Sushi is intimidating for many newcomers. Because it is so different from the foods you're probably used to eating, you may become confused when eating sushi at a restaurant. There are several etiquette points you may not be aware of. To fit in with the experienced sushi eaters, here's how to eat sushi:
- Select a good sushi restaurant. Because poorly prepared sushi can ruin the experience, choose a reputable restaurant. Avoid "all you can eat" sushi buffets, or those with the names listed only in English. A good sushi restaurant will list the names in both Japanese and English.
- Sit at the bar. If you sit at the sushi bar, you'll probably have the opportunity to interact with the sushi chef. You'll be able to ask questions if you're a newcomer, and they can explain the sushi traditions and ingredients to you.
- Order the right kind of sushi. Don't stick to California rolls if you want a real sushi experience. If you're nervous about trying raw fish, start with salmon sushi nigiri style, which is typically milder than other types of sushi. Don't forget that you can always ask the sushi chef for recommendations. However, don't ask the chef what is fresh, as he may take it to mean that you are implying some of the fish is not fresh. Order green tea, beer, sake, or water to drink; sodas often overpower the flavors of the sushi.
- Know what's on the plate. Typically, along with your sushi you will be served wasabi (green), and pickled ginger (pink). Pickled ginger is to be eaten in small pieces between types of sushi to cleanse the palette. Do not overdo it with the wasabi, as this can be spicy and will overpower the taste of the sushi itself. You may also be provided a small dish for soy sauce. If you do use the soy sauce, dip the sushi fish-side down; the soy sauce is for flavoring the fish, not the rice. However, do not dip any sushi that already has sauce into the soy sauce. This may offend the chef, as if to tell him that the sushi was not seasoned to your liking.
- Use your chopsticks. Never ask for a fork or knife at a sushi restaurant. Instead, use the chopsticks you are given. Sashimi is usually eaten with chopsticks, while it is perfectly fine to eat sushi with your hands. At some restaurants, you will also be provided with a hot moist towel to clean your hands. If you have never had the opportunity to eat with chopsticks before, you may want to practice at home before visiting a sushi restaurant. Never pass food to another person using your chopsticks, as this resembles a tradition at Japanese funerals. When not using your chopsticks, place them parallel on your plate, or use a chopstick holder if one is provided.
- Eat the sushi. Try to eat each piece in one bite, or two if it is a large piece. Eat slowly and enjoy the flavors and textures. Take the time to enjoy your sushi meal. Eat every bite of sushi unless you truly cannot eat another bite. It is considered impolite to leave food behind, so be sure to eat every grain of rice.
If the idea of eating sushi in an unfamiliar restaurant intimidates you, relax. Once you learn the rules and traditions for eating sushi, you'll realize that it is fun and delicious.