What is omakase sushi?
Sushi has become an extremely popular food in Western world. Sushi consists of fresh pieces of raw fish (or other seafood) combined with various ingredients such as rice and presented in unique and appetizing ways. For those who have come to enjoy sushi, a style of ordering sushi called “omakase” can provide diners with a great variety of high quality food items as well as a new kind of dining sushi experience Westerners are not used to. The word “omakase” means to entrust yourself to the chef. You are literally placing the choice of ingredients and presentations in the hand of the sushi chef, the itamae.
In some of the lower end sushi restaurants, this may result in a mixed platter of familiar items or items the itamae is simply trying to get out of his kitchen. However, in the better sushi restaurants, one will be presented with the freshest seasonal items that might have never been considered as well as old favorites presented in brand new and interesting ways. It may also offer some insight into “hyperlocality,” highlighting local foods you may not normally eat in the manner presented. Generally, it is best to order this dining style at a sushi-ya that you know won’t be “cleaning house” and will truly be offering an exceptional presentation of food items.
Omakase style sushi was popularized in the West in the 1990’s as sushi became more and more popular, and large numbers of people who were unfamiliar with sushi didn’t always know what particular items were called and what the Japanese words for different foods (or even different parts of the same fish) were called. Omakase therefore became a perfect way for a sushi newcomer to try a variety of different items without having to worry about the specifics of sushi item names, as well as offering the ability to try new items that may not have occurred to them if they had been to a sushi-ya before. Ordering omakase not only offered options, but an introduction to find potential new sushi item favorites as well.
What To Expect
There are some things to be aware of when ordering omakase, though. The sushi chef should be attentive to you when selecting the items and preparations. For example, you may order a plate of omakase while specifying that no mackerel be used. You should still get a high quality blend of different types of fish and different presentations, but no mackerel should be on the plate. Some people think that it is best to go to a sushi restaurant where they are known to the itamae. When this is the case, they feel that they will only be presented with items the chef knows they will enjoy. However, to truly enjoy the experience, it does not matter if the individual is known to the chef or not as he will still be using fresh, unusual items that one might not have ever considered trying or might not have encountered at any time in the past.
It is very possible that your plate will contain items you have never considered trying or presentations that you do not find appealing. While it is considered poor manners to leave food on the plate, you are not being forced to eat something unappetizing under duress. However, if you have ordered this as a means to try something new and different, you might consider at least trying each different variety of sushi offered. You may very well find some new favorites hiding there. Restaurants like it when customers order omakase often. They are able to charge a higher price for the meal because it showcases not only the finest of ingredients available at that moment, but the skills of the itamae as well. It also makes it easier for them to plan food costs into their purchasing.
An Itamae will often enjoy serving this because it gives them a chance to express their creativity. Creating an omakase meal is the equivalent of creating a masterpiece in the art world to the chef. He will work harder to ensure the diner gets an experience that will be memorable with his choices of ingredients and presentations. In fact, many diners have been inspired to take photographs of their meal before eating because the presentation was so beautiful.
Is Omakase Worth Ordering?
It is a well known fact that the Japanese are a people who place high value on honor. When one puts his or her trust in the itamae to choose the meal and how it will be presented, one extends to him a great honor. Most will put only their best efforts into preparing a meal for customers who have honored them in this fashion. Even familiar items will be handled with more care and attention to detail. Some sushi-ya also only offer omakase style ordering, making for an interesting evening for all, and in good sushi-ya this will often lead to a fantastic dining experience.
Omakase is the ultimate expression of trust to a sushi chef. It is also a chance for one who enjoys sushi to expand horizons and try new items that have been overlooked. This may not be the meal of choice for one who is set in his ways or does not like trying new things. However, it can heighten the experience for those who already enjoy sushi or entice some who have never tried sushi to consider it. Diners are assured they will be served the best and freshest of ingredients available, including seasonal offerings they might have never considered trying in the past. The presentation is certain to take the dining experience to a whole new level, with most itamaes putting extra effort into creating a meal that is as visually appealing as it is tasty.