Guide to Eating and Ordering Sushi

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A guide describing the various types of sushi and sushi eating etiquette.

Sushi has been becoming more popular each year in the United States and it is important to understand the types of sushi available and the proper way to eat it so that you have an enjoyable experience.

History

In the 7th century, the people of Southeast Asia developed a technique of pickling. The Japanese acquired this same practice which consisted of packing fish with rice. As the fish fermented the rice produced a lactic acid which caused the pickling of the pressed fish. This type of sushi is called Nare-Sushi and it is 1300 years old and refers to the finished edible product resulting from this early method.

This lengthy process took anywhere from 2 months to a year to achieve the finished sushi. This process remained until a new form appeared through the 15th and 16th centuries. Nama-Nare refers to this more rapid process of pickling which cut the fermentation time while including the rice as part of the meal. Ancient sushi such as, Nare-Sushi and Nama-Nare were the foundation for has become the sushi we are familiar with today.

Improvements through the centuries came about by way of recipe variations. In the 17th century vinegar became a component of sushi. The vinegar not only reduced the lengthy preparation, but it also tartness. Although the process of fermentation was shortened, the custom of aged pickling with the boxed or rolled method was continued until the 19th century.

In the 1820's Hanaya Yohei of Tokyo brought a recipe most similar to what we are served today. His dish, which included Sashimi, which is fresh sliced raw fish, or seafood combined with the vinegared rice, were prepared and served for customers directly from his sushi stall. Not only did Hanaya introduce raw fish to sushi rice, called Edomae-Sushi or Nigiri-Sushi, he began a tradition of serving this food at its freshest. His idea won immediate favor over the more time-honored sushi dishes.

Types of Sushi

Nigiri -pieces of fish, shellfish, or fish roe over rice balls

Makizushi - rolled in seaweed, sometimes just called "maki"

Temaki - hand rolls, usually shaped like a cone

Sashimi -sliced/chilled raw fish without rice

Chirashi sushi -sliced/chilled raw fish served like sashimi but over a bed of rice

Temaki

Sushi Eating Etiquette

The are some simple rules you should follow when eating sushi at a restaurant or with company so you will not be seen as a troglodyte.

Chopsticks

When you are at a sushi bar, place the chopsticks in front of you, parallel to the edge of the bar, with the narrow ends on the chopstick rest. This is to keep the ends that go in your mouth off the table. It is not as polite to place your chopsticks on the plate, but if you do, place your chopsticks across your plate, not leaning on your plate.

You must use the broad end of your chopsticks to pick up sushi from a communal platter. To take sushi from the communal plate with the ends you use to put the sushi in your mouth is as impolite as serving yourself foods from a buffet by using the cutlery from your plate and licking it clean in between each item you put on your plate or drinking from someone else glass. Use the broad end also to pass sushi from your plate to the one of an other person if you want to share.

Don't pass food from one set of chopsticks to another. As part of a Japanese funeral ritual, family members pass bones of the deceased to each other by chopsticks. Passing food from one set of chopsticks to another mimics this ritual, and is therefore considered offensive. If you must pass something to another person, pick it up, and place it on their dish. They can then pick it up with their own chopsticks.

Never ask for forks or knives.

Never stick your chopsticks in food, standing upright. This is rude, and resembles the incense at a funeral.

Always use even, matching chopsticks. People use uneven chopsticks to express sorrow when passing cremated remains.

It is perfectly acceptable to use your fingers as utensils. Wipe your hands on a damp towel, if they provide you with one. Normally you can use your fingers for sushi, and use chopsticks for sashimi.

Eating

Always place your nigiri-sushi upside-down in the soy sauce and eat it with the rice-side up so the fish touches your tongue. Dipping rice into the soy sauce will cause the rice to fall apart.

Use only the necessary amount of soy sauce, and do not drown the sushi; it's impolite to fill up your dish with excess soy sauce.

It’s fine to put a small amount of wasabi on your sushi and it is also fine to tell the chef that you don't want any wasabi- it will never be taken as an insult.

Sushi should be eaten in one bite if possible, but two bites is acceptable. Never put the sushi back on the plate if you bit it in half already. Once you pick it up, eat all of it.

Ask the chef what's good, and let him pick for you, especially if it's your first time eating sushi. This shows your respect for what he does, and he may reward you for showing him respect. If you're in Japan, buy the chef a drink, like sake or beer, as a compliment.

If the sushi already has sauce on it, do not dip it in the soy sauce.

You can use chopsticks to dip the ginger (gari) in the soy sauce, and then use it to brush the sauce onto the fish rather than dip the fish directly. This gives you the flavor of ginger without eating it. The pickled ginger is to be used as a palate cleanser between different types of sushi and not to be eaten with the sushi.

Hopefully this will help you impress your friends and the chef the next time you go to your favorite sushi bar.

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About This Article

Daniel Snyder

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