Monday, February 8, 2010

Diversion: 50 sushi tips for beginners

This great article was posted on the MRI Technician Schools website (

'Cause where else would you expect to find the definitive guide to sushi etiquette?

Seriously - answers some of my long standing questions like, here are the out-takes from the article:

50 sushi tips for beginners

3. Use the pickled ginger (gari) as a palate cleanser.

Almost all Japanese dishes come accompanied by both a wad of wasabi and a small pile of lively pink or ecru gari. Eat a slice between sushi pieces to keep the palate feeling fresh and clean. Doing so imbues diners with the ability to taste the full complex flavor of every different roll, wrap, nigiri, or other sushi style.

[Article does not mention that pickled ginger has been studied for its ability to kill metazoan parasites. Not that they stop me from eating sushi - I'm just pointing this out for your edification).

8. Order sake with sashimi. Sushi tastes best with beer or tea.

Because sake is made from fermented rice, most sushi connoisseurs consider drinking it with sushi a redundancy. It complements sashimi fine, but those hoping for a beverage best suited to accompany nigiri, maki, or other sushi dishes would do best to drink hot tea or beer instead. Try to avoid rice beers, of course.

10. Chopsticks are optional when it comes to sushi.

Sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks, but it is not considered rude to consume nigiri or maki sushi without any utensils whatsoever. There are several different accepted techniques to hold the pieces and keep them together with the fingers.

11. Dip pieces of nigiri sushi into soy sauce (shoyu) topping side first.

Rice soaks up shoyu quickly, overpowering the delicate vinegar flavoring. While it may be awkward at first, turn nigiri pieces upside-down so that the sauce covers the topping instead. This allows diners better control of their condiments and does not compromise taste.

12. Eat nigiri pieces upside-down.

Doing so brings out the complex, carefully balanced flavors in the sushi best. Eating nigiri rice-first may cause palates to predominately taste the light, starchy vinegar over the topping.

13. Eat nigiri pieces in one or two bites.

Most nigiri comes with a subtle smear of wasabi between the topping and the pillow of rice. One to two bites ensures that the diner consumes the piece as it was meant to be tasted – with all ingredients painstakingly playing off one another. Three or more bites may mean missing out on all the itamae’s carefully constructed crafting.

15. Pour shoyu sparingly.

Again, prudently utilizing condiments minimizes waste, but cultural implications are also at play here. Pouring too much soy sauce may be interpreted as an insult to the sushi chef’s abilities, implying that his skills at balancing flavor are sub-par and require masking with liberal amounts of shoyu.

23. Buy the itamae a sake or beer to show appreciation.

Doing so does not take the place of a tip, of course, but many enjoy establishing a rapport with the sushi chef and treating him or her to a sake or beer as a way of showing appreciation for an exquisite meal.

24. If drinking from a carafe, dining companions should refill each other.

This typically holds for alcoholic beverages, but it also a nice, polite gesture when consuming tea from a shared container as well. Individuals must serve others before serving themselves, and wait patiently for their dining companions to follow suit when in need of more drink. Alternately, if serving oneself, be sure to offer others a refill first.

26. Be sure to tip both the waitron and the itamae.

At sushi establishments, it is advisable to leave tips for the waiter or waitress as well as the chef. If there is not a tip jar available at the bar, simply add it to the bill and indicate the split.

30. Do not eat raw freshwater fish.

Far more parasites are present in freshwater fish than those residing in saltwater because the majority cannot handle the high salinity of the latter’s environment. In fact, certain breeds of tapeworms explicitly thrive in the muscles of some freshwater species. Because of this very high risk of infection, it is never safe to eat raw fish from freshwater habitats.

32. If offered a hot towel (oshibori), practice proper protocol.

Some sushi bars and restaurants proffer hot towels to patrons before or after a meal. Clean hands, perhaps lightly and subtly pat around the mouth, then fold the towel neatly before returning it to the waitron.

33. Chopsticks should be set down in the preferred manner when not in use.

There are generally a few different ways to put chopsticks down when going unused. Some may elect to set them on their small saucer for shoyu, though sometimes special chopstick rests are available as well. At some bars or restaurants, the waiter, waitress, or sushi chef will create lovely origami knots from the paper chopstick holders for use as a rest.

39. Feel free to slurp noodles.

Some diners may appreciate a side of soba or udon noodles to accompany their sushi meal. Slurping them is not considered taboo in Japanese etiquette protocol – in fact, it helpfully sucks in air to cool off the usually piping hot dishes. Soup, however, is generally enjoyed in a far quieter fashion.

40. Miso soup may be eaten without a spoon.

Occasionally, sushi bars and Japanese restaurants will serve their soups without a spoon. This may seem unfamiliar to American diners, but it is actually not a mistake on the part of the waitron. If handed a bowl of soup that lacks any sort of utensil, simply lift it up and drink it directly from the bowl. This is not considered an etiquette violation in Japan, nor will it in an explicitly Japanese environment.

47. Order pieces of nigiri in pairs.

The tradition of serving sushi two at once comes from a time when diners would have to cut their pieces in half to eat them without choking. Beyond that, ordering one piece of nigiri or ordering four of something have unfortunate etymologies attached to them in Japanese. It is generally recommended to order in pairs to avoid awkwardness.

50. The only steadfast rule is practice common courtesy and politeness.

In the end, though, just about the only thing that truly matters in the sushi experience is whether or not patrons treat themselves and everyone around them with respect and courtesy. Being awkward with chopsticks or using too much soy sauce or flubbing pronunciations are window dressing, really – it will not carry any truly inescapable or demonizing stigmas. Relaxing, being polite, being nice, and having a great time is truly the spirit of eating sushi and eating it well.

Who knew MRI technician school had a liberal arts component?

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