You’ve Probably Been Eating Sushi Wrong

Here are ten tips to help you out.

This summer I started working at a sake startup in Tokyo, Japan. Like most sushi lovers, within 12 hours of landing I quickly ran out to find some of the best sushi Tokyo could offer. With a looming reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro’s (profiled in the movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi) I wanted to take some time to brush up on my sushi etiquette. Turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong.

So, should you ever find yourself sitting down for a nice omakase meal or traveling to Japan in the near future, keep these tips in mind to look like a sushi pro.

Setting Up

  • Hot Towel: If they have a hot towel or moist towelette when you sit down, take it out and make sure to clean your hands.
  • Condiments: Before living in Japan, I would always see people take some wasabi and combine it in a small bowl of soy sauce. Turns out this is not correct. They are meant to be enjoyed separately, meaning you should add soy sauce to your fish and wasabi on top of your fish if needed. Diluting your wasabi in soy sauce takes away from the flavors you are meant to enjoy. As a Japanese chef told me, “Doing this ensures you’ll get the worst fish they have.”
  • What Not To Order: In really high end, old-school sushi places, they generally do not make salmon available. There are of course exceptions, most notably in the U.S. However I was told in Japan not to ask for it, unless I wanted to be silently judged.

Eating Your Sushi

  • Eat it as Soon as it’s Served: This means resisting the urge to photograph what’s in front of you. I know, this might be the most difficult thing, especially if you have amazingly appetizing sushi in front of you. Sushi is best eaten as it is served to you because of the temperature of the rice and fish (hours of preparation go into that one moment). Letting it sit out will take away from the way sushi is meant to be enjoyed.
  • Picking Up Your Sushi: Sushi can be picked up by using either your hands or chop sticks. Whichever way you choose, grab your sushi from the side, not the top. Your fingers or chopsticks should be parallel to the tray your sushi is being served on. This is to prevent the sushi from losing its shape or falling apart.
  • Don’t get Soy Sauce on Your Rice: If you want soy sauce to complement your sushi, one of the most common mistakes is dipping your entire sushi directly into the soy sauce plate. Soy sauce should only be used to flavor your fish. There are two ways to get this done:
  1. Tip over your sushi to pick it up (one chopstick will have fish touching it and one chopstick will have rice touching it). Then rotate your sushi to dip only the fish in the soy sauce.
  2. Take some pickled ginger and dip it in your soy sauce, then use this to brush your fish.
  • Eat in One Bite: Good sushi should be made bite size, so ideally you don’t have to take multiple bites and have it crumble.
  • Don’t Take Apart Your Sushi: Let’s say you want to be carb conscious, so you decide to remove the fish from the rice. You’ve just given one of the biggest insults to your sushi chef. Be sure to ask ahead of time if you don’t want rice with your sushi, although without a doubt there’s an art to cooking rice, so at good places it is something you’ll want to enjoy.
  • Cleanse Your Palette: Use green tea or a pinch of pickled ginger to help cleanse your palette between pieces. Don’t eat ginger with your sushi.

Other Tips

  • Chop Sticks: As a general tip, never place your chop sticks in a bowl with the two ends sticking out. Lay your chop sticks flat on the rim of the bowl or on your plate.

I’ve likely missed one or two sushi tips, so please add them in the comments below!

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