Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New York Sushi Restaurants: Traditional Japanese vs. Chinese Style

From my earliest days of sushi comsumption, which goes back to the late 1980's, New York City sushi restaurants have always been polarized between traditional Japanese sushi purists and the value sushi contingent.  Although I love everything about having a traditional sushi meal, my cheap roots have me standing firmly in the corner of the value sushi corner.

In New York City, as with many places I've been to, value sushi usually means Chinese-made sushi and Chinese-owned sushi restaurants.  Why has there been such a huge influx of Chinese sushi restaurants?  The reason behind this influx is the general business environment of the the Chinese restaurant business.  Chinese restaurants can be found in all corners of the United States and their number makes it a highly competitive business.  Even Asian food markets have made inroads in formerly sleepy suburbs, which have indirectly cut into the profits of Chinese restaurant operators.  Thus, Chinese-American owners and new Chinese immigrants have decided to diversify and have opened, Japanese, Thai, and even Mexican restaurants right here in Manhattan. 

It is quite easy to see why the operation of Chinese restaurants is an expensive proposition.  Customers have been conditioned through the years to expect huge portions of greasy food from these operators. More food equals fewer profits.  As for Japanese food, small portions equals big profits. 

Qualitatively, the entrance of Chinese operators into the Japanese restaurant market have created a dual, polarized choice among sushi consumers.  For the Cheap Guy (that is me), I have found that cheapness dictates that I go more often to Chinese-run sushi establishments.

Let's see what I get for my money for going to a Chinese-run sushi restaurant:
  1. A soup and/or salad with an entree.
  2. Potentially a free appetizer, edamame or seaweed salad.
  3. Large maki rolls. (i.e. cut-up and hand rolls)
  4. Large sushi and sashimi pieces
  5. Large tempura
  6. American style rolls, such as California Rolls and Spicy Tuna, etc.
  7. Value prices, usually $2 to $3 less per roll, $5 to $10 less per entree.
Now, let's see what we get for going to a Traditional Japanese sushi eatery:
  1. Impeccable quality in rice, preparation and presentation.
  2. A greater variety in fish, including imported Japanese varieties not on the menu.
  3. Greater interaction between the customer and sushi chef. Generally good service.
Now for the downsides of dining in a Chinese-run Japanese restaurant:
  1. Potentially hurried and rushed service because of a need to turn over tables quickly due to their lower margins than their Japanese-run counterparts.
  2. Less than fresh fish.  Sourcing and storage practices may be questionable depending on a restaurant's experience and staff.
Here are the downsides of dining in a Japanese-run sushi restaurant:
  1. Confusion in ordering. Diners may need to know terms like "omakase", "isakaya", etc. 
  2. American diners may need to know that Japanese restaurants don't offer American-style maki rolls.
  3. Higher prices across the board. (But keep in mind that quality-mindedness reigns supreme at most Japanese-run restaurants.
So there you have it, a generalized summary of the two largest segments of New York sushi restaurants.  I firmly believe that sushi eaters in New York fall into one of the two camps.  To me, there is nothing wrong with either, but wouldn't it be a sushi lover's paradise if we could mix the upsides of both? and have value Japanese style sushi? I would love to live in that world!


  1. Dear Manhattancheapfoodblog, I am glad you explained the differences between chinese made sushi and japanese made sushi. Here in Florida, more specifically Tampa, I have tried the chinese-made sushi and it was not much to talk about. There is nothing that compares with Japanese made sushi! Your post on this topic is very professional and I will definitely be back to have a bite of more.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Cheers, Gaby
    You can visit me at http://ptsaldari.posterous.com

  2. Hi -This comment is totally unrelated to your current posting but I wanted to ask you some question regarding to Jing Star Restaurant...You posted in yelp that you had your banquet there..I was wondering if you had a dance floor, dj, and mc?? Reason why i'm asking is because my dad told me that Jing Star doesn't have that capability and I would ask myself but my canto isn't that great and live hours away from the city... (I figure I should contact someone who had a banquet there....)

  3. I didn't have a dance floor nor dj, however, I don't see how it couldn't be accomodated. It's just a matter of moving some tables. I've seen some Fujianese couples set up wedding karaoke, but without a dance floor. I actually set up my wedding in English, so I'm sure they could help you out even if your Canto isn't good. Hope you have some luck, as it's a potentially great venue, if they format the space correctly.