Since the beginning of the millennium, sushi has gained popularity among North Americans, with many indulging in the fish, rice and seaweed concoction at least once a month. But do you really know how to eat sushi?
But more often than not, most diners of Japanese art aren’t exactly sure what the etiquette is when it comes to ordering, eating and using sushi condiments.
That said, here’s a mini-lesson on how to eat sushi using chopsticks, what’s what when ordering, and what the extras are all about.
Separating sushi from maki
Sushi (or Nigiri)
Most people tend not to order sushi, but rather maki. Sushi is actually a piece of fish or seafood that lays on top of a rice ball and may or may not be held together by a slim piece of seaweed or nori.
Sashimi is a piece of fish or seafood that stands alone. If you ask for something that is more difficult to slice, such as lobster or crab, or if you’d like it spicy, chances are it may be bunched up on the side of your platter or placed in a small bowl.
Maki (or Norimaki)
Maki is usually the most popular option for sushi eaters. The pieces vary from small --containing just fish and rice -- to mouth fillers -- wherein they contain fish, rice, and other fillers like cucumber, crispy tempura, avocado, sushi mayonnaise and more.
Maki may have the seaweed on the outside or on the inside, leaving the rice as the outer layer, making for a different look, but with the same great taste.
Hand rolls (or Temaki)
Hand rolls resemble ice cream cones; they come to a point on one side and open up, showing off the filling on the other.
They essentially contain the same ingredients that any maki would contain, except that they’re rolled a different way and aren’t cut into pieces.
To eat them, you would pick up the pointed end with your fingers and start at the open end, eating away until the entire roll is gone.
How to eat sushi
Please note that for simplicity’s sake, I will refer to all of the aforementioned dishes as “sushi” going forward.
How to eat sushi tip #1
Use fingers or chopsticks
The beauty of sushi is that it’s a finger food, so if you’re not exactly familiar with the use of chopsticks (you should get on that pronto), not to worry; eating with your hands is fine (except for the sashimi, which requires being eaten with chopsticks).
It’s actually preferable to eat with your hands than it would be for you to cut up a piece of sushi with a fork and knife.
How to eat sushi tip #2
Eat the whole piece of sushi
When you indulge in sushi, it is proper etiquette to place the entire piece into your mouth rather than bite off a piece (except the roll, of course). It is considered a work of art by the chef who creates it and it is insulting when you tear it apart, leaving it to fall apart in your hand, on the sticks, or on the plate.
How to eat sushi tip #3
Don’t drown your food in soy sauce
Just as it’s rude to salt your food before you taste it, it’s just as rude to drench your sushi in soy sauce before you put a piece into your mouth. Soy sauce is meant to enhance the flavor of what you’re eating, not drown it.
Dab your sushi into the sauce and eat it, rather than pour the sauce over your food.
How to eat sushi tip #4
Try the wasabi
If you use too much of it, wasabi will make you feel like you got punched in the nose, but this green horseradish concoction works wonders in moderation and is quite good for you.
To use it, you can either ask the sushi chef to include some in your sushi or you can place some directly onto your piece of sushi and then dip that side into the soy sauce. Of course, you can always eat it without the sauce.
It is considered bad manners, however, to mix wasabi with your soy sauce.
How to eat sushi tip #5
Eat the ginger
The pink, pickled ginger is not meant to be eaten with sushi simultaneously; rather, it’s used to cleanse the palate after each morsel, so have a piece of sushi, eat a piece of ginger, then try a different piece of sushi.
Now you know how to eat sushi
Sushi is a fun and beautiful dining experience, and if you know how to enjoy it to the fullest, it will taste that much better.
And if you are thinking about trying it but feel a bit sketched out by the whole “raw fish, seaweed” thing, you should at least go into the experience with an open mind before you decide that sushi is not for you.