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Essential Tips For Sushi Eaters.

Keep your sushi simple. Avoid rolls with mayonnaise or anything deep-fried.

If the highlight of your meal is a spicy tuna roll, you’re in trouble.

1. Pick Your Master Chef

Make no mistake: although sushi is often the main attraction in upscale Japanese restaurants, there is lots of lousy sushi out there. Let’s start from the bottom of the barrel.

Pre-packaged

I don’t care if it was made at Whole Foods with all-natural ingredients; the freshness and quality of fish in most prepackaged sushi samplers is laughable.

Why spent a minimum of $8 on a cheap sushi lunch when you can duck into an atmospheric restaurant and get ten times the quality for only twice the price?

On The Cheap Side

Fast food Japanese places restrict themselves to maki rolls when it comes to sushi.

The reason? The “rollers” don’t have to be trained as full-blown sushi chefs, and the fish doesn’t have to be properly cut with an amazingly sharp knife.

What You Want

Irrashai-mase! Tiarescott

Look for a slightly nicer Japanese restaurant featuring a sushi chef who:

Keeps a clean cutting board.

The cleaner and neater the work station, the better the chef.

Has charisma in his presentation.

You want to be able to talk to your sushi chef, joke around with him, ask him for recommendations.

Knows his rice.

Chefs in Japan typically spend two years’ training on rice alone, as it is the essence of sushi. Unlike sweet rice served at meals, sushi rice is repeatedly rinsed to clean up the grains and seasoned with vinegar and the chef’s own secret ingredients.

Fortunate enough to have a woman as your sushi chef?

That’s a rarity. For better or worse, sushi is a man’s world. If you’re living near Los Angeles, be sure to check out Sushi Go 55, run by the country’s first female sushi chef, Tomoko Morishita.

2. Ordering: The Three O’s

Trevor Corson offers the following guidance in his fascinating book The Story of Sushi:

“The order in which the customer requests different types of fish is not crucial, but most sushi connoisseurs begin with leaner, lighter-tasting dish and progress toward fish with strong flavors and higher fat content.”

Here are three Japanese phrases that refer to different ways to order sushi.

Okimari: “It has been decided.”

This refers to set meals and sushi samplers, menu items that have a fixed price and require very little thought. Still, there is usually a good variety of fish to be had.

Okonomi: “As I like it.”

If you’ve been around the block with sushi restaurants and know what suits your palette, go ahead and order fish-by-fish. Most venues will present only two pieces of sushi for each order – the idea is to appreciate the variety.

Omakase: “Please decide for me.”

Saying “omakase” while sitting down at the sushi bar is probably the smartest decision you can make.

Plastic sushi Matsuyuki

Sushi chefs know which fish are the tastiest to have arrived that day, and omakase gives them an opportunity to show-off their skills and experiment with presentation.

The only downside of omakase is the expense: if you ask the chef to choose what’s best, he will most likely assume you aren’t concerned with the price.

Many chefs will use less rice for an omakase order, so you may eat more fish without filling up so quickly.

3. NO chopsticks, NO wasabi, NO soy sauce

The most ignorant thing you can do in a sushi restaurant is to pick up a perfectly formed nigiri topped off with the freshest bluefin tuna the Tsukiji Market has to offer, and proceed to dunk the entire slab of fish into a dish of wasabi and soy sauce.

In old Tokyo, sushi was a finger food sold on the street. Many westerners traveling to Asia assume everyone uses chopsticks for all varieties of food – this is simply not true.

Sushi is meant to be eaten with your hands.

Toro (tuna) Adactio

Give respect to the taste of the fish itself. Every morning good sushi chefs are scouring fish markets to choose only the best catch for their restaurants.

A lot of thought goes into the weight, color, texture, and age of the fish… which is one reason many Japanese chefs are puzzled when their American patrons ruin the taste by overpowering it with salty soy sauce and strong wasabi.

Did you know that the vast majority of Japanese restaurants in the States serve fake wasabi, an inferior horseradish product?

4. Let’s Enjoy Eating Sushi!

Ok, by now you’ve got the basic protocol down. Let’s try some sushi.

Step 1:

Make sure your hands are clean by wiping them down with the damp cloth provided.

Step 2:

Pick up whichever fish suits your fancy.

Step 3:

Insert into the mouth upside down so that the “fishy side” touches the tongue first. Get it all in one bite, and mindfully chew, enjoying the tasty sensations.

Step 4:

If you’re moving on to a different type of fish, be sure to eat some ginger to cleanse the palate and wipe your hands again to eliminate traces of the other fish.

Step 5:

Repeat as needed.

At the end of the meal it is proper to drink green tea. Congratulations. You are now a certified sushi ninja.

5. And Now For Something Completely Different

Kaiten-zushi

kaiten-zushi by jlastras

Conveyor belt sushi is becoming increasing popular outside Japan. Instead of placing your orders with a chef or waiter, diners simply lift their choice of sushi off a belt that rotates around the room.

The dishes, which are counted at the end of the meal, are color coded to determine price. Kaiten-zushi is usually much cheaper than a regular restaurant.

Nyotai-mori

Some rather twisted people like to pay a lot of money to eat sushi off a naked body.

Although women are typically the centerpieces, men can be used as well (called nantaimori).

Do you have a favorite sushi restaurant?

Give us a heads-up in the comments, and be sure to leave a link – maybe the chef will give you some free maki in exchange for the review

COMMUNITY CONNECTION:

Why is sushi the sexiest food on the planet?

Check out Tim Patterson’s Sexy Sushi: The Global Foreplay Food.

If you’re interested in traveling to Japan to try some really fresh fish, brush up on Japanese customs with Turner Wright’s Zen-like advice.

Want something even more exotic?

Nellie Huang explains why every day is an adventure when you’re eating in Asia.

Culture + ReligionFoodTrip Planning


 

About The Author

Turner Wright

Turner Wright is a marathon runner first, an adventurer second, and a writer through it all. Apparently, he has a thing for island nations, having lived in Japan, and soon to be headed for New Zealand. Check out his adventures at Keeping Pace in Japan.

  • Tom Gates

    Oh, man. I have been unable to scratch my sushi itch for a month now. And now you’ve got me drooling. This is all great advice. Beware of the sushi belt though, some of that has been sitting there for eight hours, even if they tell you otherwise!

  • http://collazoprojects.com Julie

    Turner-

    I don’t enjoy sushi at all, but this article was fantastic. Have you read Jay Rayner’s book, The Man Who Ate the World? If not, I think you’d really enjoy it, especially his chapter about eating in Japan.

    • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

      Hey Julie,

      I haven’t heard of that book, just haven’t gotten around to reading it. Will add it to the list. Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.bootsnall.com Chris

    My fave sushi restaurant is Hiroshi’s in Portland, OR. Consistently excellent. Last time there some friends and I ordered ‘omakase’ and the bill was pretty impressive, but so was the sushi.

  • Christine

    Wow, Turner, I had no idea that there was such much involved with getting good sushi! I have to admit, I’ve been down the Whole Foods’ sushi route more than one time…

    Still, one of my most favorite restaurant experiences ever was when I visited a friend in London and she took me to her favorite pricey sushi restaurant. It was a completely different experience from the hole-in-the-wall sushi places I normally hit, and now I know why.

    I’m sad, though, since going gluten free, can’t partake in the sushi…most of the time, the rice vinegar they use to cook the rice often has wheat in it (yeah, I don’t get why it does either, other than the fact that they like to put wheat in EVERYTHING).

    • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

      Most decent chefs add MSG to their rice as well, even though they may not say so on the menu. Still, delicious.

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    Wicked post. I am enlightened in the sushi-eating (and ordering) ways! In Vancouver, my favourite sushi restaurant was Hoshi Sushi…a little-known place on Broadway and Macdonald. A more popular, and unique, lively funky place is The Eatery…also on Broadway, but down closer to Alma.

    You know what they call sushi in Australia? These rolls wrapped in seaweed which you eat like a sausage roll.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      I think I saw Hoshi Sushi on an Anthony Bourdain show.

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com Ryukyu Mike

    Made me hungry. Think I’ll walk by the sashimiya on the way home and grab me some fresh Tuna (Maguro) and let the wife do the rest ! Great post !

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah

    Turner! Fantastic post! And dangerous, as it’s stoked my sushi cravings and I’m here at the heart of it all in Japan.

    Really nicely written and really helpful. Thanks!

  • John

    where is hiroshi’s in portland? i’ll be in portland this summer.

  • Helen

    Interesting and useful post thank you!

    Just a couple of queries. I have eaten in many sushi restaurants in Japan and the local customers all seem to use chopsticks and also use the soy sauce and wasabi. I would feel uncomfortable to use my hands to pick up the sushi, and I love my sushi dunked in wasbi and soy sauce (ignorant obviously!) – what else is it there for if not dunking?

    • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

      It’s not the worst thing in the world to use chopsticks on sushi, but it is a finger food – treat it as such. Soy sauce and wasabi should be used more on sashimi than sushi, but if you must… let the fishy end graze the sauce rather than dunking the whole roll; the reason American sushi chefs tend to pack nigiri tighter in the US vs Japan is that most Americans dunk their sushi rolls, which has the tendency of breaking up the rice. Loosely-packed nigiri are best, and fall apart in the mouth.

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com Ryukyu Mike

    Most folks down here in Okinawa, Japan, also use chopsticks and dip in soy sauce. But, before adding wasabi to the bowl have a taste, because the wasabi is already plastered on the fish before it’s shaped on the rice and you usually don’t need anymore than the chef gave you
    You wouldn’t want the sushi chef, standing there with that sharp knife to catch you adding more wasabi; it’d be kinda like insulting the chef who just barbecued a nice juicy T-bone and asking him where the A-1 sauce is !
    Now, I hope some folks aren’t confusing sushi with sashimi. Eating sashimi, which is just raw fish, everyone mixes wasabi and soy and uses chopsticks, for that.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      You gotta try the fish in Hokkaido sometime, Mike – ever been up that way?

      • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com Ryukyu Mike

        Tim,
        Last time I was in Sapporo was around 1987. I remember it well. Was at the end of a three week camping trip in northern Okinawa and got called to spend a week in Hokkaio. It was freakin’ JANUARY ! Ate lotsa sushi, sashimi, ramen and mongolian BBq and damn near drank the Sapporo Brewery dry (at least, I tried to). Was supposed to go back for the Ice Festival, but never got around to it.

  • Sam

    My wife and I love food. No doubt sushi is our second best cuisine, next to Vietnamese. After I read this article, I couldn’t help but to post a comment. Great article btw Turner. I just want to share an experience and explain a probable reason why people dunk sushi into soy sauce and wasabi (S&W). When my wife and I were in Tokyo, we were dying to dine at a sushi restaurant. Do to lack of time, we picked this conveyor belt restaurant one night. To our surprise it was really good. Although we miscalculated what we could afford and ate less – we couldn’t find an ATM anywhere. We ate with S&W as with everyone else.

    About a month ago, we ate at Neo Sushi in Manhattan, and I can say it is one of the three best sushi restaurant I have eaten – the best in recent years. The rice were superb and S&W was absolutely not necessary. So, I digressed your article and my sushi experience as to why people (including myself) do the dunking, is probably because the rice at all these restaurant are not well made. The texture and taste weren’t all there, and most of the time is bland with a hint of vinegar. It was much different at Neo Sushi. That sushi rice stood out and I couldn’t stop appraising to my wife how good the rice were – which I never do. And yes, we ate with our fingers too.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      Thanks for sharing the story, Sam.

  • Lea

    Great post! Thorough and so well done. I agree with some of the commenters, however, in that during my year in Japan, I recall seeing Japanese using both wasabi and soy sauce on sushi. It’s been a while, but as I recall, they would first lightly touch a corner, or about 1/4″, of the sushi into the wasabi, then soy sauce, before eating.

    • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

      True, Lea – dunking a corner of the fishy end in soy sauce is relatively common.

  • Milander

    Maybe it’s just me (usually is) but I’ve had sushi in Japan and other places, good and bad. it’s just raw fish… with rice… and some spices/vegetables. What is the big deal exactly? As I said, it’s probably just me but I really don’t get why people rave about sushi and I’d love someone to explain why it is such a must-have taste sensation.

    I enjoyed the article very much and I appreciate the fact that others seem to get so much more out of eating sushi or sashimi than I do but can you help me understand HOW to get more out of it or maybe I’m just destined to be a foodie neandethal. Ah well… *sighs* – maybe a topic for another post.

    • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

      A good question. For Americans, I believe it combines the mystic of Japan with the popularity of Hollywood – sushi really got its start in the states in the 70s and 80s with our celebrities. Trevor Corson’s book explores this further – check it out.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      The best sushi combines really high quality ingredients in small, carefully apportioned sizes.

      It doesn’t have to involve fish or anything raw.

      When it’s done well, it’s amazing, but there’s a lot of crappy sushi out there, especially outside of Japan.

  • Daniel s.

    My favorite Sushi bar is one of the first ones that was local for a long time. TOKYO Japanese Restaurant Sushi Bar located at

    500 N. 10th St.
    McAllen, TX 78501

    I’ve tried each of the others that have open up in my area and I always leave disappointed and still craving that little something that’s those other places are missing.

    Be it a bit of Unagi or a sweet bite of green tea ice cream I have to say that TOKYO is by far the best in the Rio Grande Valley.

    • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

      Thanks Daniel – if I drive down south in the near future I’ll check it out.

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner
  • http://angryredhead.wordpress.com Candice

    Holy crap, thanks for this. I don’t have to eat sushi with chopsticks?! SCORE.

  • Matt

    Great piece. Thanks- I’m sure eveyone reading this is drooling over their screens.

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  • Kent Scantland

    Good article Turner. I have preached the no chopsticks, no S&W as well for a long time but as others have stated here, it is hard in the US to find sushi that doesn’t demand such boorish behavior and disrespect to the fish itself. Until people start demanding that their sushi be made to these high standards these condiments will be a staple for most. I also found it entertaining that you mentioned to never order a fried roll…Totally agree! Cream cheese is another NEVER for me! However, in one of the articles that yours pointed us to (m Patterson’s Sexy Sushi: The Global Foreplay Food.
    Read more at http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/how-to-order-sushi-like-a-ninja/#9G2py7xbHi5ms5A7.99 ) The one picture is just that…a fried roll.

  • 11 year old sushi lover,

    Thanks for the great advice! My mom and I are going out for sushi tonight, and I can’t wait to show off my new skills in eating sushi!!! :)

  • David

    Once a Japanese told me: These are the standard steps of eating Sushi in Japan, but at the end of the day, eat it the way you like.

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