Sushi: The Rules

25 Jul

Back when Happy Sushi Belly was just a “what if” conversation over dinner, Connie and I used to discuss ‘the rules’ of our sushi meals…

Largely, it was just a joke… but it was this joke that got us thinking about having a sushi blog. Of course, since then, Happy Sushi Belly has expanded to also share our favourite teas and other goodies, but when reading an online forum I was reminded about our old ‘rules’.

Our old ‘rules’:

  • When sharing a love boat (or any other platter intended for more than one person) share the items evenly – but trade away things you don’t like for those you do…
  • Ignore the extra wasabi – the chef has put on all that you’ll need.
  • Split the ginger goodness evenly
  • When done, arrange the plates in some sort of symmetrical order, with chopsticks on top (the chopsticks is to signal that we’re done… the symmetry is just our particular goofiness).
  • Pour tea for your companion first, then for yourself when you notice a cup is running low. Don’t point the spout at anyone. (One custom actually is to never pour your own drink – only pour for others.. and of course, they’ll pour for you too!)
  1. Start with the simplest rolls – the avocado roll, the cucumber roll, the salmon roll etc.. Eat the sushi in the same order as the person you’re sharing with, so that you know how many pieces are ‘yours’ and how many are theirs.
  2. Enjoy a delicious piece of ginger between each different type of sushi.
  3. Next, eat any other rolls (in some sort of order from least favourite to most…)
  4. Next, eat your least-favourite nigiri (fish on top) sushi, working up to your most-favourite, saving the best for last.
  5. Order any additional sushi to complete the meal only after finishing the first order.. sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach. (We call this our ‘dessert sushi’.)

Pretty goofy, right?

… but there are lots of ‘rules out there about sushi, that others have published too.  While we don’t really follow our ‘old rules’ anymore (mostly because we know what we like, and rarely order a love boat or shared plate) but there are some ‘rules’ and traditions worth mentioning…

Sushi Etiquette - originally found on Facebook - click for original source link.

Sushi Etiquette – originally found on Facebook – click for original source link.

The above is a graphic about some of the ‘dos and don’ts’ of sushi dining…

Do: Pick up your sushi using either chopsticks or your fingers; both are correct

I know a few people who appreciate this ‘do’ – since they’ve yet to master chopsticks! However, I rarely see anyone out and about using their fingers for eating sushi, and it’s a rare place that has those little wet napkins for cleaning your fingers before/after eating. (Sushi Boat in Crowfoot is the only place I can think of off the top of my head.) I’ve seen plenty of people using their fingers though when eating sushi at home.

Don’t: Rub your chopsticks together to remove splinters

Graphic originally from WikiHow- click for original

Graphic originally from WikiHow- click for original

The graphic suggests that it’s rude, and that a good sushi bar would never offer low-quality chopsticks.

Well, pretty much every sushi place I visit offers cheap, disposable chopsticks. There are a few places that use the higher-quality disposable chopsticks that don’t often have splinters, but it’s pretty rare to find a restaurant that uses the higher-quality reusable chopsticks. It might be rude to rub my chopsticks together, but it’s ruder still to need tweezers to get out a splinter after a meal – or find a wayward splinter on my beautiful sushi.. so let’s ignore this ‘rule’!

Do: Lightly dip the fish, not the rice into a small amount of soy sauce.

Yep – good plan.  Unless of course you’re eating a roll, then what do you do? Silly rule…

A better rule would be “don’t let your rice sit in soy sauce, or the rice will start falling apart”.

Of course, related to this is if you have a bowl of rice, don’t pour your soy sauce over it. Not only will it fall apart, but you’re wrecking the flavour already imparted to the seasoned rice.  (As an aside, it used to be customary to serve a bowl of rice automatically with a sashimi order, but this seems to have fallen by the wayside – perhaps too many people were ignoring and wasting their rice, or could this be another tradition wrecked by the Atkins diet fad?)

Don’t: Dunk the rice in the soy sauce.

See above…

Do: Put the whole portion in your mouth, holding the sushi so the fish touches your tongue.

Yep – here’s another good rule.  After all, I want to taste the fish, not always just the rice.  But wait.. then there’s those rolls again! Tricky things those, messing up all of these rules!

Don’t: Bite the sushi in half and put the remainder back on the plate.

Spicy scallop - Towering battleship from Blue Circle Sushi in Seattle

Spicy scallop – Towering battleship from Blue Circle Sushi in Seattle

I’m assuming this one is referring to a shared plate or platter – in that case – YEP!. One of the comments on the graphic was that they were sharing a plate of sushi, and so would do this.  (ew!) I’ll also concede that seeing someone else’s half-eaten food (on their own plate) isn’t particularly appetizing either, so let’s call this a guideline instead of a rule…  and give a poke to those over-sized rolls that need to be deconstructed before eating.  (I’m looking at you, Towa Sushi!)

Also, let’s consider those huge pieces of sashimi some places serve up, or the extra-big battleship sushi. Stuffing your face isn’t very elegant either, so I’d suggest dividing things up.

  • Extra-large sashimi sections: Cut the sashimi in half (or more!) with your chopsticks and eat the individual sections one by one.
  • Ridiculous over-sized rolls: Unroll the piece slightly and pick it apart into manageable sections. Better still, don’t order these huge rolls. What’s the point of all of those deliciously blended flavours if you can’t taste them all together anyways? Plus – picking these apart is so messy!
  • Towering battleships: Enjoy the filling off the top, little by little until the sushi is a more manageable size.

Now.. just to find a technique to bite through overly-soggy and therefore chewy seaweed!

Do: Use the blunt end of the chopsticks when taking food from a shared plate

I think this one only really applies when your food is touching another person’s share, and to take your portion would mean touching theirs with your chopsticks.  However, most nigiri sushi isn’t presented all pushed up against one another, and although rolls often are, it’s not hard to pick out yours without touching another’s.  On the other hand, if it’s a shared bowl of rice, this seems like a really good option – presuming that the server hasn’t provided some sort of serving utensil.

Other chopstick taboos? Apparently there’s a bad superstition attached to standing your chopsticks up in a bowl of rice, relating to gravesites.  Also, you don’t want to pass food from one person to another using your chopsticks either, offer your plate, where they can put it on the plate, and then you can take it from the plate. (Check out this cute little graphic for more chopstick taboos)

Do: Rest the narrow ends of the chopsticks on the small ceramic holder, when not using them.

Sushi from Momoyama

Sushi from Momoyama – there’s my little paper chopstick holder on the right!

This would be lovely if places actually offered these holders (washi-oki) but I think I’ve only been to one place that does.  Instead, we make ours out of folding our chopstick paper envelope.  Classy…

Do: Place your chopsticks across the soy saucer to signal you have finished your meal

The graphic also suggests that they should be placed parallel to the sushi bar… Ok.  Not hard.. assuming I’m at a sushi bar and not a sit-down restaurant.

Don’t: Put your ginger on top of your sushi

Ginger is intended as a palate cleanser, to be eaten between different flavours of sushi.  Putting ginger on each piece will make each piece taste like ginger… (in which case, why not just order the cheapest, simplest roll available? haha)

This is similar to the idea of not adding additional wasabi – the flavour of the fish and the seasoned rice should be what stands out, and the sushi chef should be adding wasabi only if needed (and only the amount needed) to highlight a particular fish.  Changing the dish could be considered an insult to the talents of the chef.  (Kind of like dousing your entire meal with salt or ketchup before you even taste anything..)

That brings me to…

Don’t: Put wasabi in your soy sauce

Well I know lots of people who do this, and while the graphic describes it (accurately!) as a soup, I can’t imagine this ‘rule’ stopping anyone! Comments on the graphic also suggested that the poster was taught by “a sushi chef” that this was an appropriate way of doing things.  Not something I’ll do, but each to one’s own!

Don’t: Hand money directly to the chef

Yeah.. money is dirty stuff, and we want their hands super-clean!

What other ‘rules’ or rituals do you have when it comes to eating sushi?

Let us know in the comments below, or check out some of the links below for other guidelines.

  • SushiFAQ – a list of guidelines
  • The High Heel Gourmet – has a great story about her Japanese sushi experience along with some explanations for some of the guidelines.
  • Or if you’re in the mood for a giggle, read this article from the Sushi Index.

Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Sushi


Tags: , ,

4 responses to “Sushi: The Rules

  1. Alüminyum Levha

    July 26, 2013 at 4:54 am

    good artical for me. thank you.

    • Dawn

      February 4, 2014 at 11:58 am

      You’re welcome – glad you enjoyed! Do you have any of your own traditions or habits to add?

  2. Effie

    February 3, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    You made some good points there. I checked on the net to find out
    more about the issue and found most individuals will go along
    with your views on this site.

    • Dawn

      February 4, 2014 at 11:59 am

      It seems like there are a lot of different thoughts on the customs of sushi – just as long as we’re all enjoying it, it’s all good!


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