Eating Sushi the “Proper” Way

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Photo by Greg Williams
March 29, 2015

How do YOU eat sushi? Do you smear extra Wasabi on top? Pick up the sushi with chopsticks and dip the rice into soy sauce (and let it linger to absorb the salty juices)? I like to bite into the sushi to split it in half; then, I can feel the tenderness of the fish (and feel like I have more pieces to eat). Some people I know like to use mayo, Sriracha, or eel sauce on their sushi. I like to mix the wasabi and soy sauce together to form a greenish-brownish paste. And others remove the fish from the rice and enjoy them separately, or even discard the rice.

Many people don’t know that there is actually a “proper” way to eat this beloved cuisine. Eating sushi comes with its own unique table manners that got lost with the rise in popularity and accessibility. However, knowing these rules can give you insight on what you are being served and how to show respect/gratitude to the chef.

How to eat sushi the “proper” way:

Pick up the sushi with your clean hands, not chopsticks. That way, you don’t ruin the perfect form of the sushi that was made by the chef’s crafty hands. Sashimi and ginger are picked up with chopsticks.

Tilt the sushi fish-down to apply only a hint of soy sauce. The rice and the soy sauce are not supposed to touch.

Place the sushi on your tongue face-down as well. This way, you get the full flavor and freshness of the fish.

If adding extra wasabi, take your chopsticks and only put the smallest amount needed on top of the fish. The sushi chef already applied just the right dab of wasabi between the fish and the rice for you. And do NOT mix wasabi into the soy sauce.

Eat the sushi piece all in one bite. Splitting it in half is apparently very rude to the chef, who spent time making the perfect piece for you. If the sushi is too big, tell the chef so he can adjust the proportion for you. He will find the best part of the fish that can accompany the size of sushi to suite you.

Eat ginger between sushi pieces, not while you still have fish in your mouth. The ginger is supposed to serve as a palette cleanser.

Praise the rice! The chef created the perfect texture, vinegar flavor, and temperature to compliment the sushi. Its quality is just as important as the fish itself.

Finally, do not tip the chef. Instead, you can buy him Sake to enjoy with you. Kanpai!

sushi-info
These rules are probably not applicable in casual places. However, if you are sitting in front of the sushi chef, it’s nice to know that you can show appreciation for the food through your actions rather than repeating “Arigato” over and over.

I have become pickier about the rice in my sushi, and I’ve come to despise places that squirt too much sauce on the fish. Basically, I stopped seeing sushi as something to hoard in my mouth (oh, you should have seen me in all-you-can eat sushi restaurants). Sushi is delicate and thoughtful, and I appreciate those chefs who serve something worth savoring.

However, I still make my wasabi-soy sauce paste.

Topics:  

Traveling, eating, writing through Nihon.
  • Good article – having been able to enjoy proper sashimi “course meals” in Japan (prepared by experts) your notes are spot on. I especially like your identifying details like how the chef applies the wasabi for you (freshly hand grated against shark skin) before it even reaches you. Western style sushi is a far cry from the authentic πŸ™‚

  • Tess de la Serna

    A very good article! Very informative. I love sushi and often goes to Japanese restaurants (the authentic ones) when on a date with my husband. Thank you for this article!

  • Great article. A small point I’d add is that at higher-end sushi restaurants, the Itamae (sushi chef) will likely apply all the soy sauce (even rarely wasabi) that you need – no need to add.

  • Jesse Voutour

    Nice article, but I feel a little left out and confused. I prefer the shellfish and eel types of sushi and there was no mention of any of these types. Kani (crab), Ika (squid), Unagi (eel), Tako (octopus), Hotate (scallop), Anago (sea eel), Ebi (shrimp), Amachi (sweet water shrimp) are some of my favorites, but are missing from their place in the order. I know that the fish types of Sashimi are what seems to set one restaurant apart from another, but I find most fish tasteless, unlike those from this list.

    Plus, I think you should have defined Maki = rolled sushi, Nigiri = hand pressed sushi and Sashimi = thinly sliced raw fish (which is Not sushi). This article is mostly about Sashimi except for the Tamago nigiri (egg) one.

    • maulinator

      The article is about sushi and not sashimi as she mentioned pressing the fish side first down into the shoyu. You might have been confused since she mentioned the wasabi, which in sushi you do not use, the itamae will already have placed the wasabi in the sushi. The placeing of a little wasabi on the fish by the eater is for sashimi, not sushi in general. Making the wasabi soy sauce paste is NOT done. It is generally accepted in Korea though. I happen to like the paste but I would not do that at a high end eatery. It is also the case that most of the high end plces will brush the shoyu on the sushi for you prior to serving you so you do not usually need to apply extra shoyu. Unless you like your sushi extra salty (why would one do that though?)
      As for the shell fish, the kairui like hotate, akagai, mirugai etc can ususally come after the white fish in order of presentation. THe botan ebi (which you missed talking about) should come after the clam type sushi. But usually as otsukuri not sushi. And if you are lucky get the live botan ebi, which will still be moving as you eat it! Then the chefs int ehb ack will cook the head for you and bring it out to eat afterwards. Then you can do the hikarimono (the silver fishes like sawara, aji, kohada etc.) some places will serve this will a garlic shoyu or ginger shoyu, THis would be a good time to eat some gari to celan the palette.
      The Kani, ebi or amaebi (not amachi) usually comes before the fatty stuff at the end. Uni, otoro are usually saved for last. IKura can come in between, but I prefer ikura as otsukuri. Anago can come at the end too, as it is usually eaten with the sweet sauce or if the itamae feels that the anago is unusually fresh, just a touch of salt. But I think the author is just providing a general guideline. In general, the order the sushi comes is either up to you, if you order by the piece, or omakase, where the itamae will decide for you. And if you become a regular, the itamae will soon know your likes and dislikes and present you your food in the order you like.
      This article is about sushi only, with some sashimi tips interspersed (by accident?). If one goes to a high end sushi place, you would not start with sushi but with some sashimi, usually some white fish like hirame or saori or something in season in the usuzukuri style. You might get some yaki hamaguri to eat with the sake, and definitely some yaki zakana (some place towards the end about 3/4 the way though thr meal)- i recommend nodoguro, If in season you also might try the kawahagi with the naizou(guts) mized with the shoyu (murasaki). Do not get the kani as sushi but otsukuri, and if in season the ke-gani one whole crab with the miso (crab brains -yum!). Where I go, they know I like my tamago freshly made so they will make a new batch for me. and it is a treat if you cdan get it still hot- again not as nigiri though- the heat of the eggs will ruin the shari.
      For those of you who might have inquired, fugu is not a traditional fish that is served at a sushi palce. Some places will have it, but usually not in an tsuu na edo-mae sushi ya.

    • You need to go by the fish colors and tastes, if you judge by that, you will be fine. The chart of when to eat go by light to strong flavours. Easily understood.

  • arigato… πŸ˜‰

  • You can also eat with your hands if chopsticks are too difficult.

  • J Philosopher (JapanPhilosophe

    So the article states not to pick up sushi with chopsticks, but the infographic shows the opposite

  • Raymond Chuang

    The part about eating sushi with your hands can be a tad unnerving to Westerners until you realize that WAS the way people in Japan ate sushi until very recently.

  • maulinator

    A really easy way to learn this stuff is go to a sushi bar and tell the itamae or sushi chef that it is your first time and you want to learn the proper and respectful way to eat the meal. If you go to a higher end restaurant in a higher end hotel in Japan they ususally have some English speaking people. Since the chef is right in front of you, he will give you advice on the best way to eat your food.
    He will provide you with the optimal or most proper way to eat your meal but at the end of the day it is your food. YOU should go on a quiet night so that he can be more attentive to your special request.
    While I like to eat it the proper way, you don’t have to. You are paying for it and if you want you can rinse your food in mouthwash before you eat it if you REALLY want (I wouldn’t recommend it). People might look at you weird, but have it your way. Youmight be missing out on the entire point of the meal, but once again you are paying for it so enjoy it anyway you want. There is a proper and respectful way to eat sushi, but a the end of the day don’t be a stickler to the rules and enjoy it anyway you want. Just don’t smoke at the sushi counter. The smoke gets into everyone’s food and makes everything taste like shit. Have the decency to remove yourself from the counter and smoke outside.

    • Oh well, I live in Venezuela, it’s very hard to find a respectable sushi restaurant, I can think only of one, but it’s in a very dangerous zone, that has been my problem all along… And I don’t really smoke, I hate smoking haha thanks for your advise, I hope I can find a respectable sushi restaurant and learn how to eat it properly. And by the way, I know I can eat it as I want, but I would like to eat it the proper way, my girlfriend and I always eat sushi and it has become more of a tradition to us, that’s why I would like to learn πŸ˜€ so thanks for your advise again!

  • Brent

    no sashimi does not include rice… that is sushi they are picking up with the chopsticks πŸ™‚

  • Dinis

    If your 6 year old eats it with 2 fingerfulls of “pretty green ice cream” or wasabi, i might tell her that. Fite me br0

  • TokyoRose

    “…I knock your teeth out.”

    Spoken like a true ‘merican. A tolerant littleLibturd, no doubt.

  • Jerry Alan Carroll

    Um. No. Either sushi OR sashimi. Not both and not the same. Nihongo chanto Benkyou Shinasai.

  • Eric Rey

    No, sashimi is not a type of sushi. Sushi, by definition contains sushi rice as an ingredient. Any sushi may be picked up with the fingers or chopsticks (fingers being more traditional). Sashimi is chopsticks only.

  • Le Connard Francais

    You can actually eat nigiri with your hands too. How do you think the chef puts it on the plate? Truth is, you can eat any type of sushi with your hand or chopsticks. It comes down to preference.

    https://www.sushi-jiro.jp/dining-at-jiro/

    https://image.jimcdn.com/app/cms/image/transf/dimension=171×10000:format=png/path/s724419593e9d90c5/image/id1b7544d31818982/version/1441761371/sukiyabashi-jiro.png

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