There are rules when it comes to dining out at an authentic Japanese sushi bar!
Recently, I visited a traditional Japanese sushi bar in Vancouver, BC. British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, is defined by its Pacific coastline and mountain ranges.
The sushi bar is owned and operated by a Japanese sushi chef and his wife. When I called for the reservation I was given a list of rules that I had to agree to abide by before the reservation could be confirmed:
• You must be on time because we serve only ten people per seating
• Plan to be done within 1.5 hours of the seating, no lingering allowed
• Don't expect liquor to be served because we are a small operation and do not have a license
• Do not expect to be served sushi rolls. We serve only traditional Japanese sushi, which is nigiri -- raw fish on rice.
• You must eat the rice because a lot of preparation goes into making the rice. In other words, no low-carb eaters are allowed.
• The menu is omakase-style, which means the chef's choice. There are no substitutions.
I explained that I don't eat meat and was assured that omakase was seafood only. I was told that the chef buys fish mostly from Japan and sells it out each night.
Due to my dining partner's tardiness, we arrived ten minutes late and the chef was not happy. We apologized but were informed that because we were late, we could not order appetizers and that the omakase menu was about to begin. We were asked to either choose eight or ten pieces. With a huge rice-maker by his side, the chef began to place all sorts of beautiful seafood on his large butcher block as the patrons waited for the upcoming show.
One of the diners shouted out to the chef that she needed to talk to him about the menu. He looked annoyed and leaned over to hear what she had to say. "I don't eat raw fish. Please can you make me a California roll and a salad?" The chef's wife appeared with a livid look on her face. She said, "I explained the rules over the phone. Were you not informed about these rules?" The diner acknowledged receiving these instructions but thought that her dietary restrictions could be accommodated when she arrived in person. The chef said, "Please leave." The offending diner left and cost the small family operation a cover that could not be replaced on such short notice.
I asked the chef to please tell me the name of each piece of sushi and whether it was farmed or wild and where it was from. He obliged, but not happily. I'm not sure if it was because he was insecure about speaking English or if he just didn't want to be bothered. I asked about Bluefin tuna being farmed in Australia. He said that he did not like it because it tasted like sardine. He also said that most farmed fish have the same taste.
The sushi was fresh and delicious except I didn't care for two of the pieces, which I set aside. One was eel and the other was gizzard shad -- it had a fishy taste. The chef seemed annoyed. I added a few more pieces that were a la carte.
Overall it was a wonderful culinary experience with many lessons learned regarding traditional Japanese culture.
The Ten Pieces:
1. Farmed sea bream
2. Wild BC spot prawn
3. Wild flying squid
4. Wild bonito
5. Japanese fresh scallop
6. Farmed striped jack (In Japanese it's called Shima-aji)
7. Wild Spanish mackerel
8. Farmed amberjack (In Japanese it's called Kanpachi)
9. Wild gizzard shad marinated in vinegar (In Japanese it's called Kohada and belongs to the herring family)
10. Wild sea eel
To read about wild and sustainable seafood choices pick up a copy of my award-winning diet, lifestyle and cookbook Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.