Do you find yourself wanting to try omakase sushi, only to experience sticker shock when looking at the prices? Today, we will look at why omakase is so expensive and some tips to find affordable omakase options for those traveling on a budget.
New to the world of Japanese cuisine? Learn more about omakase, Japan's high-end sushi experience.
What's the Difference Between Omakase and Kaiseki?
First, let's distinguish omakase from its equally expensive counterpart, kaiseki. Both omakase and kaiseki feature sake and prioritize high-quality, fresh ingredients for a decadent dining experience. While they're both considered top-shelf Japanese cuisine, the terms "kaiseki" and "omakase" should not be used interchangeably.
An omakase course meal is customized for an individual diner, while kaiseki boasts seasonal flavors. At an omakase restaurant, your meal will likely look different than that of the person sitting next to you, but at a kaiseki restaurant, you and fellow customers will feast on the same courses. Both course menus are a testimony to the chef's talents, though omakase offers more of a conversation between the chef and the person eating the meal. This relationship is what makes omakase the coveted dining experience that it is.
What Exactly Makes Omakase So Expensive?
Omakase sushi course menus can run from around ¥5,000 to upwards of ¥30,000 in Tokyo. If we're being transparent, most of Tokyo's best omakase restaurants will set you back at least ¥10,000 per person. While this may seem like an excessive amount of money to spend on a single meal, omakase sushi is absolutely worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But just why is it so expensive?
The quick answer is logistics. It takes time and money to put together an outstanding course that meets customers' expectations. You can be sure that every yen you pay is going towards creating a meal that will nearly spoil regular restaurants for you!
Sourcing premium ingredients is the primary expense for running an omakase meal. This means importing ingredients from across the country, such as junmai sake from Kagoshima to soak prawns in or fatty tuna from Hokkaido. Seafood, especially, must be shipped on ice overnight from faraway regions to arrive on the counter in time for dinner.
Additionally, omakase courses require a team to work under the head chef. You are not just paying for the chef's expertise, but for the skilled artisans who work alongside them.
Finally, omakase restaurants are typically smaller in size, thus creating a cozy space where only a handful of customers can dine. This more intimate setting facilitates conversations between the chef and customers. Omakase is designed to be a one to two-hour affair, unlike the rushed meals at Japanese fast food restaurants or more casual eateries. Since they can only serve a few customers at a time, the table charge at omakase restaurants is higher.
Finding Affordable Omakase Restaurants in Japan
Here are a few tips on how to eat omakase without breaking the bank.
1. Go During Lunchtime
Though omakase restaurants are typically only open at night, lunch menus are a more affordable alternative if you can find one, offering similar courses for up to half the price.
2. Choose an Omakase Restaurant Near the Coast
The closer the restaurant is to the coast, the cheaper it is for restaurants to obtain and provide fresh seafood. Though you may get some great produce for your omakase sides in more land-locked regions, coastal regions are the best place for tasty, fairly-priced seafood.
3. Go During the Off-Season
The winter months are when fish are at their fattiest, contributing to a surge in prices around this time. Booking your omakase course during the warmer months means discounted rates and trying delicious in-season fish like unagi (eel) and ika (squid)!
4. Ask for an Omakase Course at a Non-Omakase Restaurant
If you can read Japanese, you may have seen the phrase "shefu no omakase" on a restaurant menu before. This is the Japanese equivalent of "chef's choice" and your ticket to eating omakase on a budget! You can also ask the waiter, "Omakase de onegai dekimasu ka," to see if the chef can do an omakase course for you. According to Japan residents, this is an easy hack to eat omakase on the cheap.
The Best Omakase Restaurants in Japan
Looking for specific recommendations? Check out our lists of omakase restaurants in Tokyo and Osaka:
Just like kaiseki, omakase is the finest of fine dining in Japan. If you can afford to splurge on a singular fantastic meal, go right ahead! But if you need something at a lower price point, there are definitely options available, which byFood can help you find. Browse omakase sushi restaurants in Japan.
Whether you choose a luxurious dining experience or a more casual eatery, an omakase meal is a memory you will never forget.