The fussy way to eat sushi
In Talk Show #87, one of John Gruber’s Three Keys to Internet Success is to have a fussy way to make coffee.
I don’t drink a lot of coffee, so I began to think if I had anything in particular I was fussy about. One that came to mind is eating sushi.
Here is my fussy way of eating sushi. I would contend it is the proper way to eat sushi. Note: there’s a lot of don’ts in this list.
First things first, wash your hands really well. Do the thing where you use a paper towel to open the door to the restroom when you leave, and toss it in the trash so you don’t touch anything but sushi after you wash your hands.
Why? Because sushi is eaten with your hands (with a few exceptions). That is why a proper sushi restaurant will offer you a warm, moist towel before your meal.
What sushi should you order?
- Don’t order any maki (rolls) that have cream cheese or a lot of sauce. Better yet, just don’t order any rolls at all. If you must, stick with rolls that have simple names like “tuna roll” or Japanese names like “unagi”. Or, order temaki (hand rolls).
- Don’t order something with a goofy name. There’s no way something called a Make the Good Times Roll is going to be proper sushi.
- Do order lots of nigiri (fish/something on a rice ball) and sashimi (slices of fish). If you don’t know what type, let your sushi chef or waiter choose for you.
- If you can spend an extra $50, do get toro sashimi (fatty tuna). Toro (may be on the menu as Otoro) is the fatty part of a bluefin tuna’s belly. It’s so fat, the fish melts on your tongue. This is very good. If the menu says “market price”, you know you’ve got the right fish.
How should you prepare to eat your sushi?
- Use your hands! Sushi is finger food. If the sushi has a little sauce on it, you may use chopsticks. Sashimi may be eaten with chopsticks, but it is okay to pick up the raw fish with your fingers. This is why you wash your hands.
- If your chopsticks are the kind that must be split apart, do not rub the ends together. If there’s still some strands of wood, just peel them off. You’re not trying to start a fire.
- The green stuff is called wasabi. Actually, except in very nice sushi restaurants, your wasabi will actually be horseradish, mustard, and food coloring. Real wasabi is very expensive. That said, everyone calls the fake stuff wasabi.
- Don’t mix wasabi with soy sauce to make a soy-wasabi paste. It mutes the flavor of the wasabi and looks really disgusting.
- Pour soy sauce into the small soy sauce dish for all of your tablemates before your pour for yourself. Incidentally, this rule applies to sake as well.
How should you eat your sushi?
- Maki (rolls): Pick up a piece of maki with your hands and place the whole piece in your mouth. The tight roll keeps everything together, so biting into maki will cause it to fall apart. One exception is temaki (hand rolls), as they are very big and will stay contained if you have to take a bite first.
- Nigiri (fish/something on a rice ball): Fish side down, lightly dip nigiri in soy sauce. When eating, turn the nigiri upside down so the fish touches your tongue first. You want to taste the fish.
- The sushi chef has already added the proper amount of wasabi to the maki and nigiri. It’s unnecessary to add more. You are insulting the chef by saying he has not provided your piece with the proper flavor proportions.
- Sashimi (slices of fish): You may use some soy sauce, but use less than you think. Also, apply a dab of wasabi to your fish (with chopsticks if you want), but use just a small amount. The point is to taste the fish.
- Gari (pickled ginger) is the very thin pink or yellow slices your sushi will come with. Eat a slice or two between different types of fish to clear your palette. Do not dip gari in soy sauce.
For a proper sushi meal, go to the best sushi restaurant in town and ask for an omakase which means I’ll leave it to you. Sit at the bar so you can talk to the sushi chef during your meal. He may ask for some of your preferences, but ultimately he will choose your pieces for you in a proper order. Just be sure to give him a little warning when you think you’ll be done in a few pieces, as he may be saving something epic for the end of your meal. Expect to eat 10 or so courses and for this meal to cost $100-$200 per person. It will be one of the best meals of your life.
I hope your sushi meals are far fussier and better from now on. You can thank me with an omakase on you.