A Guide to Sushi Etiquette
· You may be offered a hot, wet towel (called an oshibori) at the beginning of your meal. Use it to wash your hands and try to fold it back neatly the way it was offered to you before returning it.
· Do not rub your chopsticks together. When not in use they should be placed parallel to yourself on the holder (if there is one) or on the shoyu dish. They should also be placed there when finished with your meal.
· Don’t put wasabi directly in the shoyu dish. Nigiri-zushi (fingers of rice topped with fish or another topping) comes with wasabi placed under the neta (fish) by the itamae, and reflects what he feels is the proper balance of wasabi to fish. Some of us like a little more, and you can always sneak some separately on the fish or with it.
· It is OK to eat nigiri-zushi (sushi) with your hands. Sashimi is only to be eaten with your chopsticks. Pick up the nigiri-zushi and dip the fish (neta) into your shoyu, not the rice (which will soak up too much shoyu). The rice is like a sponge, and too much shoyu will overpower the taste of the food and could also lead to the rice falling into your shoyu dish and making soup, which is not a good thing.
· Do not pick up a piece of food from another person’s plate with the end of the chopsticks you put in your mouth. When moving food like this use the end you hold, which is considered the polite way.
Never pass food to another person using chopsticks as this is too close symbolically to the passing of a deceased relative’s bones at a traditional Japanese funeral. Pass a plate instead allowing an individual to take food themselves. Also, never stick your chopsticks in your rice and leave them sticking up. This resembles incense sticks and again brings to mind the symbolism of the Japanese funeral and prayers to one’s ancestors.
· Eat nigiri style sushi in one bite, a traditional itamae in Japanese sushi-ya will make the pieces the proper size for this.
· Gari (ginger) is considered a palate cleanser and eaten between bites or different types of sushi. It is not meant to be eaten in the same bite as a piece of sushi.
· Technically one doesn’t drink sake with sushi (or rice in general) only with sashimi or before or after the meal. It is felt that since they are both rice based, they do not complement each other and therefore should not be consumed together. Green tea is a great option with sushi or sashimi
· Sake is available both chilled and hot, depending the quality and style. Experiment to learn what you like, but generally, higher quality sake is served cold.
· Belching is considered impolite at the Japanese table, unlike some other Asian cultures.
· “Kanpai!” (“empty your cup”) is the traditional Japanese toast you may hear. Do not say “chin chin” as to the Japanese, this is a reference to a certain male body part best left out of proper conversation.
Did you know?
• Sushi did not originate in Japan! – Although the Japanese get full credit for what we call sushi today, the inspiration for sushi is thought to have started in Southeast Asia. Nare-zushi, fermented fish wrapped in sour rice, originated somewhere around the Mekong River before spreading into China and ultimately Japan.The concept of modern-day sushi was invented in Japan by Hanaya Yohei sometime around the end of the Edo period.
• Sushi began as cheap fast food. Sushi caught on originally as a cheap, quick snack to eat with the hands while enjoying a theater performance.
• Sushi is supposed to be eaten with the hands. True to its origins, the correct way to eat sushi is with your fingers. Chopsticks are typically only used to eat sashimi — raw slices of fish.
• Nigiri is to be eaten upside down – Sushi connoisseurs recommend that nigiri, a slice of fish squeezed atop a strip of rice, is best enjoyed by turning it upside down and placing the fish side on your tongue. Nigiri is typically eaten with the fingers rather than chopsticks so that you can keep it together and rotate it easily
• Puffer fish is the most dangerous sashimi contain lethal amounts of poison in glands and organs. If a chef inadvertently scrapes one with a knife while preparing sashimi, he could potential kill his own customer. To be certified to work with fugu sashimi, chefs in Japan must undergo a rigorous training and certification process — then eat their own finished product! And yes, there have been deaths during the final exams.
This is part of a series of articles written for Goa Times (Times of India) on people,food and happenings in and around Goa.
This article encaupsulates The Art of Sushi – a cuisine that is gaining rapid popularity in and around the country and excerpts from some of the culinary stalwarts of the art.