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Here's How You Should Be Eating Your Sushi

What's the proper way to eat sushi? Pick up the sushi, open mouth, chew, repeat?

Sushi is one of the perennial favorites in Japanese restaurants all around the world. And while many restaurants do not mind how you consume the items you have ordered, it is still worthwhile to know the rules related to enjoying this popular dish.

While many of these rules are steeped in Japanese tradition and culture, some are practical and can even enhance your enjoyment of your meal.

Sushi: A Brief History

A quick look at the history of this delectable dish can inform you of the reasons behind the traditional way of eating it.

Contrary to what many people may believe, sushi traces its roots to China. The earliest mention of the dish is at around the second century A.D. where sushi was used primarily as a food preservation method.

The Chinese put fish in rice to ferment. This enabled the fish to become edible for a substantial time. However, only the fish was consumed, and the rice was thrown away. Eventually, the dish found its way to Japan at around the seventh century.

The Japanese made three substantial contributions that led to the modern sushi. First, they ate the rice along with the fish, unlike what the Chinese did. Second, the Japanese used rice wine vinegar as a seasoning for sushi. The latter meant that the dish could be eaten immediately without waiting for fermentation. Third, instead of wrapping the fish with the rice, the Japanese placed the fish on top of the rice.

During the early days of the dish in Japan, people consumed it as a snack that can be eaten on the go. But because of sanitary reasons, sushi stalls were closed, and the makers of the dish were forced to sell indoors. In turn, this has elevated the way sushi has been consumed.

Dos and Don'ts

  • Do eat a roll in a single bite
    Do not break or cut each roll into smaller bits. Instead, eat the whole roll. The reason behind this is that you'll be able to enjoy the entire flavor spectrum as intended by the sushi maker.
  • Do start from the lightest
    If you are ordering sushi with different fish toppings, it is best to start with the lightest fish. You should end with the heaviest or fattiest fish.
  • Don't put too much wasabi
    Remember, the sushi maker has already put wasabi between the fish and the rice.
  • Do use ginger to cleanse your palate
    Your order typically comes with ginger. Use it to cleanse your palate as you move between dishes.
  • Do consider asking for items not on the menu
    Some Japanese restaurants offer seasonal items that may not be listed on the menu.
  • Don't rub the chopsticks together
    This is considered rude by the Japanese. Additionally, if you are not using your chopsticks, these should be positioned parallel to you. Once you are done eating, place the chopsticks on the dish.
  • Do eat sashimi with chopsticks
    There is only one way to eat sashimi: with chopsticks. For nigiri-sushi, you can eat either with chopsticks or with your hand.
  • Do dip fish-side first
    In picking up the sushi, the fish-side should be on the bottom. This is the side that you should dip into the soy sauce. If you do the reverse, you end up soaking the rice with too much sauce, and the sushi can fall apart.
  • Don't pick up sushi from another plate with the chopstick end that goes to your mouth
    This is considered rude. Instead, use the other end of the chopsticks when picking up sushi (or any other food) from another person's plate.
  • Don't use your chopsticks to pass food to another person
    Instead, pass the plate. Passing food to another person by using chopsticks is considered rude because it is similar to a Japanese funeral ritual.
  • Don't stick the chopsticks into the rice
    The Japanese also find this rude because the resulting image is similar to burning incense sticks.
  • Do enjoy your sushi with green tea
    Want something good to wash down your sushi order? Try green tea.
  • Do eat a leisurely pace
    Quite simply, sushi is not a fast-food dish. Do not rush eating it and enjoy it how the sushi maker intended you to – at a leisurely pace.

No Hard and Fast Rules

As Japanese food becomes more popular around the world, you might notice that there may be areas where the rules are more relaxed. Let this blog post serve as a guide, not an imposition of rules. Try these suggestions to elevate your Japanese dining experience. But at the end of the day, your enjoyment is what truly matters.

Want to learn more fascinating facts about your favorite Japanese dishes? Check out our other Japanese food blog posts for more information.