Sushi is a delicious dish.
No matter if you love traditional American sushi rolls, or more authentic sashimi and nigiri, eating sushi is always a flavorful, delightful experience. But if you haven’t had much sushi in your life, you may be confused about what you’re supposed to do while eating sushi – and be nervous, and not sure how to eat it properly.
First things first, there’s no wrong way to eat sushi. Don’t let any snobs turn their nose up at you for ordering a California roll instead of a plain slice of grouper over rice – or dipping it in whatever sauce you want. The point of eating is to enjoy your meal and eat something that you find delicious – not to impress others.
Still, though, eating sushi can be a bit confusing. Should you use chopsticks? Do you need to dip your sushi in anything? Is it okay to use your hands, if you want? What roll should you try if you’re a beginner?
You’ve got questions, and we’ve got answers. If you are curious about some of the most common ways to eat sushi, and the traditions related to sushi consumption, you’re in the right place. We’ll go over all of the basics here – and even sushi connoisseurs may not know about some of these tips and pieces of advice for eating sushi.
So if you’re ready to get hooked on sushi, and you’re wondering where to start, read on. In this sushi guide for beginners, we’ll tell you everything you need to know – and give you some helpful tips and pointers that are sure to help you navigate your first sushi experience.
The Art of Eating Sushi
Naturally, all sushi restaurants are different – so your setup won’t always be exactly the same as the one that we lay out below. But there are a few “unwritten rules” that every sushi chef knows when it comes to eating sushi.
You will get a plate with your chosen rolls or sushi. You’ll also be given chopsticks, and there will be a bottle of soy sauce on the table – and you may also get an additional plate for any appetizers.
You will typically eat your sushi with chopsticks, though eating with your hands is acceptable. And nobody will look down on you for using a fork, either, if you don’t know how to use chopsticks or don’t feel comfortable doing so – so don’t worry about that.
If you’re going to a sushi restaurant for lunch or dinner, you’ll probably also able to get some “extras”, or a combination meal with additional items like egg rolls, miso soup, or a salad with ginger dressing. This depends on the restaurant.
As far as your plate goes, three things will usually be present:
Your sushi rolls
A generous dab of wasabi
In the next section of this guide, we’ll discuss the actual process of eating sushi – and how you can maximize the flavor of your meal.
The Process – Balancing Your Flavors
So, why does sushi come with wasabi and ginger? Let’s discuss that – and then outline the proper process for eating sushi.
The wasabi is similar to horseradish, and it’s extremely potent and spicy – but not in the way that hot peppers are spicy. It has a sinus-clearing burn and heat, but this dissipates within a few seconds. Many folks who are looking for an extra kick mix some of their wasabi in with soy sauce – but more on that later.
The pickled ginger, though, is there for a different reason. Pickled ginger has a very mild taste and a soothing flavor, which can help you get past the burn of the horseradish, and also clears away the flavor from your last sushi roll – preparing you for the next dish.
Okay, ready to learn how to eat sushi – the traditional way? Here’s what you’ll do!
Receive your plate of sushi from the chef or waitress.
Put a small amount of soy sauce in a bowl or on your plate.
Dip a piece of sushi into the soy sauce. If you want extra spice, use your chopsticks to “brush” a little bit more wasabi onto the sushi.
Eat the sushi. Smaller pieces like nigiri and sashimi should be eaten in one bite, but larger American-style rolls may need to be eaten in two or more bites.
Chew the sushi completely, allowing the flavor to coat the inside of your mouth.
If you’re drinking sake along with your sushi, now is a good time to take a sip.
Take a piece of pickled ginger from your plate and eat it. You can do this in-between each roll, or each bite. This helps clear your palate, and removes the lingering flavor of your sushi roll.
Rinse and repeat until you’re too stuffed to move – or you run out of sushi!
That’s it! These are the basic rules for eating sushi. Again, you don’t have to follow these rules if you don’t want to. Nobody will judge you for eating sushi your own way. However, these guidelines do help you maximize the flavor of your meal, and they are traditional – and it’s fun to follow tradition, especially when eating a dish with a history as long as sushi!
Hands vs. Chopsticks
You’ll see most people eating sushi with chopsticks. This is the most common method in the West, because we mostly dislike eating with our hands. Using chopsticks is also sanitary, helping you avoid getting rice and raw fish all over your drinking glass, plate, and other things on the table.
However, eating sushi with your hands is also a traditional method of sushi consumption, particularly for traditional sushi dishes like nigiri. Sashimi is usually eaten with chopsticks, but can also be eaten with the hands.
Again, this comes down to your personal preferences. And, like we mentioned, there’s also nothing wrong with using a fork to eat sushi. Sure, it’s not traditional – but if it’s your preference, nobody will judge you for doing so.
Common Fish in Sushi
Just about any fish can be used in sushi. Common favorites include salmon and tuna, as well as crab, octopus, and shrimp. However, you may also be able to get more exotic ingredients, like swordfish, eel (a traditional Japanese favorite), and sweetfish. Here are a few of the common types of fish used in modern sushi rolls:
If you don’t recognize a type of fish or an ingredient in a roll, just ask your server what it is! Some of these ingredients may be referred to by different names, or by their Japanese names.
You can play it safe, and order a roll with a fish you know you like, such as salmon, tuna or trout. Or, be a bit more adventurous, and try some fish that you’ve never had. Sushi is, arguably, the best way to try a new kind of fish, as the true raw flavor of the fish will come through very strongly.