Tips and Etiquette When Eating Sushi

If you plan to visit a high-end Japanese restaurant to eat your favourite sushi dish, you won’t like to be embarrassed because of your style of eating. Eating sushi at a fast food chain or burger shop does not require any special rules. But learning about how to handle your sushi sauce, chopsticks and other aspects of sushi etiquette will help you to have a more rewarding experience at a top class sushi bar. Here are some tips and guidelines to follow when you go out to eat sushi.

1. Be as Polite as Possible

Polite behaviour is the key to having a good meal at any Japanese restaurant. Immediately you enter, greet the host and acknowledge their greeting. To have a conversation with the chef and watch him prepare your sushi, you can seat at the bar. Otherwise, sit at a table and wait for a server to attend to you. Sitting at the bar will enable you to develop a rapport with the chef but don’t expect him to answer all your questions. One question you should not ask is whether the fish is fresh or not. This is usually seen as an insult.

2. Order Sushi Directly From the Chef

When you sit at the sushi bar, only order your sushi from the chef (called “itamae”). All other items including soup and drinks will be handled by the waiter. You are free to ask the chef to use his discretion and add different types of vegetables and seafood. If you want a purely vegan sushi, feel free to ask for other options apart from fish or seafood.

3. Refrain from Using Strong Perfumes

The full satisfaction from eating sushi comes when you can smell the aroma of the food and enjoy its diverse flavours. So you should not put on any perfume or body lotion that can overwhelm the smell of the sushi. In most sushi bars, the space is quite limited and anyone who comes in with a strong fragrance can cause all the people in the restaurant to lose their appetite. So kindly follow the ‘no perfume’ guideline so all other diners can enjoy their sushi.

4. Use the Sauce Sparingly

Sushi tastes great when the right amount of wasabi and soy sauce are included. Some nice chefs will apply the appropriate amount of soy sauce to each piece of the dish so you won’t need to add any more. But, if the chef doesn’t do it, you should add it with care. Dip the fish into the sauce with its side down. You may also hold the ginger with the chopsticks, dip it in the sauce and use it to brush the top of the fish. Avoid dipping the rice directly into the sauce because it can easily soak it and become oversaturated.

5. Handle Chopsticks With Care

Sushi can be eaten with the hands but you will still receive chopsticks while eating in a Japanese restaurant. When you are not using them, keep them in the holder or in the sauce (shoyu) dish, parallel to yourself. After you finish your meal, return them to the same position. It is impolite to pick up food from a fellow diner’s plate with the end of the chopstick that goes into your mouth. Instead, use the end that you hold. Don’t pass food to anyone using chopsticks. It’s symbolic of passing on a dead relative’s bones at a Japanese funeral. Instead, pass the plate so fellow diners can take the food by themselves.

6. Don’t Leave Food on the Plate

When you order for sushi, make sure you ask for what you can easily finish. In sushi etiquette, it is very rude for you have leftovers. A good chef will ask you about any items you don’t want to be included in the plate. For instance, if you don’t like wasabi, you can tell him not to add it in between the fish and rice.

7. Let Others Serve Your Drinks

When you take alcoholic beverages, the normal custom is to be served by a fellow diner instead of pouring your own drink. So pay close attention to your fellow diners’ glasses and help to refill them. When you want a refill, drink what is in the glass and hold the glass, tilting it politely towards someone sitting close to you. Usually, the person with the greatest ‘prestige’, or the most senior diner on the table, pours the drinks before you start eating.

These tips will serve as a guide for you any time you visit a Japanese sushi bar or restaurant within or outside Japan. It is not an exhaustive list of all the do’s and don’ts of the eating sushi. But it will help you to feel more confident and enjoy your meal without provoking the host or the chef on duty.