As with many things from the land of refined manners, eating sushi is governed by a unique set of rules. While no one really cares if you chomp down your maki or make a mess out of the wasabi at a conveyor-belt joint, such behaviour is certain to raise eyebrows at a finer establishment. Here’s a guide to help you navigate the etiquette minefield and look like the consummate sushi pro.
1. Many ladies can’t finish a piece of sushi in one bite. Don’t worry, two bites are perfectly acceptable, but do not place the sushi back on the plate if you’ve already tucked into it. Hold it with your chopsticks or fingers, then finish it in another mouthful.
2. Don’t ever eat the pickled ginger with your sushi. It’s meant to be eaten on its own as a palate cleanser, after you’ve finished a piece of sushi.
3. However much you love wasabi, resist the temptation to add more to your sushi. The chef would’ve already added an appropriate amount, based on the type of fish on it. As with dumping ketchup over a fine cut of beef, smothering sushi in wasabi is a great insult to the chef.
4. Restraint is the name of the soy sauce game. Dispense only a small amount into the dish and add more later if you need it. Wasting soy sauce, or food of any kind, is a big no-no in Japanese dining. Swirling wasabi into soy sauce and turning it into an opaque mess? Only acceptable at your neighbourhood Sakae Sushi.
5. It’s okay to use your hands, especially for cut rolls, or maki. Just make sure you clean them with the wet towel that’s typically provided at finer establishments.
6. When eating nigiri, take care not to dunk the rice into soy sauce. The right technique — rotate the piece upside-down, then dip the side with the fish on it into the sauce. There’s logic behind this: Rice tends to absorb more soy sauce, and that will change the texture and bite. It’s sacrilegious to ruin the taste of the rice, which is considered more important than the fish that’s placed on it.
7. Sushi with sauce already applied on top (such as unagi) should not be dipped in soy sauce.
8. True sushi pros place pieces upside-down in the mouth so that the fish is against the tongue. Take in the complex flavours concentrated on your tongue before gulping down the bite.
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