's a seasonal delicacy.
Suzuki (すずき, 鱸) - Sea Bass. This lean, white fish is known for its delicate flavor and firm texture.
Tako (たこ, 蛸) - Octopus. Octopus sushi is boiled and sliced thin, offering a uniquely chewy texture.
Tamago (たまご, 玉子) - Sweet egg. This sweet omelet offers a delightful change of pace.
Tobiko (とびこ, 飛び子) - Flying Fish Roe. These tiny eggs bring a unique pop of flavor and a crunchy texture.
Uni (うに, 雲丹) - Sea Urchin. Briny, buttery, and slightly sweet, uni is an oceanic delicacy.
Unagi (うなぎ, 鰻) - Grilled Eel. For the adventurous, this rich and flavorful dish is a must-try.
Kappa Maki (かっぱ巻き, 河童巻) - Cucumber Roll. A simple yet refreshing choice.
Kariforunia Rooru (カリフォルニアロール) - California Roll. A roll with avocado, crab, and cucumber, a creation actually invented in America but now occasionally found in Japan.
Tempura Maki (てんぷら巻き, 天ぷら巻) - Tempura Roll. Often features shrimp tempura for a delightful crunch.

Beyond sushi, sushi-ya offer a range of delectable dishes:

Chawanmushi (ちゃわんむし, 茶碗蒸し) - Steamed egg custard. A light, savory appetizer often filled with shrimp, ginkgo nuts, and mushrooms.
Miso Shiru (みそしる, 味噌汁) - Miso Soup. A warm, comforting soup made from fermented soybean paste, usually served with tofu and seaweed.
Edamame (えだまめ, 枝豆) - Young Soybeans. Boiled in saltwater, these make for a perfect, healthy appetizer.
Sunomono (すのもの, 酢の物) - Vinegared dishes. These tangy, refreshing dishes often include cucumbers, seafood, or seaweed.
Tempura (てんぷら, 天ぷら) - Deep-fried seafood and vegetables. A tasty side dish, perfect for those who desire a bit of crunch.
Agari (あがり, 上がり) - Green Tea. This hot beverage usually signals the end of a sushi meal.

What's in here? Know your sauces!

Whether you're dining in a bustling kaiten sushi shop (conveyor belt sushi), a cozy izakaya, or a sophisticated Michelin-starred establishment in Ginza, you may encounter an array of jars and containers that leave you puzzled. "What's inside these, and how do I use them?" you might wonder. Let's simplify things by introducing the most common offerings you'll encounter in a sushi eatery.

Look for the KANJI character on the container to indicate its contents.

Shoyu (しょうゆ, 醤油) - Regular Soy Sauce. The traditional condiment found in every sushi restaurant, this soy sauce has a balanced flavor profile suitable for all kinds of sushi.
Sushi Shoyu (すししょうゆ, 寿司醤油) - Sushi Soy Sauce. It's a slightly darker, richer, and less salty variety specifically designed for sushi. More expensive and less common in anything but the most exclusive establishments, but it brings out the delicate flavors of sushi beautifully.
Amai Shoyu (あまいしょうゆ, 甘い醤油) - Sweet Soy Sauce. Often used for tempura rolls and unagi, this soy sauce has a thicker consistency and a sweet taste, making it perfect for those who enjoy a touch of sweetness in their sushi.
Su (す, ) - Vinegar. This rice-based vinegar, often placed alongside gyoza, offers a tangy contrast that cuts through the fatty richness of some sushi.
Karashi Abura (からし油, 辛子油) - Spiced Oil. Often added to the vinegar dish for gyoza, it adds a layer of spicy kick to the dish, enhancing the flavors further.
Gari (がり, がり) - Pickled Ginger. Thin slices of ginger pickled in a solution of sugar and vinegar, Gari is used as a palate cleanser between different kinds of sushi.
Matcha (まっちゃ, 抹茶) - Green Tea Powder. Common in kaiten sushi restaurants, patrons can make their own cup of green tea by mixing the powder with hot water from the dispensers.

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