What are some rules of sushi restaurant kitchen etiquette most people don't know about?
Here is some professional kitchen trivia that may make your next visit to the sushi bar more enjoyable.
This article was originally posted on Quora. It is a response to a question.
Say "good morning" at the beginning of the shift.
Japanese take teamwork seriously. Therefore, a greeting is mandatory. Failing to greet someone is worse than making a mistake on the job. If you forget to greet, you will not be allowed to work is the unwritten rule everyone knows.
No matter what time of the day your shift starts, you always greet by saying, "ohayo gozai masu," good morning in Japanese.
This is common practice at restaurants in Japan, as well as in the entertainment industry.
In the beginning, I felt weird saying "good morning" at 3 p.m. when I started my shift. It made me feel guilty as if I partied all night long, went to bed in the morning, and got up in the afternoon to arrive work, although I didn't.
I got used to it, and it became natural. Why and when this rule started is unclear.
I guess saying good morning makes you feel "normal" and the "same" as those who start working in the morning.
Arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes before your shift time.
If your shift starts at 10 a.m., you are expected to be ready, fully dressed in your uniform, have all your knives and tools out, finished going to the bathroom, and start working at 10 a.m. sharp. Working in a kitchen is a battle against time. There is no room to sit around and spend time doing things you could have done before your shift. Every second count.
Have you been to Japan? Then, you know how accurate the train schedules are. If it says the train arrives at 11:23, it will come precisely at 11:23. Passengers would be waiting for the train at least five to ten minutes before its arrival. This is the environment the Japanese grow up; School, groups, social gatherings, events, and work.
Being late is rude. Being not ready at a promised time is rude, a sign of an incompetent human being, worker.
This leads to the third rule ...
Never sharpen your knife during your shift.
Working in a kitchen is like going to a battle, and your knife is one of the most important weapons, like a gun to a soldier.
How can you fight when your weapon is not ready? On a battlefield, that is a matter of life and death.
In a kitchen, a dull knife means you are sacrificing the overall quality of the dishes and not performing at your optimum level. A dull knife is the same as the gun without a bullet.
Taking care of your tools is an important part and fundamental practice among all Japanese chefs. It's a matter of discipline.
A chef should sharpen the knife before or after the shift, and never during the shift. I did not know this until I started working at a professional kitchen. My boss yelled at me, sharpening my knife during the downtime because I didn't understand the concept of the kitchen being a battlefield.
Also, you are expected to have your own sharpening stone(s) because of wear and tear from the usage. More than technique, the first thing you need to do before sharpening your knife is to make sure the surface of the whetstone is flat. If you sharpen your knife on an uneven surface, your knife will never be as sharp as it should be. It's like driving a car without tire alignment.
It's a matter of physics.
When working at a restaurant, I used to sharpen my knives every day, sometimes twice during the shift when busy. All may sound very simple and easy to do. You may be surprised to know how many times I failed to sharpen my knives before my shift.
But then, when was the last time you checked the air in your tire, and did the alignment on your car before?
There are some secret words among sushi chefs
Sushi chefs have developed some secret words only used at a sushi bar. Perhaps the need arose from as a courtesy to customers. It could be that the Japanese culture is more about concealing than revealing.
The word "aniki" (older brother) refers to older ingredients, and "otõto" (younger brother) means fresher ingredients.
Be assured that aniki does not mean "old, bad, and not servable."
Also, when it comes to fish, fresh fish is not always what you want to eat. (here is my article)
It means older compared to other fish.
Shibuichi (article about tuna here) means quarter-cut, but I've only heard at the sushi bar. My guess is it is used at the fish market in Japan also.
Ten-pa, or Ten-mi is the part of Tuna meat close to the bones. It's soft and ideal for Sashimi. The word "ten" means the ceiling or heaven.
Murasaki means Purple in Japanese, but at the sushi bar, it is soy sauce because of its dark color.
Dolesu is the word for half fille of fish without a head. I heard it came from shortening the word "Headless."
Remove your apron upon entering the bathroom.
As a gesture for cleanliness and hygiene, a Japanese chef is taught to remove his apron when entering the bathroom, either leaving it in the kitchen or some specified location away from the customers' view, nicely folded, like a perfectly executed origami. I believe the same goes for the waitstaff.
Say "knife" when walking with a knife in a kitchen.
When walking in a kitchen with a knife, you are to hold it behind your back, blade facing away. You can also attach it by your thigh, blade facing back.
This will protect you and someone running into you from the front. If someone would come from your behind, he/she will see your knife.
As you walk with your knife, you should shout, "Knife, coming down," making sure everyone hears you.
It's a simple yet effective protective measure.
Another shouting safety measure is "Ushiro Torimasu," walking behind you, which is a common practice in the western professional kitchen as well.