Tips and etiquette
Site manager’s note: I don’t often add my own opinions to these pages, but here I will. While I do think it’s important to know and recognize the traditions and standards of sushi bar conduct, I don’t take “rules of etiquette” too seriously when I’m having sushi outside of Japan. I’ve found that sushi chefs outside of Japan know that other cultures will walk to an own beat on (say) adding wasabi to the dipping sauce, and will know better than to take offense at simple difference of taste. My suggestion here? Know the traditions, even try them, but within the bounds of law and common courtesy enjoy your meal however you like. -jm
Suggestions for additional material for this page are welcome, by email to manners at sushiref.com .
From Chls (alt.food.sushi, 14 Feb. 1996)
“I think this was kicked around here before. Although I keep seeing people swearing it’s true, complete with backup from Web Pages (And everything on the Web is true!!! sheesh), I continue to see lots and lots of Japanese people doing the wasabi/soy sauce thing. ¶ Hmmmm…did you know that American etiquette says it is quite rude to wear a wrist watch when going out for the evening, and states that people being married for the second time should not receive gifts? I think some points of etiquette are obscure at best, in any society.”
From WBat (alt.food.sushi, 21 May 1995)
Wherever you go, try going for lunch. Most places will have a lunch sushi special that will include several pieces and a roll for $8 to $10. It’s a good way to get your feet wet without spending a fortune. Have fun.
From DCW (alt.food.sushi, 9 March 1995)
Always ask the chief what’s good, and let him pick for you. This shows you respect the chief, and he in turn will respect you by giving you a good cut. It also wouldn’t hurt to reply in a few japanese phrases.
Start with assorted sashimi, with wasabi in the soy dish. The chief will prepare a plate with veggies, which can be eaten along with the fish. If the plate is not beautifully arranged, go to a better bar (I frequent Katsu in L.A.).
When done with the sashimi, ask for a change of soy dish. No wasabi should be placed in the dish, since wasabi is already between the rice and the fish. Now you’re ready for sushi. Again, ask the chief for the picks of the day. He will look at your plate to see how well you are doing, rather than look at you for your next selection. You can also order fresh water shrimp or soft shell crab at this point.
Finish with a bowl of plain rice and miso. Enjoy.
From Maria Tseng (email, 4 August 2001)
My Japanese friend tells me that although not formal nor required, it is considered ‘better’ to start with tamago or some other vegetable sushi, then open field to eat whatever you want, and close with sashimi.
From Lic (alt.food.sushi, 9 March 1995)
Always ask the chief what's good, and let him pick for you. This shows you respect the chief, and he in turn will respect you by giving you a good cut. It also wouldn't hurt to reply in a few japanese phrases. Start with assorted sashimi, with wasabi in the soy dish.
I heard manners-wise wasabi isn’t added into the soy dish. It’s added on to sashimi or sushi according to the sushi-vengers needs!
will prepare a plate with veggies, which can be eaten along with the fish. If the plate is not beautifully arranged, go to a better bar (I frequent Katsu in L.A.).
gee… this is a good point. i always enjoy eating “tsuma” (the thin daikon cuts on the sushi plate) while eating sushi too. it’s healthy at the same time.
When done with the sashimi, ask for a change of soy dish. No wasabi should be placed in the dish, since wasabi is already between the rice and the fish. Now you're ready for sushi. Again, ask the chief for the picks of the day. He will look at your plate to see how well you are doing, rather than look at you for your next selection. You can also order fresh water shrimp or soft shell crab at this point.
Fresh water shrimp…I havn’t had them for a while. they sound enormously yumy!
Finish with a bowl of plain rice and miso. Enjoy.
it’s my first time to hear miso soup being served as a finishing dish in the states. a nice and hot miso soup after eating sushi and drinking alcohol is great! Gee… I’m starting to drool. Ssssssslurp….
From Bkmn (alt.food.sushi, 13 March 1995)
I really enjoy Japanese food and always order sushi. I have never, however, "bellied up" to a sushi bar because I really don't know what it is you're supposed to do/not do. I know this may sound silly but someone give me some hints; do you order all at once or try one and then another? are you supposed to be having a meal or a drink and a snack? Could someone help me out with, you know, some basic pointers.
I would recommend going to a sushi bar with a friend. If there is more than one sushi chef, try to sit near the one who looks to be the most senior chef (he will often be the chef at the far left side of the bar).
When you sit at the bar, a waitress will probably bring you an oshibori (hot towel which you use to wipe your hands and face) and ask you if you would like a drink. Sake is o.k. with sashimi, and is also o.k. before your sushi, but you should have beer or tea with your sushi (since the sake is made from rice, having it at the same time you are eating rice is thought to be redundant – kind of like ordering a side of bread to go with you sandwich). You can also order soup from the waitress. The only thing you ever order from the sushi chef is sushi and sashimi, everything else, including asking for the bill should go through the waitress.
When it comes time to order sushi, I strongly encourage you to tell your sushi chef that this is your first time out. Ask him to help you. They love this! One of my best experiences was my first time out when I did just that – we had a great time, learned a lot, and got a lot of sushi we didn’t have to pay for too! If you go this route, you will probably be getting an order (2 pieces) at a time. When you sit at a sushi bar, it is better to place small orders often rather than one large order at the beginning (I think so anyway).
With your sushi you will get a small dish where you can put soy sauce for dipping. Use only a scant amount of soy sauce – as much as you think you will use up. It is better to err on the shy side – you can always add more. It is impolite to fill up the dish like a kiddie pool. Along with your sushi will also be some pink stuff called gari. This is pickled ginger, and is eaten with your chopsticks (hashi) to cleanse your palate between differnt kinds of sushi. There will also be a small mound of green paste. This is a strong horseradish called wasabe. Many people mix some of this into their soy sauce. Do this only if you are having sashimi. It is impolite to use it if you are eating sushi – and yes, I realize they gave it to you with your sushi, but it’s still impolite. You see, the chef puts a little wasabe inbetween the rice and fish of your sushi. To then add wasabe to your soy sauce is basically telling the chef he doesn’t know the proper amount of wasabe to use.
To eat sushi, I would recommend using your fingers (use your hashi for sashimi). Pick up the sushi from the backside by reaching over the piece, and turning your hand upside down. Grasp the sushi between your thumb and middle finger, laying your middle finger along side of the sushi and not pinching too hard. Pick up the sushi so that the fish is now on the underside. Your thumb, middle finger, and fourth finger can be used to hold it together. Your index finger lays atop the rice. Dip the end of the sushi into the soy sauce – but only the fish part. Try not to get soy on the rice, it will fall apart. Then bring the sushi to your mouth, placing the fish side on your tongue (it’s still upside down right?) and the bite it in half.
If you pick up something from your friends dish with your hashi you should turn them around and use the backend (i.e. not the end you ate from). Also, if your chef is doing a nice job for you, you can offer to buy him a drink, sake or beer. This is a nice thing to do, and help build your relationship. When the meal is over, ask the waitress for the bill and tip about 20%, as the tip gets divided among everyone.
Have lots of fun! And if you can make it to Boston, you should try going out with the Boston Sushi Society.
From Tkr (alt.food.sushi, 25 March 1995)
I am travelling with someone who has never eaten sushi before. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to introduce my friend to the joys of sushi?
I also agree…start slowly and sit at the sushi bar….it’s very exciting for the newcomer. Let the Chef know that it is your friend’s first time…get them involved. I find that most people like Tuna and Salmon sushi. At some point, work in eel….they’ll think it sounds disgusting but tell them that it is cooked and not to worry about it. Usually, they like the sweet sauce and they are hooked. Also, if they like seaweed, order some handrolls…they’ll think it’s cool.
From DBo (alt.food.sushi, 2 April 1995)
Counter procedures, my 80 yen: While sitting at the bar is a great way to see what’s going on, I’ve always had trouble getting the sushi-meister to notice that I’m ready to order something else. I’ve seen other regular customers just shout out their desires but this seems a bit rude to me. Shige-san doens’t seem to mind being yelled at in a friendly voice, though. &182; These days, I prefer to sit at a table and order an assortment (always ask what’s especialy good, fresh, or recommended by the chef) and a few extra pieces.
From SM (alt.food.sushi, 18 May 1995)
The way I do may not be applicable to most of the netters. When I go to a sushi shop in an unknown territory, I always speak to the chef at the sushi bar in Japanese and ask what’s good today. If he answers in Japanese my questions to my satisfaction, I eat sushi there. However, the chef does not understand my Japanese, then I always avoid such a place. I do not mean being biased, but I have to play safe. I do not want to eat sushi prepared by a chef who has never been raised with sushi in the past, but started a sushi shop because of its popularity. So far I have never been caught in surprise. Regarding the safety, sushi made of fresh fish caught in a temperate zone ocean is normally free of problematic parasites. Salmon is always salt cured and frozen first to kill parasites before it is used. Generally avoid any fresh water fish, e.g., carp that tend to have more serious parasites if you would like to prepare your own.