A Traveler’s Guide to Eating Sushi in Japan

A popular dish you’ll find when you travel to Japan is sushi. The image of this dish is so powerful that a lot of foreigners associate or equate Japan to sushi.

If you’re going to visit Tokyo and other parts of Japan in the future, don’t simply check out the awesome tourist attractions while you’re there. Immerse yourself in the local food culture by sampling Japanese cuisine.

Before we get to sushi restaurants in Japan, let’s look at what sushi is and how to eat this food the right way.

What is Sushi: Exploring the Not-So-Raw Truth

Photo by Raffadhitya from Pexels

Although sushi may be a well-known dish in Japan and the rest of the world, not everyone understands what the dish truly is. Sushi, for starters, doesn’t always mean raw fish. Raw fish, or sashimi in Japanese, is a popular ingredient in this dish. Sushi can have cooked ingredients.

The word “sushi” pertains to a dish that uses rice seasoned with vinegar and garnished with vegetables or raw fish. A few varieties of this Japanese dish that you can find in a sushi menu are:

Nigiri

This variety has a topping (usually fish) served on a small bed of sushi rice. It’s ideal for individuals looking to appreciate the flavor of the shellfish, fish and other toppings.

Maki

This sushi is filling and rice wrapped in seaweed. This is what a lot of people think of when they hear the words “sushi rolls.”

Uramaki

This sushi consists of vinegared rice rolled around a sheet of nori or Japanese seaweed. Chefs lace this roll with toasted sesame seeds or flying fish roe to give the dish some mild crunchiness. Uramaki often has lots of sauces and toppings.

How to Eat Sushi Properly

An example of holding a sushi roll properly using a pair of chopsticks. Photo by Foodie Factor from Pexels

Although the restaurant owner won’t kick you out for mistreating the fish, eating sushi the right way can greatly improve your dining experience. Instead of mindlessly gobbling up the dish like some meal at a fast food place, transform your next sushi outing into a cultural lesson.

Here’s a handy guide on sushi etiquette:

Preparing to Eat Sushi

When you dine at a sushi restaurant, you’ll typically receive a wet towel. Use it to clean your fingers, not your face. This is important, especially if you’re going to consume sushi by hand.

Next, pour a small amount of soy sauce into your bowl. Don’t pour out too much, as wasting soy sauce is taboo in Japanese culture.

Eating Sushi by Hand

Once your hands are clean, pick up the sushi gently. Turn over the sushi with your middle finger, forefinger and thumb, so that the fish component will fall on your tongue. Eating sushi this way stops the rice from getting soaked in soy sauce and allows you to eat the dish beautifully.

Eating Sushi with Chopsticks

Follow basic etiquette for using chopsticks politely. When you’re dipping the sushi in soy sauce, make sure to turn the roll upside down to dip the topping part of the fish in the condiment. Avoid dipping the rice part in the soy sauce, as the sushi will end up being too salty.

The technique of using your chopsticks to turn over sushi can be difficult to pull off for beginners. If you’re not a chopstick expert or feel uncomfortable using this utensil, use your hand instead.

Using Wasabi with Sushi

Japanese restaurants offer additional wasabi to accommodate diners who like their sushi on the spicy side. Just make sure that you don’t add too much wasabi in front of the chef.Besides being offensive, the wasabi will conceal the natural taste of the fish. Think of putting too much wasabi on sushi like dumping ketchup on an expensive cut of beef.

If you prefer wasabi on your sushi, brush some onto the fish using your chopstick.

Also, if you plan to eat your sushi with both wasabi and soy sauce, take care not to mix these two. Transforming your soy sauce into a cloudy mess isn’t the right way to eat this dish.

Where to Find Sushi Restaurants in Tokyo

The Japanese metropolis is home to thousands of sushi restaurants. If you’re having trouble choosing one, consider dining at one of these restaurants:

Sushi Fukumoto

Situated close to Shimokitazawa Station in south Tokyo, the tiny sushi restaurant features one private room and an eight-seat counter. You can expect quality meals from the restaurant, as they purchase fresh fish from the Toyosu market every morning.

The sushi offered pairs well with sake. The chef, in fact, encourages you to order something to drink while you savor the course.

Harutaka

This prestigious restaurant in Ginza has two Michelin stars, which means that it’s a huge deal when you’re looking for a high-end sushi place in Tokyo. Its tsumami or appetizers are beautiful and precisely executed.

Uobei

Trying to budget your travel money? Visit this popular sushi chain in Tokyo. Every sushi plate costs just ¥108. If you’re looking for an affordable meal but still want to enjoy sushi, consider this budget-friendly place.

When you’re in Japan and you’re a foodie, give sushi, the star dish of Japanese cuisine, a shot.  Once you do eat sushi, remember to eat this dish properly. Knowing the etiquette shows respect and gratitude to the chef.

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