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Beginners Guide to Eating Sushi

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Ever been to a sushi restaurant? Scared to try the strange looking sea creatures? Antsy about eating raw fish? Had a bad experience with sushi? Don’t worry! People all over the world have been eating raw fish for millennia- and this Japanese method of preparation is one of the reasons why they have the world’s longest life expectancy. This guide will hopefully help you learn a bit about eating sushi, and help you get the most out of your eating experience.

Let’s begin with a few definitions to help familiarize you with the world of sushi:

Sushi (Nigiri-zushi)- This is perhaps the most well known kind of sushi, comprised of a thinly sliced piece of raw fish that sits atop a small shaped ball of vinegared rice.

Sashimi – Sashimi is also thinly sliced raw fish, however it is usually served slightly thicker than sushi, and without rice.

Maki (Maki-zushi) – Rolled’ sushi. The popular “California roll” is one of these. Usually consists of fish or vegetables and rice, wrapped in some toasted seaweed, otherwise known as

Nori Green and tasty, nori are the sheets of dried seaweed used to wrap maki, or make tiny belts to keep some ingredients on top of the nigiri-zushi. Also used to make

Sushi Cone (Temaki-zushi) Originally created by sushi chefs wanting a quick snack during busy meals, the sushi consists of nori wrapped around vinegared rice and fish ingredients, in the shape of an ice-cream cone.

Soy sauce (Shouyu) Used in many types of cooking, Japanese soy sauce is lighter than Chinese soy sauce. As a chef at a sushi restaurant, it never ceases to amaze me how many people order the most expensive piece of sushi only to turn around and drown the fish in soy sauce. Ever had the problem where the sushi rice ends up in the bottom of your soy sauce dish? No, it’s not the fault of the chef for not squeezing it tightly enough… sushi is meant to be a delicate food, with the role of soy sauce being to gently highlight the subtle flavours of the fresh fish. Don’t drown your sushi in soy sauce. and don’t drown any of your rice dishes in soy sauce either!

Wasabi- Green and potent, the wasabi root is related to the more familiar horseradish root. Largely reconstituted from powdered form in North America, it is also not to be used in excess. Many restaurants of all kinds are starting to incorporate this spicy flavour into their regular menus. Like soy sauce, wasabi also serves to highlight the natural flavours of the seafood. In really good restaurants, the sushi chef will add the correct amount of wasabi to the fish before you eat it- and tell you if you need to add any more or not.

Pickled Ginger (Gari) Thinly sliced ginger appears as wasabi’s partner on every plate of sushi. It is on the plate for use as a palate cleanser, eaten between different varieties of fish. Sashimi is not usually served with ginger.

There are a few terms to get you started, now let’s have a look at some of the most commonly used ingredients in sushi restaurants:

Tuna (Maguro, Ahi, Albacore) Often called the king of fish, tuna comes in many different varieties. Blue Fin (Maguro) being the most expensive and rare, Hawaiian tuna (Ahi) the next in rank and Albacore tuna, the most commonly used, are the main types found in sushi restaurants.

Fatty tuna belly (Toro) – Toro comes in many different qualities, but all originate from the belly region of the tuna fish. The delicate marbling allows the succulent flesh to melt in your mouth.

Salmon (sake, not to be confused with sake, Japanese rice wine and it’s “SAH-KAY, not SAH-KEY) – Salmon, is, well, salmon. Mainly used in North America, and becoming more popular in Japan, salmon has a meaty flavour that is familiar to all seafood lovers.

Octopus (Tako) – Boiled octopus, tako has a chewy quality that makes it combine very well with wasabi and soy sauce. Also served raw in Japan.

Yellowtail (Buri, Hamachi and Kanpachi) Increasingly popular in North America, yellowtail is magnificent in the winter season where the fat content is at its highest. However, usually by the time it has made itself over to North America, the quality is a little less than the original thing.

Squid (Ika) Creamy and chewy, ika is usually sliced into thin strips to make it easier to chew. It has a very light, subtle flavour that is cool and refreshing.

Eel (Unagi, Anago) Made famous in part thanks to the popular sitcom, Friends, eel is usually served grilled and served with a sweet sauce.

Shrimp (Ebi, Amaebi) Shrimp can come in several different varieties, including boiled (ebi) and raw (Amaebi). Amaebi is prized for its natural creamy sweetness.

Sea urchin (Uni) – You either love or hate it. Uni is the ovary of the sea urchin and is a delicacy worldwide, not only in sushi. It has a slightly fishy, but sweet taste and soft, smooth texture.

Crab (Kani) – Often “imitation crab stick” in many rolls, the real thing is completely different and can be on the pricey side.

That’s only a basic primer with basic descriptionsthere are many, many more ingredients with many different tastes and preparations.

So finally, onto eating techniques. Are you struggling to eat with chopsticks? Well, for sushi, you don’t need them (sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks). A little known fact is that sushi originated as a finger food sold by a street vendor during the Edo period.

1. Pick up the piece of sushi between your thumb and middle finger, resting your index finger lightly on top.
2. Dip the sushi fish side down lightly in soy sauce. If desired, add a little wasabi directly onto the fish. Don’t dip the rice!
3. In one motion, bring the piece of sushi into your mouth with the fish side touching your tongue first.
4. The whole piece of sushi can fit in your mouth, so don’t take a bite out of it and leave it on the plate.
5. Try to experience the taste of the fish, rather than swallowing it whole- it may take some getting used to, but the texture and taste are both important features that should be noticed.

Well, there you have it, a guide to eating sushi. The important thing is to find a restaurant that has extremely fresh fish eating at a place where the fish is not fresh or ill-prepared could not only make you sick, but turn you off of eating sushi altogether. Pay attention to the presentation of the plate too, any self-respecting chef will ensure that his food not only looks good, but tastes good. Lastly, don’t be afraid, try everything at least once! Who knows, you may just find a new favourite food.

Reference:
1. Sushi 101: A Beginner's Guide to Eating Sushi | Palm Beach Illustrated
2. A Beginners Guide to Eating Sushi – NDTV Food

Category: Eating