Sushi has come to head the top of the list when it comes to popular foods for foreigners who visit Japan. Its beauty, its delicious taste made from the pairing of the sushi rice and the topping, and more than anything else, it being a healthy option is the secret to its popularity.
Though there are many foreigners who have studied the proper etiquette of how sushi should be eaten, sometimes to the point that they put even the Japanese to shame with the depth of their knowledge, there are also foreigners who truly are first-timers to sushi so Japanese people would like to be at least equipped with the basics of sushi etiquette so they can give them some coaching.
There are some places, even a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, which share the same mode of conduct as a real sushi counter so it would be good to take note of the things done at a sushi counter where good manners are valued the most.
First, what you are wearing. Even though they don’t go as far as to require neckties, personal grooming is important to give respect to the chef. Women shouldn’t wear too much perfume and it’s also important to remove watches and other accessories when sitting down to dine so that they don’t scratch the precious tableware.
Those eating sushi for the first time,should be careful of the wasabi. It should be taken in small portions or not taken at all. It must be tried lightly at first.
Usually the toppings come in an order, first something with a light flavor then something strong, then something fatty, then finally something sweet. That is why it has come to start with white meat, such as that from the red snapper or the flounder, but it’s also okay not to be too fussy with the order.
If you’re eating with chopsticks, it’s important to hold the sushi rice and topping firmly between chopsticks but at the counter it’s common to eat with your hands. The sushi is held upside down, with the topping below, and supported by the thumb, index and middle finger. Isn’t it great to first dip it in just the right amount of soy sauce then make sure the topping reaches your tongue first?
If you put too much soy sauce, shaking it off is a no-no, so it’s important to put just the right amount. For makizushi or sushi rolled with seaweed, placing soy sauce at each end is frowned upon. Place soy sauce only on one end.
Sometimes there are some people who place soy sauce on the ginger. It would be better to avoid this too but not all sushi places agree on this point.
Whatever that can be said about sushi, what is considered distinctly part of Japanese culture is the custom to enjoy talking with the chef at the counter. Let them know about your impressions or ask about today’s special, while enjoying the relaxing conversation and the flavors. It is also important not to focus only in talking with the people or friends that you came in with.
Those who like sake may unintentionally drink too much but that will make you unable to experience the true flavors of the sushi, and that would be impolite to the chef so take care not to do that. Special words like “agari” to refer to tea or “murasaki” for soy sauce are reserved for the artisan chefs. Use them too much and you will raise eyebrows. Be conscious about that too.
After you have absorbed the basic etiquette here so far, it is also essential that you should not let being careful about your behavior ruin your enjoyment of the flavor that you have finally come to experience. It can be said that what matters the most is not to pretend to be a know-it-all, and to be humble to the artisan chefs.
Top image : ◆◆食べたモノやつくったモノ◆◆
This post is also available in: Japanese