Tokujo vs Jo vs Nami in Sushi, Yakiniku, and Tonkatsu
If you have dined at restaurants in Japan before, you may have noticed that the name of some dishes on the menu has such prefixes as “Tokujo (特上)”, “Jo (上)”, and “Nami (並)”, like Tokujo Nigiri, Jo Nigiri, and Nami Nigiri in Sushi restaurants.
Besides Sushi, some foods in Yakiniku (BBQ) and Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet) restaurants are also given ranks using “Tokujo (特上)”, “Jo (上)”, and “Nami (並)”, just like “Sho Chiku Bai (松竹梅)“, and each of these words actually has a meaning of “especially superior”, “superior”, and “average” respectively.
The Difference: Tokujo vs Jo vs Nami in Japanese Cuisine
Thus, when used in the name of foods as a prefix, “Tokujo (特上)” means to be of the highest grade and costs most, but you may prefer “Jo (上)” or “Nami (並)” over the Tokujo dish because of the ingredients used in the dishes.
By the way, in Japanese cuisine, “Nami (並)” stands for normal quality or amount, so on the menu, the prefix is often omitted.
In Sushi restaurants, for example, Tokujo Nigiri typically has a block of sushi rice topped with a slice of fatty tuna (O-Toro: 大トロ), while more often than not the tuna used in Jo Nigiri is medium-fatty tuna (Chu-Toro: 中トロ) and the one for Nami Nigiri is lean tuna (Akami: 赤身).
Other than this example, sea urchin roe, or “Uni (雲丹)”, is a luxury sushi ingredient with a distinctive umami taste and may be included in Tokujo Nigiri and Jo Nigiri, but you may favor Nami Nigiri’s light-tasting squid nigiri more.
In Yakiniku restaurants, in many cases, (boneless) short ribs, or “Karubi (カルビ)”, are classified into 3 grades using Tokujo, Jo, and Nami. As with tuna nigiri, Tokujo Karubi is the most marbled fatty beef and (Nami) Karubi has the lightest taste. As seen in this case, in Yakiniku, Tokujo meats generally tend to be more greasy.
Unlike Sushi and Yakiniku, in many cases the deep-fried pork slices Tonkatsu is graded as either “Jo (上)” or “Nami (並)” according to the amount, not quality, of pork used in the dish. But that varies depending on each restaurant and some use higher-rank pork in Jo Tonkatsu and Jo Katsudon.