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Thread: How to eat sushi?

  1. #1
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    Default How to eat sushi?

    Okay, I am developing a taste for sushi and the like, but I have a strong feeling I'm eating like a barbarian when I go out for it. I only recently learned about stirring the wasabi into soy sauce for dipping...there must be a ton of things I ought to know.

    I'm a fair hand with chopsticks, and I know the basic rules [no stabbing stuff; don't stick them into a bowl of rice; don't pass food chopsticks to chopsticks...] but I just know there's more.

    When we get sushi rolls that come in big slices, do you eat each piece in a single bite, or can you hold the chunk up and bite pieces off?

    Can I eat straight off the serving plate [my wife and friends are pretty casual] or must we transfer it to the tiny side plates? How about other foods...those side plates are _really_ small...

    How do you eat cold soba noodles dipped in sauce without getting drips all over the table [this came up today]. Or does it matter?

    Bits and pieces of solid food falling from the chopsticks onto the table...horrible, not-quite-nice or who cares...?

    Should I eat sushi by itself as a meal, or use it as an appetiser...or does it matter [I frequently just order an appetiser when I want a light meal]?

    Anything else? I don't drink beer or sake with lunch, and I don't like tea either. Should I develop a taste for tea, or does anybody care if I have a Diet Coke as usual?

    Are the serving staff of sushi restaurants traditionally unhelpful, or is it just in my town? Or is it just that they are trying to avoid being revealed as Chinese rather than Japanese?
    David Anderson
    Calgary, Alberta


    "Swords are the rosary of Aikido"

    D. H. Skoyles Sensei 04/03/01

    Nakayamakai KoAikido dojo

  2. #2
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    David, you are not Japanese, you are Canadian.

    Eat it any way you want. I refuse to have my life led by other's death rituals and such.

    In Japan, I would conform, but here is where I eat the way I want.
    "Fear, not compassion, restrains the wicked."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sochin
    David, you are not Japanese, you are Canadian.
    Eat it any way you want. I refuse to have my life led by other's death rituals and such.
    In Japan, I would conform, but here is where I eat the way I want.
    But Ted -- Eating Japanese food in Japanese style is part of what I enjoy...otherwise I'd use a knife and fork.


    Besides, I enjoy being able to slurp my noodles and miso because it's authentic...I'm _far_ too well brought up to do it otherwise...
    David Anderson
    Calgary, Alberta


    "Swords are the rosary of Aikido"

    D. H. Skoyles Sensei 04/03/01

    Nakayamakai KoAikido dojo

  4. #4
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    Hi David

    Well, I think Ted may have a point (with which I disagree), but it hardly joined in the spirit of your post, did it!

    My wife and I had a chat about your post and I think we can answer most of the points. Apologies if some of it is already familiar to you. Now, can I remember what she said…?

    First of all, it is worth noting that Sushi is not the staple food of Japan, but rather a delicacy and eaten on special occasions, not all the time. The restaurants that serve it (for it isn’t something that you’d make at home) come in a range of sizes, but as in so many things … size isn’t everything! In fact, the smaller establishments will often be the best food and the most expensively priced. The freshness and quality of the fish is crucial, and the care taken by the chef. Even the humble rice has a very special care taken over it (I’ve heard that the apprentice Sushi Chef may spend five years mastering the art of boiling the rice, before he gets anywhere near a knife).

    Defining terms. Sushi is the small thumb-sized ball of rice with a smear of wasabi and topped with a sliver of raw fish (usually). Sashimi is portions of raw fish. It is served separately from the rice, wasabi (green paste made from horseradish), shoyu (soya sauce) and shredded daikon (radish), shoga (pink pickled ginger). Sushi is usually served at a specialist restaurant, often laid out like a bar, with a serving counter with high stools, and some extra tables for those more intimate groups. The Sushi chef in the smaller establishments will therefore have to employ the skills of a good barman (chatting to customers, etc.) as well as producing perfectly shaped and subtly flavoured delights at lightning speed. Bigger restaurants may have the Chef removed from the customers to keep up the productivity. Most of the Sushi restaurants in Japan will also offer a take-out or delivery service (little scooters whizzing through traffic with sushi instead of pizzas).

    Whereas Sashimi will need good hashi skills, Sushi can be eaten by hand – so I’m told!. It is already packaged up and ready-to-go, so therefore hashi waza are not always required. If you do use hashi, then remember that you need to turn the sushi lover to dip the fish side into shoyu, not the rice side (that would ruin the flavour of the rice… and cause it to disintegrate). You mention wasabi mixed into the shoyu, but this is already present with nigirizushi, perhaps you meant for use with makizushi, where the contents are wrapped with rice and nori, then cut into cylindrical portions (sometimes long and thin, sometimes short and wide).

    You mention hashi etiquette. Do you know why you mustn’t leave hashi stabbed vertically into a bowl of rice? Or why you don’t pass from hashi to hashi? I’ll say what I’ve been told;
    In a Japanese family house, you’ll often see a Butsudan. This is a small cabinet that is decorated with pictures of deceased family members, and is treated as the spiritual resting place of the immediate ancestors. It will sometimes have small portions of food placed before it, as a symbolic offering. When you put rice there, you put the hashi in, stabbing them down into the rice and leaving them sticking up. To do so during a normal meal would therefore carry some pretty dark connotations.

    The passing from hashi to hashi is another thing associated with rituals regarding death. At a Japanese funeral, the cremation is not as complete as at a US/UK service, with nothing left but an urn filled with ash and powderised bone. In Japan, the family gather at the end of the cremation to collect up the bone fragments into a small box (18 inch cubed). They do this by taking it in turns to pick up a fragment, in pairs, with hashi. This is the ONLY time you will see two people picking up one object with hashi together, and you’ll see why that is frowned on during a normal meal. I've been to a Japanese funeral, and it was pretty good fun actually! Lots of eating and talking about the good times.

    The drips on the table? In China and Japan, the meal is eaten with the bowl in one hand and the hashi in the other, there is no need to do a great balancing act of getting food from a plate on the table all the way up to the mouth. You will see both Japanese and Chinese pretty much shovelling the food from bowl to mouth, using the hashi as spoons. Even the highest class diner does not look down on picking up the bowl (unless they are attempting to copy Western etiquette, as in an Italian/French restaurant, etc.). I’m told that in Korea, bizarrely, they DON’T pick up the bowl. So I guess that means that the best hashi waza must be found in Korea.

    Disclaimer:
    My wife is Japanese. She went to a posh school and she ate in a lot of restaurants. On the other hand, she has been out of Japan for nearly twenty years and has no formal qualification in cultural/social/etiquette history…. And I’m not perfect at transcribing our conversations. So I’d be really pleased if anyone else can come on to this thread and add to my answers, or correct them. I had drafted an early answer before Ted, but I lost it due to a timeout and it has taken a while to get this down.

    While I agree that you can do whatever you want AT HOME, I’ve always thought it prudent to learn about the social customs of a society, just to avoid insulting anyone unintentionally. It is also a bit of fun. And if I went into Ted’s house and blew my nose on his tablecloth before dinner, then I think he’d agree that maybe I should have checked if this was acceptable behaviour …. It’s what I do at home!
    David Noble
    Shorinji Kempo (1983 - 1988)
    I'll think of a proper sig when I get a minute...

    For now, I'm just waiting for the smack of the Bo against a hard wooden floor....

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    Dear Mr. Anderson,
    I detest self-promotion. However, I’ve written a book, a rather lengthy one, The Connoisseur’s Guide to Sushi, that will be published this October by Harvard Common Press, which answers all the questions you have asked, often in considerable, even tedious, detail.
    If, by “only recently learning about stirring the wasabi into the soy sauce for dipping,” you mean you have recently learned to do it, you really ought to make every effort to unlearn it. It is an egregious habit, utterly in contrast to the real enjoyment of sushi.
    Sushi is, despite common misconceptions, about the rice. The mixture of rice, rice vinegar, and sugar, was the impetus for the evolution of sushi and it is still the standard by which it is best evaluated. The fish or other ingredients are the icing on the cake. The manipulation of these basic materials, rice, vinegar, and sugar, form most of the real art of sushi. The relative measures, for instance, change between summer and winter, age of the rice, type of sushi, etc. Too involved to go into it here; I spend several pages on this in the book. Suffice to say that whipping up a slurry of wasabi and shoyu and baptizing your sushi in this will effectively kill any chance to taste or appreciate the delicately and deliberately flavoured rice. A tiny bit of wasabi is used on some kinds of sushi, but this is usually to accentuate the taste of the fish in one way or another.
    So how did this get started? Because mixing shoyu and wasabi and dunking slices of sashimi in it is a standard practise. Sashimi, as you probably know, is always served with plain rice, not sushi rice or sushi-meshi, as it’s called. Big difference. It is a common practise among sushi tsu (connoisseurs) to order a plate of sashimi at a sushi-ya as a first course, to get an idea of the place’s quality. With that course, wasabi-joyu is typically used. I think people saw this and assumed it applied as well to sushi.
    Yes, I know. There will be members writing who live in Japan and who will insist they see Japanese using wasabi-joyu with sushi every day. And of course, they are correct. Unfortunately, it’s become common in Japan as well. There will also be those who opine that not being Japanese I am not in a position to comment on the “correctness” of sushi dining etiquette and those who, conversely, will note that I am trying to “be Japanese.” They are certainly entitled to their opinions. But I have spoken with a hell of a lot of sushi itamae and sushi connoisseurs in Japan in doing research for the book and the overwhelming consensus is as I have told you and for the reasons I have explained.

    Cordially,
    Dave Lowry

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    Dave,

    I look forward to the book and will keep my eye out for it.

    I have always done my best to educate people on the differences between sushi and sashimi. To the vast majority of Americans, sushi means raw fish. I've been able to share meals with a lot of people, and even have my mother eating it on a regular basis!

    I've been sharing sushi with my daughters since they were 2. They loved being able to 1) eat with their fingers, 2) dip into the soy sauce, 3) spend some quality time with Dad. And my wife really couldn't complain about any health risks when they were eating rice and cooked egg or the processed crab. They are branching out a bit more now, trying the various types of sashimi used with the rice.

    Here's a related question:

    Do the Japanese actual serve spoons with their miso soup? The strange spoons usually provided at restaurants are a bit bizarre in my mind. It is my understanding that in Japan the miso is drunk right out of the bowl, with the chopsticks being used to coax out any of the more stubborn bits. Is that the correct method?
    Respectfully
    Mark W. Swarthout, Shodan

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    Dear Mr. Blackwood,
    No, no, no. Japanese restaurants outside Japan sometimes offer a Western style bouillon spoon or a Chinese shaor, the horn-shaped spoon to which I think you refer. Neither is appropriate. Miso-shiru is drunk from the bowl. This is reflected in the language. In Japanese, you do not eat (tabemasu) soup, but drink (nomimasu) it.
    Look at a Western style soup bowl; it is large and with relatively broad sides to allow for the rapid cooling of the contents. A bowl for miso-shiru is steep sided and small, to retain the heat. This relfects different ideas about the role of soup in a meal. A Japanese soup bowl is inefficiently designed to accept a spoon. A Western style soup bowl is designed specifically for that purpose.

    Cordially,
    Dave Lowry

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    I'm really pleased that this has caught your eye Mr Lowry... I'm looking forwrd to the book

    I trust that there will be plenty of pictures, to help us with our Sushi-recognition. Oh, to be able to go in and order something without having to point at a plastic replica! Or just getting what the guy across the room just had.
    David Noble
    Shorinji Kempo (1983 - 1988)
    I'll think of a proper sig when I get a minute...

    For now, I'm just waiting for the smack of the Bo against a hard wooden floor....

  9. #9
    CezarJ Guest

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    I am also interested in your book. Could you post the ISBN ? If promotion on these boards is not allowed please send me a private message with it.

    Thank you,

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    Default Home made sushi

    I too would love to take a look at Mr Lowry's book when it gets out. I've been suffering sushi withdrawel since leaving Japan, and although I have had it a few times since it just never feels right. Plus the prices here in Germany are a killer, I really miss my local 100en sushi bar!

    But just one point I'd like to make, Sushi is occasionally made in the japanese home. Here it usually takes the form of Temaki sushi, that is hand rolled, with a big sheet of nori and everyone adds ther own rice and whatever else they want, then roll it up into a cone shape. I even had this for school lunch once, had to have been the longest lunch I've ever had, watching a bunch of 6 year olds trying too make these, lol!

    Any other variations people know of?

    Eynon Phillips

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    I thought Temakizushi was actually one of those foreign inventions that found its way back to the homeland. Like the "California Roll", it came from Americans. The British favourite curry dish of Chicken Tikka Masala is now becoming popular in India despite its origins as a mongrel-mix of two perfectly good (and quite separate) dishes; Tikka being hot and red, Masala being creamy and mild.

    The Americans also invented "Chop Suey" for Chinese food, didn't they?
    David Noble
    Shorinji Kempo (1983 - 1988)
    I'll think of a proper sig when I get a minute...

    For now, I'm just waiting for the smack of the Bo against a hard wooden floor....

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    Can't forget the chirashi-zushi. You know its festival time when that comes about. Down on Shikoku (where I lived) we had these big chyosa festivals in mid-October which were filled with lights and sounds of all types. They'd serve colorful chirashi-zushi to complement it.
    -Jason Kumar

    Georgia Tech Kendo Club
    www.cyberbuzz.gatech.edu/kendoclub

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    So David (Anderson), did that answer your questions?...
    David Noble
    Shorinji Kempo (1983 - 1988)
    I'll think of a proper sig when I get a minute...

    For now, I'm just waiting for the smack of the Bo against a hard wooden floor....

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tripitaka of AA
    So David (Anderson), did that answer your questions?...

    In fact, gentlemen, all that discussion helped me quite a bit.

    Mr. Lowry, I'm also looking forward to your book, even though I'm a touch dismayed that the soya/wasabi mixing is a no-no. At least I can take comfort in the fact that I'm _authentically_ uncultured... As it is, I must admit that the subtleties of rice varieties and their flavouring are somewhat lost on me, but perhaps someday I will come to appreciate them. In future I'll save the wasabi trick for sashimi only.

    Here in Calgary we don't have many places [that I'm familiar with at least] that specialize in sushi. In most cases it is served as an appetiser before various other main dishes. My favorite Japanese restaurant here is Soba Ten, which makes their own soba noodles and serve them fresh...they are vastly better than the standard dried noodles boiled up. Note that one of my favorite dishes is curried soba...a big bowl of soba in curry broth with bits of chicken...and it's eaten with a Chinese-style flat spoon.


    There are at least a half-dozen places calling themselves 'sushi houses' that I haven't tried...I look forward to the exploration.
    David Anderson
    Calgary, Alberta


    "Swords are the rosary of Aikido"

    D. H. Skoyles Sensei 04/03/01

    Nakayamakai KoAikido dojo

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    Default As I wrote before,,

    Konichiwa everyone,

    As I wrote before, sushi was the Mcdonald's of the Edo period, it was a fast snack before going to a brothel or going home. This fad of sushi being a gourmet's dish is actually a recent phenomenon.
    There are no real etiquette in eating sushi, it is commonly said that if you start with the white meat fish you will better enjoy the delicate taste and advance up with the more intense taste like sea urchin, and leave the most fatty toro for last.
    Green tea is not just a drink but it is said to refresh the tounge so you can enjoy the various nuance in flavor. Since Coke has a strong lasting taste of it's own you may not be able to wash down the prior taste.
    It is also said that to evaluate the craftmanship of the sushi chef try the egg roll(Gyoku) without the rice.

    David-san,
    Although nobody will frown of disapproval in mixing wasabi and soy-sauce, if you are using real wasabi, I suggest placing a portion of wasabi on top of the sashimi. This way you will be able to enjoy the fresh scent of wasabi.
    If you really want to enjoy the pungent taste of wasabi, ask for a wasabi roll.
    Just be sure they use fresh ground wasabi before ordering!
    Does this help?

    K.Miwa
    Last edited by Tri-ring; 29th May 2005 at 05:12.
    Tri-ring of Japan
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