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Sushi, but no shellfish, in Tokyo

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My husband and I are traveling to Tokyo in late May. We love sushi made with fish (ie. tuna, salmon, etc.), but we do not eat shellfish or other seafood (no eel, squid, etc.). We would really like to eat in some of the high-end sushi restaurants, but I am concerned that most will not be able to accommodate our needs ... would be wonderful to get some advice on how to navigate this!

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  1. I'd suggest finding a nice upscale hotel sushi restaurant where a) they speak English, and b) they let you order by the piece.

    Maybe bring a list of acceptable fish with you, rather than trying to explain to the chef that you don't consider eel to be a fish.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robb S

      Well the origin of fish is murky. It is fun to see such difference, it does hint at different sense according to the period in time... In the ancient time (Bible), eel was like a snake and forbidden to eat, like all things crawling. In fact eel raw contains some poison, so it is never served raw, always boiled. And in term of season : spring equal shellfish ! So my recommendation is to tell your sushi-yasan what you won't eat and they will manage. For exemple, every high end sushi-yasan will have half 'fish' in their omakase menu. Oh, and for Edo style sushi, I recommend you sushi Kozasa, the assistant will help, choose the 9000yens course and just say that you looved to eat sushi Edo style and they won't hate you !

    2. neither squid nor eel is shellfish

      1 Reply
      1. re: sdiddy

        Squid and octopus are both mollusks, which are a type of shellfish. They don't look like shellfish because their shells are inside their bodies, but many people with shellfish allergies have strong reactions after eating squid and octopus.

      2. I think you might have the best experience in a somewhat larger shop such as Kyuubei. While most places will be able to accommodate your preferences, it could be a pretty stressful and awkward experience for them and it's hard to tell in advance how it'll play out. Robb S's suggestion of a hotel restaurant also seems great.

        p.s. I'm guessing here that this is due to a religious restriction or personal preference. If serious allergies are involved things get more complicated as shellfish could be used in unexpected ways in Japan.

        1. I assume you're Kosher. I'm Jewish (but don't keep Kosher) - understand the rules - and have dined at some high end sushi restaurants in Japan. I have only 3 words in terms of what you're looking for: forget about it.

          Most sushi restaurants in Japan (high end or low end) have copious amounts of non-Kosher ingredients. Most high end restaurants have set menus or are "omakase". English is not widely or well spoken (at least not in the restaurants where I've dined). And I have yet to see a menu written in English (the closest I've come is a tempura place in Osaka where the chef had a fish guidebook written in English and he pointed to entries about the fish he was preparing) . So - unless you speak fluent Japanese and can read Japanese - you're going to be totally lost. Also - it helps to be familiar with Japanese ingredients (there are many unfamiliar ones). OTOH - I don't recall ever having salmon at a sushi restaurant in Japan.

          FWIW - I have a friend who used to live in Japan who keeps Kosher (she was married to a Navy Rabbi) - and she has traveled to Japan several times in the last few years. She says it's easy to keep Kosher in Japan if you one: eat vegetarian (not that difficult to do - and potentially very exotic - take a look at shojin ryori); and 2) if you're eating fish - eat at a place where you can order a meal with an allowed fish in a simple presentation (like grilled without broth and sauces on the side because those can be made with non-Kosher ingredients).

          Note that I have been to Sushi Kozasa mentioned above (at least the one in Ginza) - and there is no way you could pull off a Kosher meal there unless you meet the requirements I listed above.

          But don't despair. There is much more to Japanese food in Japan than sushi (I like sushi ok - but it is far from my favorite). For example - there are tempura restaurants (where you can order only tempura vegetables) - soba and udon restaurants - tofu restaurants - etc.

          And I do recommend doing some research in advance - learning about the various kinds of Japanese restaurants. For starters - I'd read "What's What In Japanese Restaurants" (Robb Satterwhite) and getting a back copy of the 2002 #62 issue of the Art of Eating - which contains an article called "Twelve Restaurants in Tokyo" (and describes different kinds of restaurants).

          Note to others reading this thread. A person who keeps Kosher can't eat pork or beef or chicken in Japan (the first because it's totally forbidden - the last 2 because beef and chicken have to be butchered "Kosher" to be ok - which I reckon is probably impossible to find in Japan). There are lots of other "not ok's" too (shellfish - some kinds of fish - eels - etc.). I suggest to the OP that she start a new thread - something like "Eating Kosher in Japan". Set out a brief summary of the dietary requirements - and seek suggestions about the best kinds/names of restaurants to dine at. Robyn

          13 Replies
          1. re: pvgirl

            Actually, eating in Japan for a strict vegetarian can be pretty tricky. Many vegetable dishes use fish stock, or have bonito flakes added. I don't think the stock is usually shellfish, so it may not be a problem for the OP, but vegetarians reading this thread should take note.

            1. re: pvgirl

              Ah, that explains the eel then.

              Here's a list of kosher fish, with names in Japanese, from the Jewish Center in Tokyo:

              http://www.jccjapan.or.jp/uploads/3/5...

              1. re: Robb S

                They need to put a cute, friendly cartoon character (a la Mr. Eto's avatar) on that sheet to make it more Japanese-approachable if it is going to be shared with restaurant staff. It's too sterile when presented like that. But actually with this list and your hotel sushi bar rec, it's not impossible to have a decent fish-centric sushi meal.

                1. re: Silverjay

                  Hey, wait a minute, Mr. Silverjay, if that's your real name. I might really look like my avatar. Luckily, on the internet, no one really knows if you're not a pudgy smiling orange elephant who stands upright.

                2. re: Robb S

                  Thanks! I have seen this list, but heard that it is considered rude to bring a card with what you can/cannot eat. We were hoping that there would be some restaurants that could be recommended that would have a more a la carte menu so that we can compare notes with the list and figure out what we can have without bothering the staff :)

                  1. re: sari418

                    List of sushis/fish may be a bit dry. I would rather recommend you read some books on sushi, like Sushi Menu Book' ( http://appfinder.lisisoft.com/ipad-ip...
                    ), it may gives you a better insight on what to chose. Now, from such books (and/or lists), you may come up with your own target list. Remember that a-la-carte is typically more expensive than a set menu. You may as well give trust to the chef to come up with good assortment/proper order to serve them, at a reasonnable price, and concentrate on just a couple of a-la-carte adds.
                    For ex, you could go to Sushi Ikkyu (4F Barney's Ginza), for its omakase diner at 15000yens, and add around 1500-2000 per extra sushi.

                    1. re: Ninisix

                      Ninisix, do you understand the concept of keeping kosher?

                      1. re: Robb S

                        To be fair, I am as guilty !! Too difficult to avoid sauce, ..

                3. re: pvgirl

                  Robb S on this thread is Robb Satterwhite. And while I think you offer some good broad strokes in terms of eating kosher, Robb's advice with regards to hotel sushi bars and the list of Kosher fish he posted, while not high-high-end dining, is very practical for someone coming through on a short trip to Tokyo...And most places will let you practice okonomi style dining rather than omakase, but this list could help a chef prepare an omakase meal quite easily- although obviously nothing elaborate.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    Oh no, my cover is blown! (And hi, Robyn!)

                    And I like the idea of a cute cartoon on the kosher fish list....

                    1. re: Robb S

                      And hi back to you Robb (I kind of thought Robb S was you :)). Note for other posters/readers. My husband and I met and dined with Robb when we were in Japan in 2006. We'll be taking our second trip to Japan this year (in September) and perhaps we can all get together again.

                      I'm getting some good ideas for dining reading the threads in this forum (the forum seems to be a lot more active than it was in 2006).

                      BTW - if anyone will be in Osaka in the next couple of weeks - check out the Cherry Blossom Festival there. Not only is it beautiful - there are dozens and and dozens of street food vendors so you can sample local dishes very inexpensively. Robyn

                  2. re: pvgirl

                    Thanks for the detailed answer! It is true that we are avoiding those foods for Kosher reasons, but I specifically did not mention being Kosher because we DO eat dairy/vegetarian out without a problem and are not looking for locations that are certified, etc. I am quite accustomed to eating in Europe and avoiding pork, beef, and chicken even in countries where it is difficult to do so. Japan is new territory for me, and so I posted without mentioning kosher specifically, because we will not be keeping kosher in strict terms - we simply want to avoid eating shellfish and other prohibited seafood. I understand that even this is not easy, and that's why I posted asking for suggestions. I appreciate the advice :)

                    1. re: sari418

                      I've been doing some reading (in general) - and ran across this blog piece:

                      http://www.tinyurbankitchen.com/2010/...

                      Sounds like Gargle is on the right track in recommending this place. Robyn

                  3. Note: Salmon is not considered part of a traditional Edomae-style sushi meal. But salmon can be enjoyed in a non-sushi setting in Japan.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: J.L.

                      Well neither, really, is tuna. But they are both very popular sushi items these days-->

                      http://www.asahigroup-holdings.com/ne...
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/895914

                    2. May not be useful for the OP but higher end sushi places can accommodate dislikes/allergies if told in advance.

                      My fiancee has an allergy to squid and some shellfish, and last week both Sawada and Yoshitake adapted their menu, giving her different pieces when needed.

                      I'll add that her allergy is relatively "mild", not of the life-threatening type. In the latter case, or if this is religion-related exclusion, it might indeed be extremely tricky!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: olivierb

                        That is great to know! One question: when did you inform the restaurants about your requirements? Did you simply tell them when you arrived?

                        1. re: sari418

                          Nope, we informed them about a week before, as soon as the allergy was confirmed, but I guess the earlier, the better.

                          Once again it worked in our case, but if your concern is to have a kosher meal, or if you have really severe allergies to some shellfish, it might prove more difficult than it was for us. You can try to have your hotel concierge discuss that with the restaurants, but communication issues may arise (language, lack of familiarity with your concerns, etc.).