Sushi Hierarchy (Happy New Year!)

I met an old friend up in PA last Thursday. We had sushi for dinner. Honestly, I hate grabbing sushi. You never eat enough to feel full, and if it’s good, it’s really expensive. However, most are just poor quality, but still not worth it. Admittedly, I was spoiled with really good sushi in Hawaii and Japan. So we went to a place, and there were two Japanese ladies eating there, which was a good sign. However, I didn’t like the attitude of the waitress, and I could hear her Chinese accent (ever so slight), which made it discouraging. Then, I heard the chef and kitchen staff arguing in Mandarin, and the R’s were extremely thick. I told my friend, “Not bad for being run by Chinese.”
He said, “You know? Your life would be much happier if you weren’t so perceptive.” So true. No argument here.
As far as the chef’s accent goes, I’ve actually never heard anyone, even my northeast friends from 瀋陽(ShenYang) sound that extreme. I started laughing.

Was it bad? Definitely not. It was actually surprisingly passable sushi, and I had more gripe with the front staff’s attitude than the food. However, considering the amount of food to the price, it still wasn’t worth it.

When it comes to Japanese food, I have laid out the order of Japanese restaurants (especially sushi) according to the ethnicity of who runs it:

  1. JAPANESE: If it’s not done by Japanese, I always question the quality because of the Japanese approach to minutiae. (Of course, the exception being the old grumpy people who just keep doing things out of a sense of duty with everyday misery, and no love).
  2. Koreans: Despite their different palates, their sense for raw food is similar. Japanese restaurants run by Koreans seems to be the most common type I go to. Quite possibly because most restaurants run by Koreans before 2000, were usually Japanese for whatever reason. In any case, there are a couple items that give away the fact that it’s Korean, and maybe I’ll talk about that another day.
  3. TAIWANESE: Even after colonization, Japan’s influence on the island still remained, and enough Japanese people stayed behind as well. On top of that, the Taiwanese tend to cater to Chinese palates. However, the Taiwanese still can’t get it right like those mentioned above.

Am I racist? When it comes to food: Yes. We can discuss at length another day. Back to sushi: I remember two years prior to this last place, we tried a sushi place that was open on Christmas Day. Bad idea. The staff spoke Cantonese. Now, when it comes to Chinese food, “食在廣州,” (“Eat in Canton“) but this is not Cantonese food, nor were they serving 順德魚生(ShunTak raw fish) or 佛山九江魚生 (FatShan Nine Rivers raw fish). The sushi wasn’t fresh, and it wasn’t all that cheap (although, that area has a high cost of living), and they had some of the weirdest sushi concoctions that just didn’t taste right.

Years prior to that, this same friend took me to a place known for questionable quality food in general, and he went specifically for their sushi –we were both disappointed. The chef was Japanese, but if you weren’t introduced by one of his personal friends, you wouldn’t get the good cuts, so there are notable exceptions to the above guidelines.

I don’t have any set rules of identifying places right off the bat. I usually have to step into a place to identify which guideline the place fits by listening to the language spoken by the staff and the kitchen staff in the back, but by then, it’s usually too late. So here are two resources you may want to use:

Maybe this can help some sushi lovers with deep pockets get better quality sushi in 2017.


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