You’ll never be far from a great plate of sashimi in Tokyo. The city’s abundance of amazing sushi restaurants alone makes it a city Worth Traveling For. Well, that and its fascinating culture, magnificent architecture, beautiful cherry blossoms, and epic ski resorts. What you may not know is there is a whole other side to sushi in Tokyo. Known as sushiya, these high-end culinary experiences see sushi masters transform the freshest fish into bite-size works of art. Enjoy our delicious guide to the best sashimi in Tokyo, along with some more domestic recommendations.
What is Sashimi
If you find yourself asking “what is the difference between sushi and sashimi?” sashimi is raw fish (popular favorites are salmon, tuna, mackerel, yellowfin) or seafood (squid, octopus) sliced into thin bite-sized pieces and served alone along with a dipping sauce like soy, ginger, or wasabi. It’s the cut that can dramatically enhance the flavor. Sushi on the other hand features fish, seafood, vegetables served on or rolled into sticky, vinegared rice. Layering multiple ingredients that compliment the flavors is what gives sushi its mouthwatering taste.
Most Popular Types of Sashimi
Salmon: This fatty, delicious fish can be found on every menu (you’ll hear it being called sake in Japan) and is the perfect choice for first-time sashimi eaters and seasoned aficionados. Salmon’s bright orange color makes it visual sashimi eye candy and you should keep your eye out for salmon toro, the fattier belly portion of the fish.
Tuna: Also known as maguro, tuna is also hugely popular for sashimi and it’s worth noting the different cuts. Otoro, the lower part of the belly, and the most expensive and high in fat (a good thing in Japan). Also high in fat, but considered lower grade is chutoro which is pink. The next rung down is akami, a deep red color. In Japan you’ll see lots of katsuo, served lightly cooked on the outside, raw on the inside with ginger and garlic. Then there’s yellowfin and bigeye, referred to as ahi tuna. Yellowfin has a mild flavor and texture, while bigeye is fatty with a buttery flavor.
Halibut: A type of flounder, the texture along the fin, known as engawa is a little tough while the part is softer and high in collagen.
Yellowtail: Best eaten in summer when it’s in season, this light pink almost translucent colored fish is creamy and leaner in fat.
Japanese Mackerel: Aka saba, mackerel has a stronger fishy smell and bold oily taste but do give it a chance as the buttery flavors pair perfectly with grated ginger and diced green onions. It’s best grilled or as sashimi when in season.
Octopus: Known as tako and eaten both raw or lightly poached for a notably sweeter flavor and firmer less rubbery texture, the tentacles are skillfully sliced in thin pieces to serve.
Sea Urchin: Considered a delicacy in Japan, the slightly sweet and completely delicious sea urchin is a must-try when enjoying sashimi in Japan.
Yellowtail: Considered a luxury menu item, yellowtail is called different things depending on its age; buri (adult) kampachi (mid maturity). Kampachi is a lighter, more mild fish best enjoyed in the summer. On the other hand buri has a denser creamy texture and taste and hits its peak in December.
Squid: The rich umami flavor and distinct firmness make squid one of the most popular types of sashimi throughout Japan. The chef will julienne it into thin slivers to make it more enticing.
Best Sashimi in Tokyo
Suikiyabashi Jiro is globally regarded as one of the best sushi restaurants in the world. Chef Jiro Ono, now 94, still working in the kitchen daily, was chronicled in the popular documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. At this teeny, highly coveted 10 seat restaurant, even the sushi rice is made specifically for your order. It is notoriously hard to get a table, but if you do score a spot, enjoy the chef’s menu, and don’t be surprised if you’re seated beside an A list celebrity or high profile baller.
Sushisho Masa, a short walk from the busy nightlife district Roppongi, is helmed by chef Masaka Oka and known for its extensive seafood range and modern unconventional style. From the ingredients, it’s not uncommon for meals to include 50-60 different types, to the flow, expect the unexpected to turn up to the table mid-course. Make sure you order Oka’s signature dish, “toro-Feuille” which layers fatty tuna and wasabi.
Chef Hisayoshi Iwa’s restaurant is elegant and sparse with a light-colored wood bar that serves as the focal attention point. Your best chance to score one of the six (yep, six) seats at this Michelin star sushi restaurant is by visiting at lunch. During an omakase dining experience, expect to be mesmerized by the delicate knife skills demonstrated for each dish, chef Iwa and his sous chef speak English and promise an interactive experience. The saba from Sushi Iwa just might be the greatest bite you have ever had.
Can’t get to Tokyo, try Sashimi in Los Angeles
If eating your way through Tokyo is not in your immediate future, you might want to try La La land – Los Angeles is home to amazing sushi restaurants. Among our favorites is Hamasake in Santa Monica, the place for chef’s choice sashimi platters and an enormous Japanese craft beer selection. Lastly and quite possibly our favorite sushi bar in Los Angeles is Mori Sushi which looks more like a modern art gallery than a sushi bar and where you’ll find the best seasonal omakase this side of Tokyo.