It feels a little alien writing here today. It’s been a while since I’ve put the metaphorical pen to paper, so I figured what better occasion to do it than to talk about my absolute favorite food in the whole wide universe – sushi. Sushi etiquette or sushiquette as I like to call it, was obviously a non-existent concept for me when I tried sushi for the first time. Hailing from India and that too from a pescatarian (fried fish, curried fish and rice) family, sushi was already something to be viewed with apprehension. To make matters worse, raw fish atop a mound of rice or wrapped in it didn’t exactly float my boat but the epicure in me refused to give up.
One fine Saturday after much consideration, we finally asked our experienced friends to immerse us into this revered Japanese culture. They frequented a sushi place that was well known for its fresh and varied options, so off we all went. The food arrived – fish wrapped in rolls of rice and seaweed (maki rolls), more raw fish mounted on small mounds of rice (nigiri) and then a plate of sliced fish without rice (sashimi). Also each plate had a heap of what looked like thinly sliced pickled ginger and a pyramid of green stuff.
Mistake#1 – I dipped my fork into the green stuff and plunged a generous helping into my mouth before my friend could stop me. I don’t think I remember the next 20 minutes of my life as I struggled to survive and make my neurons stop firing. Yep, wasabi is NOT Indian chutney.
Mistake #2 – I thought the fish atop the rice was to be eaten separate from the rice. As I attempted to peel it off, my friend gave me the look that made me stop in my tracks. The two go into the mouth together after being dipped into the soy sauce. Got it! Let’s hope no one saw that faux pas.
Mistake #3 – I popped a piece of the maki roll into my mouth like it was a piece of spring roll. I learned that that too needs to be gently dipped into the soy sauce and then savored slowly.
The only thing I did right was use my hands since my chopstick skills were zero. Heck, that was the first time I had even seen a pair of chopsticks. I wasn’t going to try sushi and chopsticks both in the same night.
Fast forward to today and I think sushi is absolutely one delicious meal. It is a craft that requires skill, precision and accountability for freshness which makes it not only respectable but downright delectable when done right. Other than being careful that the fish being served is sushi grade and 100% fresh, the only other thing one can do is order as much variety as possible from the menu or ask the chef for recommendations and buy them a drink as a token of appreciation while you’re at it. Spicy tuna rolls, sashimi platter, sushi platter, lightly salted edamame on the side and hot sake to go with and you are pretty much in heaven.
So that brings me to this article I came across the other day outlining the correct way to eat sushi. I figured I had made all the mistakes already and was now sufficiently indoctrinated into the sushi eaters cult, so it was safe to read it. Hmm, wrong again. While I don’t agree with all the points since one might not be eating at one of the high end sushi restaurants, most of them actually make sense.
- Do not put your wasabi into the soy sauce. The sushi chef has placed the appropriate amount for the fish in nigiri. – This is believable in an upscale restaurant but in some of the other mid-scale ones, there isn’t enough on the sushi. So adding a little to the sauce to enhance flavor isn’t exactly blasphemous.
- Dip your nigiri fish side down else the rice will fall apart. – This has happened to me a few times and I’ve stolen looks around the restaurant to see how others do it. Apparently rice side down is a common misconception. Next sushi jaunt I am definitely trying fish side down.
- Enjoy your pickled ginger between nigiri as a palate cleanser and not with. – I’ve known this for a while but for some reason I always add my ginger to the soy sauce. Something about sweet and salty ginger appeals to me more. I should use it as prescribed though. Someday 🙂
- Eat with your hands. – Now I started off with hands and I must say I liked it better but as my chopstick skills improved, I switched to those instead of my fingers. Using hands gives a better appreciation of temperature and texture and allows handling the nigiri better. I will be trying this next time AFTER I’ve washed my hands thoroughly first 🙂
- Don’t rub your chopsticks together. – Hmm, I get that this is disrespectful, but most sushi places with the exception of upscale ones again, offer the pull-apart bamboo sticks and more often than not they have splinters which go away when you rub them over each other. The article suggested asking for a replacement, but the chances of a replacement having the same issue are pretty high to be honest. I will refrain from this in a fancy sushi place but the ones I frequent regularly will have to forgive me.
- Appreciate the rice. Sushi chefs spend up to 10 years mastering how to make the rice so telling them the rice is nicely done is a pretty big compliment. – I didn’t know they spent 10 years but inadvertently I’ve always rated the sushi based on the rice. It needs to be the right amount of sticky and chewy so that the wrap or the mound doesn’t fall apart. That, like making a good omelet, requires skill.
So all said and done, I guess I still have a few more things to learn before I can enjoy sushi the right way and now all this sushi talk is making me crave it. I might have to figure out a way to enjoy some this weekend after all. 😉