Here’s everything you need to know about how to navigate your first Japanese Omakase experience, where the sushi chef will expertly select which courses you’ll be enjoying from the very best cuts of fish and seafood the house has to offer. Omakase, which in Japanese means something like “I’ll leave it up to you,” indicates to the sushi chef that you trust their expertise, you will let them decide which pieces to serve you and that you’re opting in for a more personalized, intimate sushi experience. If you haven’t tried dining omakase yet, I hope this Omakase etiquette guide helps push you to try it for yourself!
Above: Diners Await Their First Course of an Intimate Omakase Experience at Kissaki in Greenwich, CT.
Omakase meals are meals in which instead of ordering from a menu, diners belly up to a sushi counter, indicate how many courses they’d like to enjoy, and watch as expert sushi chefs prepare their meal before them, one piece of sushi, sashimi, or nigiri at a time. This dining style allows diners to really enjoy the very best of the best that particularly sushi restaurant has to offer.
Sushi chefs will select the freshest, most choice cuts of fish and seafood from which to craft individual pieces of sushi, sashimi, or nigiri for their guests, using seasonally available ingredients. While diners can’t make requests, they can indicate if they have any allergies, dietary restrictions, or anything they don’t want to be served. Each course includes a single piece of sushi, sashimi, or nigiri, perfectly sized for the individual being served.
Since diners aren’t ordering from a set menu, they’re going to have a very unique and highly personalized experience that reflects the techniques the chef specializes in, as well as the very best ingredients the house has to offer. Many sushi counters we visited in Japan didn’t have any sort of menu, particularly in more rural or remote areas. We simply indicated how many courses we would like to eat, and the chef did the rest. If you’re new to the world of sushi, I can’t recommend Omakase enough as a way to expand your palate and try new flavors.
Above: Sushi Chef Expertly Assembles Otoro (fatty tuna) Nigiri Topped with Russian Caviar.
I’ll share our incredible omakase experience at Kissaki in Greenwich, CT soon, to give you a better idea of what types of sushi an omakase experience includes.
Omakase Etiquette Guide
If you’re new to the world of Omakase, you might wonder how it works. I hope this Omakase etiquette guide helps you feel at ease as you navigate the delicious and exciting world of Omakase dining.
Make a Reservation
Many Omakase restaurants are reservation only. If this is the case, make your reservation ahead of time; otherwise, call ahead to ask if they start their Omakase experiences at a particular time and plan your arrival accordingly.
Allergies, Dietary Restrictions, and Preferences
When booking your reservation, or upon your arrival for a walk-in, inform your server of any allergies, dietary restrictions, or preferences you have, and they will do their best to accommodate your needs.
What to Wear
I love any excuse to dress up, and since most Omakase experiences are classified as fine dining, feel free to dress up if you’d like. Slacks, a freshly pressed shirt, and a blazer for men are a good option, whereas a dress or a skirt and blouse is a great choice for ladies.
How Many Courses to Order
Think about how many pieces of sushi you typically eat when you order sushi normally. If you typically eat 2 or 3 6-piece rolls, then a 12-18 course omakase course would be ideal for you since each course is generally a single piece of sushi, sashimi, or nigiri. You can always ask to revisit or order extra courses if you find that you are still hungry at the end of your meal, although this isn’t likely to happen, as the chef will make sure you walk away very satisfied with your meal.
In Japan, tipping is seen as an insult, whereas it’s expected to tip at least 20% in the United States for good, personalized service at the end of a meal, which is the essence of Omakase. Sushi chefs may not accept tips for health code reasons, but they can be given to managers or left on the tip line when paying by card.
Diners will generally be seated at the sushi counter to watch the chef at work and eat the sushi while it is as fresh as possible, which is as soon as the sushi chef sets it down before them.
Above: Omakase Dining Counter
How to Properly Eat an Omakase Meal
Eat a piece of ginger before & after each piece of sushi you are served. Ginger acts as a palate cleanser and prepares your mouth to enjoy the full flavor of the next bite you will be served.
Eat each piece of sushi in a single bite. Do not cut or bite your sushi into more than one bite. The sushi chef will size each piece perfectly for each individual.
If you are given condiments like soy sauce or wasabi, do not mix them. Only dip the fish side into soy sauce, because otherwise the rice will soak up too much sauce and throw the balance of flavors off. In high-end Omakase restaurants, the sushi chef will apply the exact amount of soy sauce, wasabi, and other condiments necessary for each piece of fish for you, so you don’t have to do anything except pick up the piece and eat it.
Chopsticks vs. Hands
Whether you’d prefer to use your hands or chopsticks to eat your sushi is up to you. Traditionally, rolled sushi and nigiri, where fish is on top of rice, is eaten with the hands, but in the United States, it’s up to you what you’re most comfortable with and what everyone around you is doing.
The chef will pace the meal perfectly so diners don’t have to wait long between courses but won’t feel rushed. Don’t wait to enjoy the food once it’s set before you; sushi is meant to be eaten as soon as it’s served.
Most Omakase meals last between 2 – 3 hours, so plan your evening accordingly and enjoy an evening of fresh flavors and culinary expertise.
Above: Eating Uni Nori Wrap by Hand During Omakase
Why I Love Omakase Meals
I love ordering Omakase because it’s so fun to try what the chef has in mind for us at different places. It’s an excellent way to discover new favorites, try new things, and experience the chef’s creativity first hand. Plus, it’s so enjoyable to watch how master sushi chefs prepare sushi. My husband and I like to try our hand at recreating sushi at home, and watching sushi chefs during Omakase meals has helped us improve our own sushi-making skills!
If you’ve never tried Omakase before, consider this your sign to try it as soon as you can. It’s a fun evening of excellent food, great conversation, and it can be a wonderful date idea with friends or your significant other.
Danielle J says
That’s so different that you don’t tip out there! Good to know!
Audrey Klein says
Didn’t know tipping is seen as an insult in Japan! Great guide. Never tried omakase before and it seems like a wonderful experience, need to try!
Sarah K says
This looks so cool! I’ll have to try!
Danielle F says
Very interesting that tipping is considered an insult in Japan! So different than the US