Scent is a very important part of food. When I walk by a BBQ or yakitori restaurant and the grilled smokey meat or vegetable smells waft into the streets, they trigger my stomach and I’m tempted to walk in. (Sidenote: I can tell apart what kind of meat is grilling just by the smells. My nose is so bionic I can even smell ramen broth and tell what kind of ramen they serve when walking by ramen joints. It’s creepy. I think I’m a freak.)
This is not the case with sushi. If a sushi place reeks of a pungent sourness from vinegar or a vile stench from fish, run, don’t walk. Especially in Japan. It means the ingredients aren’t fresh. And the place is unsanitary. Sushi is perhaps one of the few cuisines where its scents aren’t enticing.
To mitigate foul odors, every sushi professional and anyone that has to do with building or construction ex: architect, lumberjack, furniture builder, etc., all know to use specific woods. The most commonly used is hinoki.
Hinoki is known as natural air fresheners. Freshly cut, the woodsy scent is really prominent and often used for furniture and baths. There is nothing more relaxing than soaking in a hinoki bath at the end of a long day. The scent is so popular there are even hinoki scented bath salts. And homes built with hinoki are just marvelous. It has also been used for centuries. The earliest documented structure made from hinoki dates back to some time in 1117. Insane.
For sushi bars, the hinoki requires aging so the scent doesn’t over power our senses as we dine.
So the beautiful counters and construction of sushi bars aren’t just for aesthetic purposes but also, to naturally suppress the aromas from vinegar used for sushi rice and scents from the fish. And this is why sushi bars don’t stink.
So much history that surrounds something mundane as the structure of a sushi bar. I love Japan.