How to Order and Eat Sushi and Related Terminology
There are various sushi resturants in Japan, from the humble conveyer belt sushi to luxurious restaurants. Here is an introduction to manners, how to order, things to avoid, and useful terminology for when dining at an authentic sushi restaurant.
Different types of sushi require different etiquette.
Nigirizushi should be eaten either by hand or with chopsticks. If using chopsticks, tip the sushi over towards yourself, pick up the sushi with your chopsticks, and make sure soy sauce only touches the seafood, not the rice.
Gunkanmaki is a type of sushi made of vinegared rice topped with salmon roe and sea urchin, and wrapped in seaweed. As soy sauce should only touch the topping, use pickled ginger as a brush to coat your food. At a conveyer belt sushi restaurant, however, there will be bottled soy sauce that only lets out drops at a time which allows you to add the sauce directly to the topping.
Makimono is a type of sushi in which rice and other ingredients are rolled up in seaweed. It only needs a touch of soy sauce on one side of the surface, and some kinds have enough flavor without soy sauce. With a large sized makimono, it is not disrespectful to break it apart with chopsticks on a plate before eating.
Chirashizushi is sushi in a bowl, with scattered seafood ingredients on top of vinegared rice. Soy sauce mixed with wasabi in a saucer is available to use with the seafood, and vinegared rice is eaten separately. Another method of eating this dish is similar to that of gunkanmaki above, using pickled ginger to add soy sauce. Although there are no strict rules, pouring soy sauce all over chirashizushi is not usually done.
Knowing the pattern of ordering is a helpful little tip to enable you to enjoy the delicious sushi even more. Although it depends on the restaurant, normally sushi comes with two pieces per plate. It is wise to check with staff before placing an order.
Eating richly flavored sushi at the very beginning will make the flavor of the rest of your meal vague. As there are many types of sushi, it is better to start with simple-tasting sushi, and gradually move on to stronger and sweeter flavored kinds of sushi. Simple-tasting white fish like snapper and flounder are good choices to begin, then move on to fish with a shiny back, like spotted shad, mackerel and sardine. Then, try some strong-flavored fish or well-seasoned sushi like fatty tuna, shellfish, and fish roe. Finally, enjoy the sweet egg sushi, and end with rolled sushi. While there are no formal rules, this is the way sushi veterans enjoy their meals.
These are some things to be conscious of, although these rules may apply to dining in any restaurant.
Having a strong odor in a restaurant can affect the delicate flavor of the food. For everyone to enjoy a pleasant meal, avoid applying perfume or having a cigarette before entering the restaurant.
Although soy sauce gives a little more flavor to the sushi, soaking the sushi with soy sauce can overwhelm the original flavor of the ingredients.
The most delicious time to eat sushi is just after it was made. To avoid the seafood becoming dry, it is better to eat as soon as it is delivered to your table.
Having a fun conversation while dining is inevitable. However, restrict yourself from being too loud or frequently speaking to the chef.
◎Agari – Green tea
◎Oaiso – Check (this word should not be used by a customer as it can sound impolite)
◎Engawa – The fluke fin of flounder and flat fish
◎Gari – Sweet pickled ginger. It is used to refresh the palate, and there are usually free refills.
◎Kappa – Cucumber
◎Kan – An unit to count nigirizushi, i.e. ikkan (1 piece), nikan (2 pieces).
◎Gyoku – Egg omelet
◎Geso – Squid tentacle
◎Shari – Vinegar rice used for sushi
◎Shinko – Spotted shad
◎Tekka – A rolled sushi with tuna
◎Tane/Neta – The main ingredient (usually seafood) of sushi.
◎Zuke – Tuna and other seafood marinated in soy sauce.
◎Tsume – Sweet sauce made of seafood stock like eel, and soy sauce.
◎Toro – Belly meat of tuna (other fish meat with a similar part and texture is sometimes also called toro)
◎Hikarimono – Fish with a shiny back like spotted shad, mackerel and sardine.
◎Himo – The exterior mantle of an arch shell.
Nowadays, sushi can be a representation of luxury food in Japan. However, sushi was treated as fast food in the past. Please do not interpret our instructions for sushi as an overcomplicated ritual, but as an authentic, if sometimes challenging, way of enjoying sushi.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.