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Wednesday, July 21 2010

I personally feel that we have a responsibility when we sample cuisines of other cultures or in other countries that we take the time to observe the required rules and etiquette associated with that cuisine. It's a serious affront to that culture if we are willing to eat their food but not follow the proper polite rules while eating it.

Japanese culture is very much based on tradition and ritualistic rules that extends to almost every aspect of day-to-day life, including food consumption, and especially sushi. If we are to properly enjoy Japanese sushi, it's very important to follow the appropriate rules associated with sushi consumption. Heres a quick and easy list of things to remember the next you find yourself eating sushi, especially in a nice sushi bar or restaurant.

When Ordering


  • The itamae (sushi chef) should only be asked for sushi or sashimi. Drinks or sides should be ordered from the waitress. It's highly insulting to ask the specialized sushi chef for anything besides fish.
  • Never ask the sushi chef "is it fresh?" All fish in a good sushi bar should be fresh and to suggest that any of it is otherwise is insulting. Instead, ask for his recommendation or suggestion.
  • It is impolite to leave food behind on your plate, so take care to order within your hunger level and personal tastes. If you don't think you'll be able to finish something, don't order it.
  • It's ok to ask for an item you don't see on the menu, because there may be seasonal items or special items not listed on the menu. The itamae will be happy to prepare it for you if he has it.
When Eating



  • It's an affront to the establishment to place your wasabi directly into your soy sauce. In Japan, soy sauces are akin to fine wines, with rare sauces and secretive ingredients. Mixing them together is seen to be an insult to the soy sauce, as well as an insult to the itamae, who will prepare the sushi with what he feels is the proper fish-wasabi balance.
  • Nigirizushi (the strip of fish over rice) and makizushi (the rolls) can be eaten with your hands or with chopsticks and should be eaten in one bite. Sashimi (the strips of raw fish) should only be eaten with chopsticks.
  • When not in use, chopsticks should be placed in the chopstick holder or on the dish, parallel to you.
  • If you sample a piece of food from someone else's plate, use the end of the chopsticks that you hold, not the end that has previously touched your food and been near your mouth.
  • Never pass food to someone with your chopsticks (too similar to a certain Japanese funeral ceremony). Pass your plate.
  • Never stick your chopsticks into your rice and they them sticking up (again, too similar to a certain Japanese burial ceremony).
  • Offering a beer or sake to the itamae is considered polite, but not required. He will remember you the next time you come in, however, if you do.
  • If you are not given a spoon for your soup, you are expected to lift and drink out of it, using chopsticks to position food in your mouth. A little bit of slurping is actually ok.
  • Sake is to be consumed before or after the meal, but not during. Green tea is considered a good compliment to sushi during the meal.
When Leaving



  • If you sat at the bar, you need to tip the itamae and the waitress separately. The itamae will probably have a tip jar. If you are in Japan, you do not need to tip (included in the bill).
  • It is also good form to thank the itamae personally if you were seated at the bar with 'domo arigato' (thank you) or 'gochisosama deshita' (thank you for the meal)
This quick list should keep you out of trouble the next time you find yourself at a nice sushi bar or sushi restaurant, whether you be in the US, Europe, or even in Japan. Just remember, if you're going to enjoy the cuisine, it's time to start observing the culture. Good luck and enjoy!


For more information about sushi culture and sushi recipes, check out this neat blog about how to make sushi.

Posted by: Send a Meal AT 10:15 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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