sushi etiquette tips

Please, let our Japanese friend explain the rules of sushi…

(Because there’s a good chance you, too, put ginger on your sushi.)

For the Japanese, eating sushi is like eating a peanut butter sandwich: it comes so naturally, the etiquette rules – on how to eat sushi – are part of their DNA. That is probably why our Japanese source for this blog, visiting ASU scholar Miho Ueda from Osaka, looked a bit puzzled when we asked her about it. But after giving it some thought, she came up with 5 insider’s sushi etiquette tips.

1. You will never drop your sushi piece in your soy sauce again…

Always have trouble with your chopsticks? Guess what? Most Japanese people eat sushi with their hands. Especially with nigiri sushi (single pieces of sushi with meat or fish on top of rice), it’s totally acceptable. Miho: “Really, you can eat all sushi with your hands. Some people now use chopsticks because they think it is cleaner, but in most Japanese restaurants you wipe your hands with a hot towel first. Only sashimi you never eat with your hands. But did you know sashimi is not even sushi? Sushi means everything with rice. Sashimi is just sashimi.”

2. Open wide (but you don’t have to say aaah)

“You always eat sushi in one piece”, Miho says firmly. So there is no taking a bite from it and putting it back on your plate, or – the horror! – cutting it into pieces with a knife and fork (it happens). “If the piece is too big, you can ask your sushi chef to use less rice.”

3. Ginger doesn’t belong on your sushi

Admittedly, it tastes pretty good to put a piece of pickled ginger on your sushi, but for Miho there are no exceptions: “You eat ginger in between your sushi bites, to clean your palate.” Ottotto… (That’s ‘Oops’ in Japanese.) “Oh, and by the way, when we talk about the right order, the sushi made with white fish is eaten first, then red fish like tuna, and any sushi with egg is always last.”

4. So, about putting wasabi in your soy sauce…

“That’s not allowed.” She is quiet for a brief moment and then adds: “But I do it sometimes.” She does however believe that Americans put way too much wasabi and soy sauce on their sushi. “In Japan, you always dip just the fish in the soy sauce, and not the rice. So with nigiri, you pick it up, turn it a bit and dip the side with the fish in the soy sauce. This way, it is never overwhelming, because it won’t absorb the soy sauce like rice does.”

5. You don’t want to wish death upon your dinner partner… right?

When you are not using your chopsticks, it is very important to not stick them vertically into a bowl of rice or soup. Miho: “In Japan, that is what’s left at a funeral: a bowl of rice with two chopsticks standing vertically in it. You can just leave your chopsticks on your bowl or a chopstick rest, but not crossed in any way! Also: don’t rub your quality chopsticks together: this is only something you do with cheap wooden chopsticks. It is considered insulting if you do it with quality chopsticks.”

Do you have any other insights on how to eat sushi? Share them below!