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The rules of sushi

38 Comments

Like most things in Japanese life there are precise codes and formalities involved with eating the national dish of sushi. Its preparation, presentation and consumption are subject to a surprising number of rules.

Here are some of the most important sushi etiquette.

Wasabi

To mix or not to mix? The correct technique is to place a small amount of wasabi on each piece of sushi with your chopstick before eating. These days it is quite common for people outside of Japan to mix their wasabi in soy sauce as a dipping sauce for the sushi. I tend to do this myself and although not technically correct, it is acceptable.

Dipping

What is the correct way to dip sushi into soy sauce? The rice part of the sushi should not touch the soy sauce as it has already been flavored and will tend to fall apart easily in the sauce. Only the fish, seafood or other part of the sushi should touch the sauce.

How many bites?

Sushi is meant to be eaten in one bite. It is considered rude to bite it in two. If the sushi is too big, ask the chef to cut it in half. They will not be offended and are happy to oblige.

Fingers or Chopsticks?

Sushi was traditionally eaten only by hand. These days most people eat sushi with chopsticks. How can I tell which to use? If you visit a restaurant where you are given a specific hand towel to wipe your fingers then the restaurant is recommending that you eat using your hands.

Where to Start?

Yes, believe it or not there is a correct order in which to eat sushi. Start first with the most delicately flavored fish and gradually proceed to stronger flavors or fattier fish such as tuna or eel, and finish with the sweet egg sushi.

Why is there ginger?

The beautiful pink ginger is meant to be eaten between mouthfuls of sushi to refresh the palate, so it’s ready for a new flavor and to aid in digestion.

The 3 Golden Rules

Don’t forget these 3 keys rules: don’t stick your chopsticks upright in the rice; don’t cut a piece of sushi in half with your chopsticks; and don’t mix wasabi in your soy sauce.

These are formal rules of etiquette and while correct as long as you enjoy your sushi, that is fine with me.

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38 Comments
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Everyone knows that the definitive guide to eating sushi has already been created in video form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDL8yu34fz0

5 ( +5 / -0 )

You try to confuse. Re. putting wasabi in soy sauce, although not technically correct, it is acceptable.

But then again, *don't mix wasabi in your soy sauce.

Just as well I already know!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@6wings

You beat me to it. That's the first thing I thought of when I read the headline. Especially the two dudes outside eating the salt.

The day I see Japanese in a foreign country worrying about proper local eating etiquette is the day I start worrying about "rules' to eat sushi by.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Too many lules. The wasabi soy statements are contradictory. Chopsticks upright in rice? what rice? This is sushi we are talking about.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

If the correct way to eat wasabi is as you state, then many Japanese need to be taught this as well. Just about every Japanese person I have met, including my wife and in-laws, mix their wasabi...

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I would rather enjoy the food than worry about some outdated rules that only seniors or Japanophiles care about.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

actually, you don't put wasabi on sushi. the itamae does that. the correct way to eat sashimi is to put the wasabi on the fish and not mix it in the sauce. same with soba.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Just about every Japanese person I have met, including my wife and in-laws, mix their wasabi...

Strange, on the other hand i have never seen any japanese person mix wasabi in their soy at a sushi restaurant... Unless they are eating Sashimi, where it is acceptable (and considered the norm)

0 ( +1 / -1 )

We mixing the wasabi and shoyu here on a daily basis. Japanese home

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I do like to ask the guy behind the counter to slap the tuna and salmon on the grill for a few seconds first, though.

"Add a bit of salt when you're done, and I'm good to go!" I tell him.

I can never understand why he looks at me funny.

Am I wrong?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What the author wrote are not rules of etiquette but rules to enjoy your meal at the fullest. Wasabi's pungent fragrance and taste is also fragile and loses most of it's delicateness when mixed with soy sauce. Off course I am talking about real freshly ground wasabi and not the powder type that comes in cans. As for dipping the rice part in the soy sauce, as the writer mentioned the rice soaks up the soy sauce causing the rice ball to crumble and also to salty to enjoy the sushi. Cutting the sushi into half also causes the rice ball to crumble before you carry it to your mouth making it a mess predicament. As for the correct order what he wrote was rule of thumb that is not always true. You have green tea and shoga to wash your mouth to enjoy any dish. One suggestion I would make is order a hosomaki and eat one while you wait for the next sushi to be served.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Strange, on the other hand i have never seen any japanese person mix wasabi in their soy at a sushi restaurant... Unless they are eating Sashimi, where it is acceptable (and considered the norm)

Just went to a sushi restaurant last week, EVERYONE mixed... IJS

I wasn't trying to be a d*ck, just stating that I have never seen anyone eat it the way he wrote and if it was the "rule", then it's either outdated, or not everyone cares for it..

0 ( +2 / -2 )

i am having sushi tonight. I will make sure to follow all these rules (except the shoyu one as it is contradictory) and see if I like my meal more.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I didn't think it would take long for somebody to link that 'hilarious' sushi video EVERYONE IN THE WORLD EVER seems to love.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow have to admit I didnt know that ginger thing. I thought it was meant to be eaten WITH sushi. Anyway never touch the stuff, really hate it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I enjoy the wasabi mixed with the soy sauce far more than spreading raw wasabi on my sushi. The mixture gives a far better blend of flavours, a little sweet, salty and with the pugence and slight bite of the wasabi. Spreading it on top gives means that the first flavour you taste that hits your tongue is a smack to the tastebuds of wasabi... after which it's difficult to taste and enjoy the sushi. I think most Japanese people have reached the same conclusion.

I do agree about not cutting the sushi in half with your chopsticks, and not "dunking" your sushi in the wasabi. The ginger as a palate cleanser should be familiar to anyone who's eaten a sushi bento.

As for mixing wasabi and soy sauce though, mixing is far superior to not mixing. It's like idiotic wine snobs who argue about whether it's better circulate the wine in your mouth clockwise or counterclockwise.... it totally ignores personal preferences.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I remember many Japanese business dinners, where the hosts (Japanese) were happily mixing the wasabi with the soy sauce, and advising the foreigners (guests) to do the same.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think those rules mainly apply in places where the food is really, really expensive and only the rich people eat. Here in Okinawa, a lot of those rules don't even apply.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The rice part of the sushi should not touch the soy sauce

So how are we supposed to put soy sauce to irregular-shaped sushi toppings?

Maybe we just eat the sushi, dip the chopsticks in the soy sauce and then suck it off?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Elvensilvan

So how are we supposed to put soy sauce to irregular-shaped sushi toppings?

Maybe we just eat the sushi, dip the chopsticks in the soy sauce and then suck it off?

If you are talking about the Gunkan Maki (ikura, uni,etc.), use the sliced ginger(gari) like a brush, dipping it into the soysauce then brushing it on top of the gunkan Maki.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are no rules except one, which is always enjoy your food when eating. I eat sushi with my hands, I add wasabi and ginger to my sauce and I drip the rice into it.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I pick up my Nigiri by hand and give a quick dip on the side if it has ikura or uni and 180 degrees for other things.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I never understood why a nation that consumes so much of the world's fish destroys the taste of it with soy sauce. Wasabi yes (on saba and sanma and vinegared fish) and gari to clean the palette, but soy sauce robs the fish of the natural taste, so I never use soy sauce.To me it is the same as people pouring soy on white rice.Overkill. But eat it as you enjoy it,eh? I am sure plenty of Japanese will add Kewpie mayo to sushi, if only in secret.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

BNoles,

Sorry dude yr clueless, the author while CORRECTLY stating it is very bad form/behavior to stick chopsticks upright into rice(clearly he meant a bowl of rice), which clearly he forgot is almost NEVER served in a bowl when eating at a SUSHI restaurant!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've eaten more salt than that old boy has eaten rice...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

what is the preferred drink with sushi ? green tea or beer ? Coke/Pepsi acceptable ?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I prefer nigirizushi (as opposed to the "roll"-style sushi popular here in the states) and would have dificulty dipping only the fish into the soy sauce without everything falling apart. I've read elsewhere that for those like me who are sushi challenged, you can baste the topping with soy sauce by using a piece of ginger as the baster. The place I frequent already puts wasabi between the rice and the topping, so I don't feel the need to do any mixing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All this talk about sushi is making me hungry. They forgot another rule, don't put large amouts of sushi on a platter. I mix the wasabi and soysauce, and just lightly touch the meat to the dip, and I use my hand's or chopsticks depending on what I see everyone else doing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

don’t cut a piece of sushi in half with your chopsticks;

I know many a Japanese person who is expert at this. Guess they didn't have John Asano to tell them they were in the wrong.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is good to always respect tradition, and sushi is so wonderful. Always nice to have advice but it sounds to me like Mr Asano may be a westerner thinking in western ways. Thank you for sharing anyway :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sushi in a restaurant in Japan normally already has wasabi in it (or not, as appropriate to the fish). If you have munchkins in tow or simply don't care for it, you ask to have it left out. I've seen many gaijin here demand extra wasabi and then dump it all into a lake of soy sauce until it turns a rather unappetizingly pale color. I'm left to exchange glances & a quick shrug with the chef/wait staff. So the whole mixing question is more appropriate to sashimi (or sushi places overseas). Just like fake maple syrup on pancakes or Tabasco sauce on pizza(??), people get used to a taste & for them it is "normal". I suggest & cajole my dining companions but know when it comes to taste, everyone decides for themselves. The author's caveat about not leaving hashi sticking vertically out of a bowl of rice (practiced as as funeral ritual) makes sense for those eating chirashizushi (bowl of rice w/ one or many types of seafood nestled on top.)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

actually at the better sushi restaurants, they brush on the shoyu so you don't have to dip.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Go to a kaiten sushi and there are no rules!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Interesting... I have no idea what kind of sushi places everyone here is going to.

The places i go to almost always put wasabi on the shari (rice) before adding the fish on top, depending on the topping of course (i.e. not used with Egg). Unless you order "sabinuki" (yes they drop the "wa"), which is often done for children. The sushi chef has a big tub of wasabi next to the rice exactly for that purpose.

Adding more to the soy sauce seems crazy, but it seems that everyone does it. Just not at any of the places i have been to!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Everyone knows that the definitive guide to eating sushi has already been created in video form:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDL8yu34fz0

That's a classic!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My husband is a Japanese chef, and very picky and strict about rules. He usually mixes the wasabi and shoyu, at home and at kaiten-sushi or izakaya, but the few times we've gone to a "nice" place he doesn't mix.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The sushi chef has a big tub of wasabi

So it's colored horseradish.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why people just dont get or learn basic etiquette?I have always wondered.

I am put off going to restaurants

Eating with mouth open is the most disgusting thing.

Finish your food then talk.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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