The Riskiest Sushi Specials To Avoid Ordering At Restaurants

There are few dining experiences more complex and etiquette-ridden than eating sushi at a restaurant. Can too much soy sauce really offend the chef? What is pickled ginger supposed to do anyway? Are forks and knives frowned upon? But before you even get to these conundrums, a more pressing question awaits: What kind of sushi should you order at a restaurant? Or better yet, which sushi should you avoid ordering at a restaurant?

When in doubt about what to order at a restaurant, sticking with a special may seem like a no-brainer. Specials are generally off-menu items that are offered only on a specific day or time. Oftentimes, these specials are a way for chefs to work with seasonal ingredients without having to give the dish a permanent spot on the menu. However, not all specials at a restaurant are worth ordering.

Seasoned chefs say one of the riskiest things to order at a restaurant is any sushi special during dinner. This doesn't mean platters of nigiri, maki, or uramaki rolls that may be on offer. Rather, customers may want to avoid any advertised chef specials or side dishes that may have sashimi — which are thin slices of raw seafood — in them as they are often the leftover bits of fish that the restaurant is looking to get rid of. This makes any salads, slaws, or sashimi-filled dishes on the sushi specials menu at the end of the day possibly the riskiest things to order.

The risks of eating leftover raw fish

Using up the day's leftovers during dinner service doesn't seem all that bad, especially if you consider the sustainability of it. But things are rarely that simple, especially if it involves raw fish, aka sashimi. Eating raw fish — even when it isn't the end of the day's leftover — can be risky for several reasons.

For one, raw fish is a breeding ground for parasites like tapeworms, liver flukes, and roundworms which can all lead to several infections. There's the more obvious risk of food poisoning that comes from the likes of listeria and salmonella present in raw foods like fish as well. Raw fish also has higher levels of contaminants that can lead to chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancer.

While freezing raw fish at specific temperatures tends to get rid of the parasites, even if the raw fish has previously been frozen, if it isn't consistently kept at extremely low temperatures, there's an increased risk for the growth of bacteria once again. In general, Healthline says that sashimi shouldn't be kept outside at room temperature for longer than two hours. This means, if chefs at a restaurant were working with sashimi during the day, the raw fish could very well have been exposed to unsafe temperatures for longer than is recommended, making any leftovers used later risky to eat.

The debate around restaurant specials

It goes without saying that the risk of eating sashimi-based sushi specials at night depends on the safety measures implemented by a particular restaurant. But to be cautious, it's best to avoid these specials altogether. In fact, Anthony Bourdain famously implied that the problem isn't with just sashimi or sushi specials. In his book "Kitchen Confidential," Bourdain suggested that fellow diners stay away from all seafood specials on Mondays. As a chef himself, Bourdain knew that most restaurants have their fish orders delivered on Friday mornings. Any fish leftover from Friday is generally used up in things like seafood salads before the next delivery on Monday. The result? You're likely getting three- to four-day-old fish in your Monday seafood special.

Many foodies are skeptical about specials as a concept in general. While specials could certainly be a way for chefs to get creative with fresh ingredients obtained on the cheap or rare produce that was suddenly made available, specials are also a way of using up soon-to-go-bad leftovers. Specials at a fine-dining restaurant with a reputation for good food and reputable chefs are generally okay. But elsewhere, the specials you're seeing are more than likely a way for restaurants to creatively sell off products that need to be thrown out soon. So when in doubt, it may be best to stay away from specials, especially if involves sashimi during nighttime.