Omakase, translated as “I will leave it to you,” is the traditional Japanese dining course where the chef provides a bespoke meal based on their expertise, seasonal ingredients, your preferences, and the local markets.
It is an expression of trust.
There is a longer translation of it too, “respectfully leaving another to decide what is best.” But I think the best way to think of omakase is it is an expert, master chef’s incredible skill and experience put into a course that you accept and enjoy.
You get to say, “hi chef, give me your best,” and await the experience. No need to think about what to order or “what’s best here.” You give in to the chef’s meticulously crafted course.
And love every minute of it (hopefully).
What to Expect: The Omakase Dining Experience
When dining omakase-style, expect the meal of your lifetime. Obviously, this depends on where you are for your omakase meal, but a top-end Michelin starred chef will excite even the picky eater.
Imagine fresh ingredients, seasonal items, fresh fish, and the chef’s amazing knife skills and experience — all rolled up to create an intimate dining experience you’ll never forget.
From the Michelin guide:
“Few formal dining experiences are as revered or as intimidating as omakase, a form of Japanese dining in which guests leave themselves in the hands of a chef and receive a meal which is seasonal, elegant, artistic and uses the finest ingredients available.” (guide.michelin.com)
It is important to note it does not only apply to the sushi experience in Tokyo. True omakase is technically any course, of any food, where the course is designed by the chef for you — rather than choosing the items from a menu.
Omakase sushi is probably the most common, followed closely by the more traditional kaiseki restaurants as well. Each with plenty of Michelin stars to choose from.
Sit Near the Chef
At most high-end restaurants with omakase options, you will sit at a counter near the chef. You will often have a full view of the chef as they prepare your meal. These are the absolute best experiences. Some will even speak enough English and explain what they are doing.
Oh, and a note about taking pictures. Before you whip out that smartphone, ask the staff if taking photos is allowed. Many shops will have “no cameras” marked on the outside of the restaurant — but as a tourist, if you ask, sometimes the chef will allow it.
Plus, it is a courtesy to ask before taking photos.
Popular Omakase Dishes
Sushi courses are common in Tokyo’s top sushi restaurants. Where world-renown sushi chefs use the skill of their hands to create the most impressive nigiri sushi, all that to say, nigiri sushi is the most common, but you should expect other items as well.
Such as creative uses of:
- Dashi (bonito broth)
- Sashimi (thinly sliced fish/seafood)
- Kani (crab)
- Wagyu beef (high-grade Japanese beef)
And even rice. You’ll find all sorts of extremely creative ways chefs in Tokyo use these ingredients to wow you with dishes you will likely never find anywhere else in the world. Heck, you may never find them anywhere else in Japan, or even ever again anywhere — as often the dish is created once (or one season) and never again.
Of course, there is any number of ingredients that could be used. This is completely up to the chef, and they will surprise you.
Compliment the Chef
While it is true, the Japanese are very humble people, that doesn’t mean they are not human. And sure, a master chef who has practiced their craft for decades has probably been complimented time and time again.
But a heartfelt “thank you” goes a long way and is always appreciated. In some cases, if you have been having a great conversation with the chef, they may even share a cup of sake with you. Gratitude and a great attitude go a long way.
Please make the most of it.
How Much Does Omakase Cost?
A high-end omakase experience in Tokyo will likely cost you somewhere between $100 to $300 U.S. dollars per person. This could be at a sushi bar with some of the best nigiri you’ve ever seen — or at traditional kaiseki Japanese restaurants.
“According to Vogue, you should expect to spend at least $100 per person on omakase. Many sushi restaurants serving omakase also have limited seating and high demand, so scoring a reservation may be fairly difficult.” (spoonuniversity.com)
Is it rude to mix wasabi and soy sauce?
You may see some experts telling you, “don’t ever mix soy sauce with wasabi.” The thing is, while probably a good idea, it isn’t a set in stone rule. In my 24 years in Tokyo, I have personally witnessed Japanese people at kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi restaurants) happily mixing wasabi with soy sauce.
In fact, my Japanese wife and mother-in-law mix wasabi and soy sauce in a small saucer every single time. Their friends do the same. My sister-in-law does the same.
However, this is likely because it is acceptable in casual dining situations, like the conveyor belt sushi chains. But when you’re at a top-notch, Michelin-starred sushi restaurant… sitting in front of the chef who just crafted the perfect piece of sushi for you… please don’t mix it.
In fact, don’t dip it in anything unless the chef makes it clear that was what was intended.
Is it rude not to eat sushi in one bite?
Sort of. But lets face it, the Japanese know you’re not Japanese. As a visitor, if you end up eating the sushi in two bites it won’t offend the chef. But the real reason I wanted to mention this here in an omakase article is because a truly high-end chef will take into account your bite size.
They will estimate how big they can make the sushi and not put you into a situation where you cannot eat the sushi in one bite.
But even then, if you decide to eat it in two bites… you’ll be fine. Just show interest, intrigue, and a gracious attitude and the chef will be happy to provide their services to you.
In other words, be kind and don’t think too much into these ultra-finite eating rules (myths?) about dining in Japan.