Omakase (Japanese: お任せ) is a Japanese phrase, used when ordering food in restaurants, that means ‘I’ll leave it up to you’.
Omakase usually refers to an extended sushi dinner, ideally eaten at the sushi counter, where the chef prepares one piece of fish at a time, announces its name and origin, answers your questions, and guesses what else you might enjoy and how much more you’d like to eat.
Omakase offers a unique dining experience that transcends all other restaurant services in ambiance, food, and chef and customer interactions. In just one meal, you’ll learn the differences between the origins of fish and the process for creating excellent sushi.
Contrary to what you might think, Omakase is not some centuries’ old tradition. It’s said to originate with sushi restaurants, where the term was popularized during the 1990s.
Before the 90s, sushi restaurants had something of a high barrier to entry. They could be relatively pricey, and it was common for gourmands who really knew the ins and outs of fish to enjoy the fine artisanship of sushi. They would often do this without drinking much alcohol, out of respect for the skill of the sushi chefs.
As a result, sushi culture changed in response to the change in what kinds of products were demanded. Sake and side dishes were offered, and customers were happy with these familiar menu items. But as many newcomers did not actually know much about fish, there was a need for a way where they could place an order and leave it to the chef – and spared the embarrassment of not knowing a particular fish name, particularly when seasonal fish were used. To help them save face, “Omakase” was born.