So this is your first time going to a sushi restaurant, or perhaps, you are on your first date and chose to have some sushi.
Are you concerned about the right way to eat sushi to avoid making your sushi chef angry?
Not to worry.
Here is your guide to eating sushi properly.
1. Just smile when you enter
Upon entering the restaurant, you may hear chefs or staff saying, “Irasshai Mase.” (or Irasshai.) No need to say anything back in Japanese. Just say hello or greet back with a smile. They are just saying, “welcome to our establishment.” It’s just a Japanese custom.
2. Say “Itadakimasu” before the meal
It’s Japanese equivalent of “Bon Appetite.” It loosely translates as “I am going to eat” or “For what I am about to receive.” It simply shows one’s gratitude to those who made the meal possible (farmers, chefs, nature, etc.). Nothing religious. Everyone in Japan does this before they start eating their meal.
3. Sushi Bar is for Nigiri
If you want sashimi and nigiri, seat at the sushi bar. If you are going to order only rolls, especially American standard like California and Spicy Tuna Roll, I would recommend seating at the table.
Nigiri tastes best when eaten right after when it’s made. That’s the reason most sushi chefs prefer customers who order nigiri at the sushi bar.
4. Start with appetizers if you drink
Japanese sake drinkers find eating starch like rice affects the taste of sake, thus tend to avoid ordering nigiri and maki at the beginning of the meal. If you love drinking, start with appetizers and small bites first then order sushi later.
5. Put wasabi on fish
Instead of putting wasabi in your soy sauce, put wasabi directly on top of fish, and then dip into soy sauce when eating sashimi. This way, you can taste fish, wasabi and soy sauce separately, and then they will start to create a nice harmony of flavor as you chew in our mouth. Also, you can adjust the amount of wasabi for the second and third piece of sashimi. When eating nigiri, no need for extra wasabi since it’s already added.
6. Omakase (chef’s recommendation) is usually the best way to order.
Omakase translates as, “I leave it up to you.” It simply means you are trusting the chef. Obviously, the chef knows what’s best, so it makes sense to ask the chef to give you what the chef thinks the best for you. It’s OK to mention your likes, dislikes, and budget.
7. Start with “lighter” fish and move on to “darker” ones.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s recommended to start your nigiri with lighter flavor fish such as halibut, snapper. Then, you should move on to what’s called “silver shinning” fish (hikarimono) like Japanese mackerel (saba), Spanish mackerel (aji), yellowtail, tuna then toro.
8. Use your fingers or chopsticks
Nigiri is also known as Edo (old Tokyo) style sushi. It was a form of fast food originally served at stand like hot dog stand. Therefore, it’s totally fine to eat sushi with you fingers. In fact, it is meant to be eaten with your fingers. Knowing this, using chopsticks is also acceptable way to eat sushi
9. Order soup at the end of the meal
When eating sushi, Japanese orders soup at the end of the meal. In addition, generally speaking, it is not miso soup, and clear broth soup is preferred by most Japanese. However in US, most chefs do understand the difference between Japanese and Western culture, so they tend to feel OK about you ordering soup before a meal.
10. Eat ginger between the pieces
Gari/ginger does two things: it cleanses your palette and works as anti-bacterial agent against parasites that may come with consuming raw fish. It’s not meant to be a side dish that you can keep ordering for more and more.
11. Soy sauce lightly on fish, instead of rice
When eating nigiri, dip the fish lightly into soy sauce. If you dip the rice, it will start to fall apart quickly.
12. One bite or two bites?
From the chef’s point of view, it is preferred to eat nigiri with one bite. If the piece is too big for your mouth, I think it’s perfectly OK to eat in two bites (do so without placing the half piece on your plate.) Also, I understand that there are many sushi chefs in Japan who cuts nigiri into two pieces so that it’s easier for the ladies to eat them.
13. Chopstick rest
There may be a ceramic or wooden piece of object right by your chopsticks. If so, place your chopsticks horizontally (not vertically) on. It’s a chopstick rest.
14. Giving alcohol to the chef is never a mandatory
It is true that some sushi chefs love drinking. It is also true that some sushi chefs dislike drinking. Therefore, it is wrong to assume that ordering beer and sake to give them will make them happy. In Japan, the customer never orders a drink for the chef until he/she gets to know the chef.
15. After all, there is no right or wrong
As Jiro Ono says and I completely agree with him, “Eat your sushi the way you like it.” I think that is the best way. Start with Toro, if you feel like it. The very first Omakase piece I had at one of the top rated sushi bars in Los Angeles was Tuna. (This goes against the traditional rule of starting off with lighter fish.) Instead of worrying about making your chef angry, my attitude is that if the chef gets angry about small things a customer does, I say go to a different restaurant and find a chef who is more acceptable. The reason is there really is no right or wrong in eating sushi.
So, just enjoy it any way you like it and have fun.