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I’ve always wondered the proper way to eat sushi (these are the things you worry about once you don’t have to worry about how to pay your bills thanks to PennyStocking!), thanks to Pallian for showing me THIS article, very useful and eye opening!
Basically, the above picture means I made an ass out of myself last time I was in Japan/at every sushi restaurant I’ve ever been to, whooooooooops!
Below is the whole eye-opening article:
Servers cringe when you unwrap your chopsticks and rub them together vigorously like some demented carpenter with a splinter phobia. Chefs weep when you pick up delicately seasoned bundles of nigiri with chopsticks and dip them rice-side down into an overflowing dish of soy sauce, the colour of which approximates the Don River owing to runoff from vast amounts of wasabi.
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It’s not your fault. The finer points of sushi etiquette are largely unknown outside Japan. Add to that the fact that there are only 30 or 40 Japanese-trained sushi chefs in the city’s estimated 700 sushi joints, and you begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem. Chances are the sushi you’ve been eating isn’t even authentic sushi, particularly if it contains any of the following: avocado, cream cheese, mayonnaise or deep-fried anything.
“Nobody cares about it,” says Keiichi Masuda, owner and chef at Mikado restaurant on Laird Dr. in Leaside, which he opened 31 years ago. “Only sushi chefs care.”
About five years ago, he gently suggested to a sushi-bar customer that she shouldn’t dip the nigiri into the soy rice-side down, and that she was using too much sauce.
“She got mad and never came back,” says the chef, who serves sea urchin, octopus, squid, barbecued eel, monkfish liver and salmon that he smokes himself over imported Japanese cherrywood. “That’s why I made the sign.”
The one-page handouts on sushi etiquette are scattered about the restaurant and inserted inside each menu. Last week, he gave them to kimono-clad beauties to hand out at the Japanese food booth at the Canadian Food and Beverage Show at the Exhibition grounds.
Masuda, a vice-president of the Japanese Restaurant Association of Canada, is polite to the extreme, and suggests his poor English was part of the problem.
“I don’t want to push too many Japanese customs,” says Masuda. “The main thing is, the customer enjoys my food.”
In our condiment-crazy culture, where food is a canvas to be built upon, adding a puddle of ketchup or a dollop of hot sauce is the norm. But adding wasabi to the special preparation of soy sauce made by sushi chefs to complement their nigiri is the same thing as adding salt and pepper to a three-star chef’s food without tasting it first.
The North American palate, which craves salt and has become more accustomed to spicy food, conspires to ruin the sushi experience, particularly when it comes to eating nigiri: small, hand-shaped rectangular blocks of seasoned rice topped with raw fish.
The absolute biggest no-no for nigiri is dipping it rice-first into the soy sauce. That’s because the rice has already been perfumed with a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, a cooking wine called mirin and kombu or seaweed. The chef wants you to be able to taste all that. The sushi chef has also packed the rice by hand so that it falls apart when it hits your mouth. If you dunk it in soy, some stays behind in the dish and makes a soupy mess.
The second biggest insult is to add wasabi to the soy, since the chef has already placed what he deems to be the correct amount for the fish, fatty or lean, on top of the rice. In some places like Mikado and Hiro Sushi on King St. E., the chef will have made his own soy-based sauce for the nigiri, infusing it with tamari, mirin and bonito flakes. You can usually tell if this is the case, because it will be served in small ceramic jugs.
You are meant to pick the nigiri up with your fingers, turn it upside down, gently pass the fish through the sauce and place it on your tongue fish-side down. Assuming it’s not jumbo-sized, eat it all in one bite.
“The rice is not too sticky so it will break and the aroma comes to the nose, and the wasabi hits the tongue and the soy sauce counteracts the fish smell,” explains Hiro Yoshida, owner and chef of Hiro Sushi, who is also a vice-president of the Japanese Restaurant Association of Canada. “It’s like creating one world inside your mouth.”
The rules change for maki and sashimi, which are eaten with chopsticks. It’s even okay to mix wasabi into the soy sauce.
But never, ever eat pickled ginger on top of your sushi. It’s a palate cleanser to be eaten in between different kinds of fish.
Jazz singer-songwriter Robyn Hayle stopped by Mikado last week to indulge in her weakness for raw fish. The Toronto resident has been eating sushi for more than 20 years and considers herself an expert. She stopped eat futomaki, the big vegetarian roll that features omelette and vegetables, because it’s “too plebeian.” She knows not to eat pickled ginger with sushi, and loves some of the fish Canadians avoid, but didn’t know she should dip the nigiri fish-side down into the soy sauce, or that the soy was specially prepared for nigiri.
The next time she ate sushi, she tried it.
“I had a much better experience,” she reports. “The rice didn’t fall apart in the dish.”
Among Japanese chefs, some of whom apprentice for as many as 10 years before they are deemed educated enough to open their own restaurant, customers who know the etiquette and are not turned off by, say, barbecued eel, are called sushi tsu, or connoisseurs.
“There are a lot of customers in this restaurant who are sushi tsu,” says Yoshida. ” My clients, the Canadians, are much better than Japanese people because I educated them.”
Table manners have always been man’s way of imposing order on his chaotic world, part of the drive to be civilized, to put some distance between apes and homo sapiens. The rules are sometimes arcane to the max in any culture. Who knows why some of us were taught to switch our fork from right to left hand in order to cut our meat?
In the same way, some of the Japanese rules are rooted in ancient customs.
So the samurai don’t put more than the first inch of the chopsticks into their mouths. Japanese chefs are not arguing that you should, too.
Like any chef, they just want you to appreciate their food. And like the French chef who shrinks in horror from a customer who asks for ketchup for his steak frites, sushi chefs know you would enjoy their food much more if you laid off the soy sauce and wasabi. Please.
Arigato gozaimasu. (Thank you very much.)