What Is Edomae Sushi—And Where Can I Eat It?

By Chris Loew
Updated: August 29, 2023

“Edomae sushi” is a phrase that gets bandied about a lot to denote traditional or high-class sushi. Yet, few could tell just what exactly it means. My wife doesn’t know, and she’s Japanese. “That’s probably because I’m from Kansai,” she told me. “Ask someone from Tokyo.”

I’m sorry to admit that after living in Japan as an expat for over 20 years and eating sushi regularly, I was among those for whom “Edomae-style sushi” was just a marketing buzzword. Maybe that’s because most of my sushi consumption occurs at low-cost rotary sushi chains.

To redeem myself, I’ve done my research, and in this article, we’ll clear up the mystery of this traditional sushi from Tokyo and explore the differences between Edomae-style sushi and other types of sushi. I’ll also tell you how to how to make it.

What Is Edomae Sushi? History and Trivia 

Peeking in on a Japanese chef working in a kitchen

So, where did Edomae sushi come from? Edo (江戸)—meaning “bay-entrance"—was the old name of Tokyo (東京) before it became Japan’s “eastern capital” at the start of the Meiji Era (1868). As Edo was formerly a castle town, Edomae could mean that this sushi was sold in front of the gates of the city, or it could mean that it was sold in front of Tokyo Bay.

How do you pronounce Edomae?

Well, mae (前, in front of) rhymes with “pie.” Of course, it also rhymes with many other words, but since I like pie, we’ll go with that explanation. It’s sometimes misspelled as “Edomai,” which would sound the same. However, mai (毎) means “every” as in mainichi for “every day.” (Eating Edomai sushi every day would get expensive.) By the way, there are other dishes that are also called “Edomae,” so if you were thinking, “What is Edomae tempura?” the answer is, “I don’t know, but it’s a fair bet that it was also invented in Edo.”

Sea urchin sushi

A brief history of sushi (Or, Edomae vs. Kansai-style sushi)

Japan’s original sushi, called narezushi, was made in ancient times by packing a fish—usually a carp—in rice and allowing it to ferment over many months as a method of preservation. The rice was later discarded. 

Vinegar began to be used instead of fermented rice during the Edo period (1603–1867), and the time to keep the dish was shortened. The most popular form of sushi at this time was the Kansai-style oshizushi, which was pressed in a box. A chef would lay down fish at the bottom of the box, cover this with sushi rice, and then press the lid to form it into a block, which was then cut.

Nigirizushi—the style most associated with the word “sushi” today—began to be sold as a sort of fast food of the time from yatai street stalls in the late Edo period. It was much easier to prepare a small portion of Edomae vs. Kansai sushi.

Close-up of shari, or sushi rice

Edo sushi at the time used only those fish that could be caught in the nearby bay. This excludes salmon, which is very popular today and is usually imported from Norway. Some neta, or sushi toppings, that are most associated with Edomae sushi are tuna, bonito, bastard halibut, conger eel, and shellfish. 

To prevent spoilage in the era before refrigeration, fish like tuna, bonito, and halibut were marinated in soy sauce diluted with water (about a 1 to 12 ratio) and sudachi (like a lime) for a few hours. Conger eel and shellfish were lightly simmered in a dashi broth

There were some other notable differences from modern nigirizushi. The rice portion was about three times as large as currently, so the diners picked it up with their hands, somewhat like an onigiri (riceball) today. 

Red vinegar (akazu), made from sake lees, was used to make sushi rice. It resembles balsamic vinegar in its color and complexity. This is mixed with salt and sugar to make the sushi rice. As red vinegar is expensive, it can be cut with regular vinegar if desired.

How To Make Edomae Sushi

A colorful platter of nigiri sushi

If you want to make your own Edomae sushi, you can follow the soaking and simmering pattern above for the toppings. The difficult part will be finding the red vinegar for the shari (the rice portion). This is seldom offered in stores today, but can be ordered online. Look for Edomae-style vinegar and double-check the dilution ratio. Essentially, though, the sushi-making process is the same as in other recipes you may find online.

If you want to try some sushi-making experiences, you might consider the following:

  1. Tsukiji Fish Market and Sushi Making TourLearn the ins and outs of Tsukiji Market and learn how to make your very own sushi during this market tour and sushi-making experience.
  2. Private Tokyo Sushi-Making Class at 100-Year-Old Sushi Bar—Join the host at his 100-year-old sushi restaurant in Shinjuku to learn the craft of sushi making.
  3. Authentic Japanese Sushi Cooking Class in KyotoLearn some basic techniques of Japanese cuisine and the background of Japanese dishes, habits, and customs, while you prepare two types of sushi.

While these are not specifically Edomae-sushi making classes, guests learn how to make sushi in general, and can ask the hosts about Edomae-style sushi, to understand more about it. 

Where To Eat Edomae Sushi 

A sushi chef serves a platter of tuna nigiri sushi

Before going to the trouble of making it, it might be a good idea to see if you like Edomae sushi first. Here are some recommended sushi restaurants that serve Edomae sushi in Japan. Note that the definition is somewhat flexible these days, as the selection of fish has broadened with the advent of refrigeration, and chefs may attempt their own creative take on the classic.

Edomae Sushi in Tokyo

  • Kobikicho TomokiA Michelin two-star sushi restaurant in Tokyo, with powerful flavors and traditional preparation methods.
  • Jizouzushi—A Michelin-starred sushi meal that will give you a window into the history and tradition of the craft.

You can also try Edomae sushi at some of these highly recommended omakase sushi restaurants in Tokyo.

Edomae Sushi in Osaka

  • Sushi Harasho—Osaka’s leading sushi restaurant, where you can enjoy the craft in its purest form.
  • Sushi Ohata—Careful vinegar pairings will blow your mind at this Osaka sushi shop, which riffs on the traditions of Tokyo.

You can also try Edomae sushi at some of these highly recommended omakase sushi restaurants in Osaka.

Edomae Sushi in Kyoto

  • Sushi Gion Matsudaya—Enjoy a parade of Edomae-style sushi in a historic district in Kyoto.
  • Sushi Rakumi—A Michelin-starred sushi in Kyoto, with a wide range of appetizers and three cuts of premium tuna.

You can also try Edomae sushi at some of these highly recommended omakase sushi restaurants in Kyoto.

Edomae Sushi in Fukuoka

  • Sushi Kubota—Locally sourced seafood from the seas off Fukuoka served Edomae-style.
  • Asuke— A clear-sighted approach to sushi, with the full flavors of the ocean at the center of the meal. This Fukuoka sushi-ya delivers with restrained class.

Explore other Edomae-sushi restaurants in Japan.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Chris Loew
Chris Loew reports from Osaka, where he has lived for 20 years. He writes about food, Japanese companies, and marine policy issues. He previously worked for two years in the purchasing department of a Japanese meat importer, and for five years as export director for two Seattle food companies, selling to customers in the Far East. He has co-authored two college-level language texts. When not writing, he proofreads Japanese-to-English translations.
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