Many people enjoy sushi today in the same way that they would enjoy regular fast food because it is so readily available. However, although sushi was first sold in stalls in 18th century Edo, an entire etiquette has been developed for eating Japanese sushi. This procedure prolongs and enhances the eating experience, making it possible to fully savor each intricate piece that a sushi lover is served.
Know Your Sushi
It is best to have a working knowledge of sushi so that you can choose to order only the things you like. This is particularly useful if you do not like to eat raw fish and seafood because you can still have sushi but only the kind with cooked filling. Here is a very basic list of sushi:
• Hirashizushi is a bowl of sushi rice artfully covered by different kinds of raw fish and vegetables.
• Inarizushi is a deep fried tofu pouch stuffed with sushi rice while inarimaki is a triangular tofu pouch stuffed with rice and vegetables.
• Hosomaki and futomaki are both nori covered rolls. If these are filled with sashimi that means they contain raw fish. If they contain kani which is imitation crab meat or unagi which is eel that means everything is cooked.
• Uramaki rolls have rice outside and the nori inside. These rolls can have sashimi, octopus as filing or they can have cooked eel, crabmeat, avocado and other vegetables.
• Teramaki is a large cone-shaped sushi. Generally this contains raw fish and vegetables.
Beginning your Meal
When you sit down at a Japanese restaurant you are given a washcloth which you can use before, during and after the meal. By itself this gives you a cue that you can use your fingers to eat sushi. You actually have to use your hands if you are served nigirizushi, the hand-formed sushi with the filling outside, or teramaki which comes cone-shaped.
When you take your chopsticks, do not rub them together to remove any splinters. This is considered rude and unacceptable unless you are in a really informal fast food joint.
Proceeding with Your Meal
The broad end of your chopsticks gives you a personal serving spoon. If you take sushi from a communal serving platter or tray, use this thicker end, not the finer one that goes into your mouth. You can also use your chopsticks this way to transfer sushi from your plate to another person’s plate. This practice often goes unobserved because people have become so used to getting sushi from their order from their own individual plate.
There is a preferable sequence in the foods you eat when you dine on Japanese sushi. In order to fully savor each distinct morsel, if possible begin with the sashimi, move on to the nigiri or hand-formed rolls then the makisushi which are rolls covered with nori and the uramaki, the rolls with the rice outside. From there you can eat other fancier sushi such as the cone-shaped teramaki. After the sushi you can eat your tempura and end with dessert. In between each separate type of sushi or food, eat a piece of preserved ginger or vegetable; this will remove the lingering taste of the last bit you ate and enable you to enjoy the next piece more fully.
In between bites, if you have to put your chopsticks down, either lay the narrower end on the chopstick rest or lay them together across your plate.
If your sushi is small enough to be eaten in one bite then do so. If you need two bites to consume it, hold the uneaten part in your chopsticks then proceed to eat it once the first bite has been consumed. Do not put the uneaten part on your plate.
Delicately dip your sushi in soy sauce. Do not dunk it into the condiment plate; this will spoil the delicate flavor of your sushi. Besides that, it is considered rude. Use wasabi sparingly because it can taste quite stronger than you anticipate. You can adjust the taste of your dip after your first bite.
Although sushi can be conveniently packaged and eaten as fast food, it is also a delicate collection of distinct flavors bound together by sushi rice and nori. If you take time to partake of Japanese sushi with the ceremony it deserves, you will take pleasure from each bite more fully and enjoy its flavors with a taste of Japanese culture.