30 useful tips for travel in Japan
- Tips for Eating at a Traditional Sushi Restaurant
- Sushi rules are more than just polite etiquette. They are guidelines for how to eat the sushi in the tastiest way, and enjoy everything the sushi chef prepares to the fullest.
- What to order
- You can order a la carte or a set, but a good way to order is to let the chef select your meal for you. This is an “omakase” course. Please tell the chef if there is something you know you do not like, but keep an open mind about what to try. Itamae-san (sushi chefs) select all ingredients they use carefully. They know what is in season and what tastes best on the day of your visit. Sushi restaurants usually serve Japanese tea, sake, and beer. Ask what goes well with your meal.
- How to eat sushi
- Sushi is eaten by many with chopsticks, but it is actually perfectly okay to eat sushi with your hands. In either case you should try to eat each piece in one bite so that it doesn’t fall apart. Do not hesitate to use your hands to eat sushi, as this is actually the traditional way to eat it.
Not every piece of sushi needs extra soy sauce (shoyu) or wasabi. Ask if you are not sure how to eat something. Too much soy sauce can overpower the flavors. After all, sushi is about tasting both the rice and seafood.
Dip a piece of sushi roll (maki) on one side. For nigiri-sushi, only the fish (neta) on the rice (shari) should touch the soy sauce. When eating with chopsticks, push the piece on its side and pick it up with one chopstick on the top, and one on the bottom. Then turn your hand to dip only the top. This will not cause the rice to break apart and effectively ruin the piece of sushi. Ideally, your soy sauce dish should not have any grains of rice in it at the end of your meal.
Sashimi is sliced fish or seafood without rice and usually comes with wasabi on the side. Do not mix the wasabi and soy sauce. This takes away the flavor of freshly grated wasabi. Put a little bit of wasabi onto the sashimi with your chopsticks instead. Most nigiri-sushi and maki-sushi already have wasabi inside.
Ginger (gari) is not for putting onto the sushi or into the soy sauce. Eat a slice by itself between pieces of sushi to refresh your palate.
There are many types of sushi with different shapes and ingredients, with some of them not raw but rather steamed or lightly grilled. There are also local variations such as Osaka-style hako-sushi, where rice and seafood are pressed in a wooden box. Try them if you have the opportunity.
- General advice
- Make reservations in advance. If there is something you cannot eat, let the restaurant know before you go so they can prepare your meal. Check first if credit cards are accepted or if payment is cash only. Above all, have fun and enjoy the authentic sushi experience.