Translated by Satomi Ohba
How To Eat Sushi Like A Pro
How do you eat sushi? It may seem really simple, but there are actually a lot of rules to this ubiquitous Japanese dish. Let's take a closer look.
Written by Shion Suzuki
When being asked the image of Japanese cuisine, most people will answer “Sushi”. The most popular type is Nigirizushi (握り寿司, hand-shaped sushi) or Edo-style sushi - which are popular overseas as well. Sushi is already a word that is well understood in many English-speaking countries.
Picture from: Conveyor belt sushi in Omotesando “Heiroku Sushi”
There are two types of sushi restaurants in Japan.
The most common type is the reasonably priced conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Most of these restaurants don’t need reservations as people are seated then serve themselves. The second type of sushi restaurant has only counter seats.
The person that makes the sushi is called the Itamae-san (板前さん, sushi chef). In counter-seat sushi restaurants, you need to order what you want to eat directly from the Itamae-san; and the price is usually more expensive than a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Popular restaurants require reservations, and we jokingly refer to such luxurious sushi restaurants as “sushi that doesn't move” shops.
You can check if a sushi restaurant is the conveyor belt type or not by looking at the sign and seeing if it has the word 回転 (kaiten, revolving) on it; or simply peek inside.
I will explain how to eat sushi, the cuisine loved from young to old, in a conveyor belt type restaurant.
Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurant
In a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, small plates with various types of sushi line up on the conveyor belt. People see the sushi, choose whichever plate they want to eat, and pick it up from the conveyor belt. This half self-service style makes the price of this kind of sushi restaurant reasonable.
The prices of the sushi may vary and may also depend on the color of the plate (although for some restaurants, all the plates are of the same price). When you finish eating, the shop staff will count the plates to calculate how much you need to pay. Basically, there are two pieces of sushi on one plate.
If the sushi you want doesn’t come around on the conveyor, or you if you want some soup or drinks, you need to order them. How you order these dishes at the table varies from shop to shop, but in general there will either be an order form on the table with a pen, a built-in computer system, or even a touchscreen tablet menu. You simply select what you want and the quantity, and in the case of a paper slip, give this to the staff.
To see what you can order and their names, check the menu that is placed on each table.
Even if the particular sushi is already on the conveyor belt, you can order a new one. If you want a really fresh piece of sushi, I recommend ordering it even if it takes a little time. Some restaurants have snacks, drinks and desserts on the belt conveyor as well.
Conveyor belt sushi restaurant have two types of seats: counter seats and table seats. If your group is less than three people, I recommend counter seats because you may be able to see the Itamae-san making sushi. But if you are a group of over four people, table seats may be better to enjoy sushi with your friends and family.
The tea on the table is free, and you can refill your glass as many times as you want.
The Correct Way to Eat Sushi
Now, let us have sushi. It might seem simple, but there are many customs involved in correctly eating sushi.
First of all, wasabi always comes with sushi. The spicy burning sensation associated with eating too much wasabi can be really painful, so please be careful. If you prefer non-wasabi sushi, you can ask the Itame-san for your sushi “sabi nuki” (“without wasabi”).
How to Eat with Chopsticks
For those of you who are good at using chopsticks, turn the sushi upside down to dip the fish part in the soy sauce.
If you dip the rice part in the soy sauce, the rice will absorb too much soy sauce, and the sushi will be too salty. However, turning over the sushi with your chopstick is pretty difficult for beginners. For those of you who are not chopstick experts yet, you can use your hand.
How to Eat by Hand
Turn the sushi upside down with your thumb, forefinger and middle finger so that the fish part will fall on your tongue. This is said to be the proper way to eat sushi. With this way, the rice part won’t get soaked in the soy sauce, allowing you to eat the sushi beautifully.
The Proper Order of Eating Sushi
It is said that “Sushi begins from white fish and ends in strong-flavored fish”. This is because you won’t be able to enjoy the delicate flavors of white fish after you have eaten richer fish such as tuna and conger eel. So if you'd like to have the full taste experience, try eating from lightest to darkest.
Let’s start from white fish such as sea bream and flatfish.
Sea bream, タイ (200 yen)
Flatfish, ヒラメ (200 yen)
Next let’s have some strong flavored fish such as tuna or fatty tuna.
Tuna Paradise (300 yen)
This is a standard way of eating sushi, but you don’t have to obey this rule if you prefer fish other than white fish or silver-skinned fish.
When eating sushi, you can have whatever you want in whatever order you like. However, it is true that delicate tastes may become blunt if you still have the previous taste lingering on your tongue. In such cases, be sure to reset your taste buds with either some tea or “gari” before going on to the next dish.
“Gari” is thinly sliced ginger pickled in sweet vinegar. It is sharply refreshing and has a sour-sweet taste. It erases the flavor of whatever you had last in your mouth so you can refresh your taste-buds after one piece of sushi and make yourself ready for the next piece.
There is a way to eat sushi with a piece of gari dipped in soy sauce. Gari also has a sterilizing effect and helps to prevent food poisoning. It is usually in a black and red box and is free along with the tea.
Next, let’s order some silver fish.
Sardines イワシ (100 yen)
Then we go back to light tasted selections such as squid (Ika, イカ) or octopus (Tako, タコ), go on to shellfish, shrimp (Ebi, エビ) and finally have some rich flavored sea urchin (Uni, ウニ) or conger eel (Anago, 穴子).
Shell fish assortment (450 yen)
For the last plate, have a standard rolled sushi such as gunkan-maki (sushi with small or finely chopped toppings) or kappa-maki (plain cucumber roll sushi).
Young sardine gunkan 生しらす軍艦 (130 yen)
Northern sea gunkan 北海軍艦 (500 yen)
I recommend having some miso soup in the end as well. Freshwater clams, asari clams and nori are common types of miso soup that go along really well with sushi.
Asari clear soup あさりすまし汁 (200 yen)
Do you want to give it a try now?
The Japanese are proud to present sushi to the world, but there are proper ways to eat it that even some Japanese don’t know. Then again, you don’t need to be too cautious about the rules, just enjoy yourself! When you find yourself in Japan, head over to a sushi shop, soak up the atmosphere and treat yourself to some amazing sushi.
(*Reported restaurant is just an example of conveyor belt sushi shops, details may change per restaurant)
Midori Mawashi Sushi Katsu, Seibu Shibuya shop 美登利 回し寿司活 西武渋谷店
Address: Tokyo, Shibuya, Udagawa, Bldg A 21-1, 8F Dining Plaza
Hours: 11:00 - 22:00
Closed: No fixed holidays
Credit Cards: Acceptable (VISA/Master/UC/AMEX etc.)
Language: English, Chinese on menu
Nearest Station: Shibuya Station (渋谷駅)
Access: 3 minute walk from Hachiko exit JR Shibuya station
/ 1 minute walk from 6-2 exit Tokyo Metro Shibuya station
Price: 1 plate 100 yen – 500 yen
Official HP: Katsumidori Shibuya