Sushi is one of Japan’s most iconic dishes. Anyone who visits Japan likely has plans to spend plenty of time hopping around restaurants trying this tasty Japanese seafood delight. For first timers, there will be no problem finding foreign-friendly sushi restaurants that match your budget. However, the process may be somewhat confusing. Also, you don’t want to insult Japanese culture by disrespecting one of the country’s most beloved dishes. There are even rules about how to use chopsticks. For example, you shouldn’t rub your chopsticks together to get rid of wood splinters, as it may insult the restaurant by implying that they are cheap.
There is however, an even more important reason why you should learn to eat sushi like the Japanese do: it simply tastes better. With that in mind, here are a few tips for foreigners who want to learn proper etiquette and enjoy sushi to its fullest.
Japanese sushi chefs have mastered the craft of preparing and serving sushi for over 200 years. So it might be worth trusting them when it comes to how they say it should be eaten. Though there’s obviously many opinions out there, here are three of the most basic rules that many Japanese agree on when eating high quality sushi.
Sushi Rule Number 1: Don’t Mix the Wasabi and Soy Sauce
This rule may come as a surprise, as you will catch plenty of Japanese sushi-lovers even committing this sushi sin. The amount of wasabi used really depends on the fish. Which is why the chefs apply the amount they deem necessary directly onto the fish. For that reason, it may be better to trust the experts and not add any extra kick of wasabi by mixing it in with your bowl of soy sauce. By the way, if you really can’t stand wasabi, you can ask them to not put any on by saying “wasabi nuki de”.
Sushi Rule Number 2: Dip the Fish, Not the Rice
Another common sushi sin you will see people commonly committing is dipping the rice in the soy sauce rather that only dipping the fish resting on top. The rice will soak up more soy sauce than you need, overpowering the flavor of the fish. Also, the rice will probably disintegrate in the process.
Sushi chefs pay just as much attention to the quality and taste of their carefully crafted vinegar rice, so leaving any precious grain floating around in a dish of salty soy sauce is a waste. Remember, you came to eat sushi, not wasabi and soy sauce!
Sushi Rule Number 3: Eat Sushi Quickly
If you’re sitting at the counter and the chef places the sushi on your plate in front of you, don’t let it sit too long. Sure, it’s not going to get cold per se, but many sushi chefs say that the flavor of the fish will change as the freshly sliced fish is exposed to air and begins to oxidize. Not to mention, you can be sure the chefs carefully calculate the juxtaposed temperature of the warm rice and the cold fish. So eat it quickly.
Sushi Rule Number 4: You Can Eat Sushi with Your Hand
This little-known method of eating sushi may come as a shock to many. After all, grabbing up food with your hands is often seen as rude. People even eat plates of French fries with chopsticks sometimes! However, this is surprisingly ok when it comes to the seemingly sacred sushi. In fact, sushi was once considered to be more like a fast-food meant to be gobbled up quickly with your hands. Using this method may even make it easier for you to dip the sushi toppings in the soy sauce without soaking the rice.
Sushi Rule Number 5: Cleanse Your Palate with Ginger
With so many varieties of sushi, you’ll want to try as many different flavors as possible. However, if you want the full experience by tasting each fish purely without influence of the previous sushi, you should cleanse your palate. This is where the pickled ginger, or gari, comes in. Between each bite of delicious sushi, you can reset your taste buds for the next.
When the chef puts the sushi out in front of you, take it quickly, dip the fish-side in a little soy sauce, then put it in your mouth. Simple isn’t it? And if chopsticks aren’t your forte, feel free to grab the sushi with your hands!