We’ll just cut to the chase: you’ve been doing it wrong.

By Betty Gold
July 30, 2019
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Sushi has been growing in popularity in the states for quite some time, and for good reason. It’s delicious, yes, but it’s also a form of art. And with it comes tradition—there are customs attached to crafting and consuming sushi that should be followed.  

Whether you’re new to Nigiri or you’ve mastered the art of making it at home, there are many misconceptions about sushi about how it’s eaten in Japan. Although you won't be kicked out of any Japanese restaurant for disrespecting your dinner, knowing how to eat sushi the right way enhances the experience and even turns the meal into a cultural lesson.

We spoke with Ken Sato, the sushi chef and director of restaurants for True World Market, about the proper way to eat sushi and the most common questions people ask.

Should you use your hands to eat sushi?

Yes, you can eat sushi rolls with your hands. Sushi was originally a street food, so you would eat it with your hands. When you go to a traditional Japanese restaurant, they give you a towel to wipe your hands so you can continue to eat it with your hands.

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What is the proper way to dip sushi and sashimi in soy sauce?

You don't want the soy sauce to touch the rice. You take the Nigiri (a style of sushi with rice on bottom with fish on top) and put it on its back when dipping so it just touches the fish. Same with a sushi roll: you must try to not dip it too much, as the rice will absorb all the sodium in the soy sauce and it takes away from the flavor. You should not use a lot of soy sauce, because that's a sign to the chef that they did not pick the freshest fish.

Can you pass food with chopsticks?

No. Some styles of sushi, like sashimi (fish cut to proper bite size), it's OK to eat with chopsticks. But you should not pass food in between chopsticks at the table—that’s a funeral tradition.

What are people supposed to do with ginger and wasabi?

The wasabi can be placed directly on the fish or can be mixed into the soy sauce. Wasabi and ginger were originally used to help your stomach fight off potential bacteria, but in the age of food safety, they have become flavor enhancers and palate cleansers. 

The seven different styles of sushi, according to Chef Sato:

  • Futsu Maki – Traditional thin roll with nori on the outside
  • Futomaki – Traditional fat roll with nori on the outside
  • Uramaki – Inside out roll with the nori on the inside
  • Temaki – Hand roll
  • Nigiri — Fresh fish on top of rice
  • Sashimi — Fresh fish only
  • Onigiri — Hand-held rice wrapped in nori seaweed with a savory meat or vegetable inside

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