How to Eat Sushi the Right Way
Yes, believe it or not, there’s a wrong way to eat sushi. Everyone has their preferences, of course, and we can’t tell you what to do. But if you go to Japan or eat in a fancy sushi restaurant, people might notice poor etiquette.
Keshoume is here to give you the dos and don’ts of how to eat sushi the right way—and show you why sushi chefs care about it so much.
A lot of people will tell you the best way to eat sushi is with chopsticks. Personally, I like to do it that way, but not everyone can or wants to use chopsticks, and those people shouldn’t be deprived of the incredible gastronomical experience that is sushi.
It’s more important that you eat it immediately. In Japan, if you’re going to order sushi, you’re probably going to sit down in a restaurant and eat it right there. Don’t let it sit (or worse, try to save it for the next day). The chef knows what they’re doing, so dig in and eat it exactly as they prepared it for you.
When it comes to trying sushi, don’t stick with the same dish every time. I get it, everyone’s got their comfort zone, but sushi isn’t the place for it. If something sounds interesting, go for it!
Pay attention to cleanliness—both your own and the restaurant’s. If you walk into a fishy-smelling restaurant, that’s not a good sign. It means the fish probably isn’t fresh, and no matter how you’re eating sushi you really want fresh fish. Old, rotten fish increases your chances of food poisoning and that’s a major don’t when it comes to enjoying sushi.
Otherwise, the restaurant should look and smell clean with a hint of ocean. Also, since sushi often involves eating with your hands, make sure you wash them first and wipe them on the towel the restaurant gives you to clean them between pieces.
If you do use chopsticks, don’t rub them together. It gives the impression that you think the restaurant has poor quality chopsticks and can insult the establishment.
When using wasabi and ginger, do it in moderation. Ginger doesn’t go on the sushi but cleanses the palate. Too much wasabi (which is actually horseradish in most restaurants) can overpower the flavor of the sushi, which is the opposite of what you want.
The same goes for soy sauce. Using too much can insult the chef, especially because they know what they’re doing. If you slather your sushi in soy sauce, you’re basically telling them you don’t like what they prepared. If you plan to use soy sauce, dip the fish, not the rice. Keep in mind that the rice is its own art and sushi chefs put a lot of time into learning how to prepare it perfectly.
I know I said this earlier, but it bears repeating—do not leave sushi until the next day. Fish spoils fast and eating it 24 hours later or longer can affect the flavor at best and be dangerous at worst. Eat your sushi in the restaurant or, if you get takeout sushi, as soon as you get home.
What Does it Take to Become a Sushi Chef?
If you’re wondering why the way you eat sushi is so important, look to the chef’s training. It’s nothing like working at a fast food joint (though that’s hard work in its own right). You can’t go in with no knowledge, and it’s not easy to rise to the rank of itamae, or sushi chef. It’s an honor as much as a title.
Sushi chefs typically train for at least ten years before they even get their own hocho, or sushi knives. A sushi chef in training starts as a dishwasher because every step of the process is crucial to creating the best sushi experience for customers. If you can’t keep your dishes clean, you’re not going to cut it.
After that, you learn to make the rice. If you’re good at it, you’ll eventually begin a real apprenticeship. Even after years of training, not all students get good enough to become sushi chefs.
Since sushi has gotten more popular, some fast-track sushi schools have opened around the world. Still, none of those compare to the years of meticulous training that goes into becoming a traditional sushi chef, and you can tell the difference.
American vs. Japanese Sushi
One last thing—if you think you’ve had authentic sushi but you’ve only eaten it in America, chances are the dish has been modified to suit your American palate. American sushi is delicious, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also not Japanese sushi.
If you’ve ordered sushi in America, you’ve probably seen it served with mayo, spicy or otherwise. Americans tend to put more…stuff…on their sushi, whereas in Japan, this can be considered insulting. If you’re ordering from a high-class, traditional sushi restaurant in Japan, you probably can’t get it to-go whereas in America, most restaurants have this option.
No matter where you get it, sushi is undeniably one of Japan’s best culinary creations. Today, people all over the world can enjoy it. And even if there’s technically a right way to do it, everyone’s got their preferences. As long as you’re enjoying it fresh and are respectful to those who prepared it for you, you can’t go wrong.
Sarah Wood - July 20, 2021
Barganier, Erich. “How Authentic Sushi is Different from the American Version.” Mashed. https://www.mashed.com/278751/how-authentic-sushi-is-different-from-the-american-version/. Accessed 30 June 2021.
Gentile, Dan. “The Dos and Don’ts of Sushi.” Thrillist. https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/dos-and-don-ts-of-sushi-sushi-etiquette. Accessed 30 June 2021.
“Why It Takes a Decade of Training to Become a Head Sushi Chef.” Kobe Jones. https://www.kobejones.com.au/why-it-takes-a-decade-of-training-to-be-a-head-sushi-chef/. Accessed 30 June 2021.