From WTF to the Tame at a Japanese Sushi Bar

You can keep on eating your salmon, or you can eat like most Japanese do which is a good way to expand your world (or possibly improve your gag reflexes)

Most American’s stick to the “safe” stuff which is salmon, salmon, salmon, maybe some tuna, and some oysters if it’s date night. But if that sounds a little too tame for you, you may be up for some tentacles, and you just might want to go full Japanese. So these are things to order on your next visit.

Get in Where You Fit In

I broke down my list into categories, so that you can choose the appropriate category that matches what you’re up for although keep in mind that many of the items listed below are seasonal.

  • 10-7 – TAMAGOYAKI, FUTOMAKI TO INARIZUSHI, ANKIMO, SHIRASU, MIRUGAI: These are like a Japanese sushi starter kit.
  • 6-5 – SHIRAKO TO SHIOKARA: Some people climb mountains, but you try different foods and live to tell the story.
  • 4 – ENGAWA: For the middle of the road types that won’t swipe left or right.
  • 3-2 – ANAGO TO ZUKE MAGURO: Time to switch up your usual routine (do it for the sake of your S.O.).
  • 1 – HIKARIMONOThe fishier the better.

10. TAMAGOYAKI (grilled egg omelette)

Sunnyside up, over easy, soft or hard-boiled to scrambled, and now you’ll want to add tamagoyaki to your list. If you have never had it, I highly suggest you give it a try at the end of your meal for an authentic Japanese sushi bar experience. After you’ve had it, I’m sure you’ll want to eat it on a boat, on a train, or here or there, or anywhere.

Sam I am would eat tamagoyaki in a box and with a fox (well, I don’t really know that for sure).

9. FUTOMAKI TO INARIZUSHI (vegetarian rolls and sushi)

This is what I grew up eating: Futomaki (the “fat roll” is commonly a vegetarian roll, and I have eaten enough of these to last a lifetime), kanpyomaki (a pickled gourd), tekkamaki (a simple single item tuna roll), kappamaki (cucumber roll), inarizushi (a sweetened deep-fried tofu pouch), and I will add one of my favorites which is a roll that consists of takuan (a pickled daikon radish), saba (mackerel), and yamagobo (and if you want oba shiso, you can toss that in too).

I think this saba combo, futomaki, and inarizushi characterizes the bulk of Japanese rolls.
As a kid I had a nickname for inarizushi that rhymes with “rut sack” sushi.

8. ANKIMO (monkfish liver)

CNN Travel rated ankimo as the 32nd best foods in the world which is why most of you have already had the “foie gras of the sea.” Whether or not you had it prepared with ponzu, sliced green onion, and momiji oroshi, or any other imaginative way, it’s popularity had once gotten the monkfish onto the endangered and overfished list although it is no longer on it. The reason I bring that up, is so that you’re mindful of overfishing, and if you want to do your part, you can check with to see the status of the seafood you’re eating.

You can get all Hannibal Lecter on the monkfish by eating its liver, a nice Chianti is optional. Image by Takaokun.

7. SHIRASU TO MIRUGAI (clam, crab, squid, shrimp, etc)

These items are typically only found at a restaurant that caters to Japanese although I wouldn’t have listed them if they were impossible to find. If you can find one, start with trying: shirasu (white bait), hamaguri (clam), mirugai (geoduck clam is fairly easy to find, just look out for a giant penis looking clam), shiroebi (white shrimp), to hotaru ika (firefly squid, they’re not baby squid even though they’re tiny). As for items that might be a challenge to try are uni (sea urchin gonads, if you like it, you will love it), mentaiko (cod roe), kazunoko (herring roe), natto (easy to find, but it’s an acquired taste and texture like okra), to namako (sea cucumber… I love the chew).

Before being cut up, if you’re really childish, you’d chase your co-workers around the kitchen with a phallic looking geoduck clam. Image by Takaokun.
How could a shrimp taste so good.  I don’t have the answer for that, but I’d like to find out one day as to why (took this one in Ginza, Japan).

If you are wondering what makes authentic Japanese sushi great, you can read my post on “What is Good Sushi.

This is the best I can do for a pic of shirasu (white bait) which is prepared as an appetizer with a mix of myoga (it’s like if a shallot and ginger had a baby).

6. SHIRAKO (fish sac/milt/sperm/semen)

What you are looking at is “white children” aka sperm sac/jizz or fish milt? I’m not sure which you prefer that I refer to it as, but I’m sure either sounds appetizing, so I’m torn. Well, I’ll just get to describing the texture which is soft like the consistency of tofu with no objectionable taste even if you had a mouthful of it (oh, and I have). Although, for first-timers, I suggest the deep-fried version which are both topped off with ponzu (citrus soy sauce) and momiji-oroshi (grated daikon with chili sauce).

Shirako, ready for you to guzzle on down because unlike what your boyfriend or husband tells you, this one actually does contain protein and vitamins and is being considered to fight malnutrition (I’m not being a dude and making it up, so here’s the link).

5. SHIOKARA (squid and fermented squid guts)

This won’t help you grow hair back on your balding head, but it’s what separates the Ameri’cans and the Ameri’can’t’s who are willing to try new things. You’ll know which camp you’re in if squid and fermented squid guts topped off with my favorite ingredient, or the pièce de résistance, a good squirt of yuzu (citrus) sounds good to you. If that has your mouth-watering, it pairs perfectly with loads of sake, kanpai! you Ameri’can.

Ika no shiokara is a Japanese dish that goes way back to the olden days of Japan (yes, way before the Playstation).

4. ENGAWA (flounder fin/ridgeline) AND A LOT OF SHIROMI (white fish)

A Japanese sushi bar is better than a visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific because you also get to eat the fish, not just look at them. If that sounds good to you, starting with the shiromi is a good place to start although if they are not prepared well (aged/konbujime), many of them can be very mild in taste. Although starting with a fattier fish, like akamutsu/nodoguro (rosy sea bass) will help ease you in. Others to try: engawa (when the “fin” is torched a little and finished with lemon and salt, it’s so damn good), suzuki (sea bass), karei (flatfish), madai (red seabream snapper), ishidai (striped beakfish), kamasu (barracuda), yagara (cornet fish looks like a vacuum cleaner attachment), and the list goes on…and on.

Definitely one of my favorites on this list is akamutsu, along with this shot by the City Foodsters
Sawara (background) is one of my other favorites (I do have a lot of favorites) although kamasu (foreground) is no slacker. Image by tbe City Foodsters

3. ANAGO (saltwater conger eel)

Yea, yea, yea, you order unagi. I get it, you like that it is slathered and buried in a sweet soy sauce. That ingredient you like so much is a fresh water eel, so how about trying something from the ocean where you can actually taste the ingredient. If that sounds like it’s doable, anago is what you’ll want to try. Just a FYI, I didn’t even like it at first (I was team unagi at first), but now I love it. It is one of my goto’s when done correctly which is cooked in a soy-based marinade and topped off with either a (ni)tsume (eel/soy based sauce) or with what I like, a dash of shio (salt).

You don’t dip anago in soy sauce (it’s already been prepared in it), all you need is a little dash of shio (salt) sometimes.
Unagi at a lot of American sushi bars come straight out of a package where the sushi chef just throws it in a toaster, so how could you not want to give anago a try.

2. ZUKE TO NIKIRI AKAMI MAGURO (marinated tuna to pre-seasoned lean tuna)

From big-eye to yellowfin tuna, to ultimately hon-maguro or the “true” tuna, bluefin. can be a mind-blowing experience for anybody who has never had good maguro. To be clear, I’m not talking fatty cuts of chu/o-toro, but the “standard” (lean akami cuts). Outside of that, I highly suggest you try it “zuke” or marinated to “nikiri (a shoyu, sake, mirin sauce brushed on), no additional dipping is necessary since the chef already did it for you

A quick dip in a soy-based marinade or a brush of nikiri will put your pool of soy sauce and wasabi tub out to the pasture.
Not a lean piece of maguro, but a zuke chu-toro.

1. HIKARIMONO (shiny fish)

I have said it before, but Americans like their beef beefy, their pork porky, women girly, and men manly, but their fish not fishy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my fish being bland, so for all the girly girls, this list is for you: kan sawara (Spanish mackerel), shima-aji (striped jack), sayori (halfbeak), aji (horsemackerel), saba (mackerel), iwashi (sardine), and kohada (gizzard shad) all a try.

How people don’t like fish to taste like fish is beyond me because the oiliness is so good.
Iwashi (sardine) nigiri is nothing even close to what you would find in a can. Image by Takaokun.

If you can get through eating everything on this list, thanks for not being lame.

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