Some rules are meant to be broken. Not sleeping with your brother’s girlfriend — especially if she is super hot — is more of a guideline than a rule. But when it comes to sushi-eating, those rules should be followed to a capital T. Sushi eating should be treated more like an event than just filling your belly with grub. There is a strict protocol that is centuries old and to follow it not only shows respect for Japanese culture and its cuisine (because sushi is the best cuisine on the planet – yes it is!), but also enhances your enjoyment of it.
One of the best things you can do to start off this sushi protocol in the right way is to just sit at the bar in front of the sushi chef and ask him what he recommends. (Do not ask, “What is fresh?” because that is an insult as the chef has gotten his fish fresh that very morning. It’s kind of like asking a stripper, “So, you good at lap dancing?”) You can even go so far as to tell him to make you whatever he wants. You will get mad props for this — even more so if you buy the chef a shot of saki and toast with him.
You are supposed to eat sushi with your hands. Always. You may be the greatest chopstick user ever but if you are using them to eat sushi then you are doing it wrong. Way wrong. You can use your chopsticks to pick up the pickled ginger but, for all that is sacred in the fine art of Japanese cuisine, please eat the ginger on its own. It is strictly meant as a palate cleanser only and not meant to be eaten with your sushi.
When you dip your sushi in your soy sauce, you need to do so upside down. (That means fish-side first, not standing on your head. Just wanted to clarify.) Dipping it rice side down will cause the molded rice to disintegrate, not to mention leave a mess in your soy sauce dish and we just can’t have that.
In all American sushi joints they offer a bottle of soy sauce, but don’t abuse that privilege. You don’t need to fill your soy sauce dish like you are filling your backyard swimming pool. A little goes a long way and you can always add more as the meal proceeds. In some of the more hardcore sushi joints, there isn’t even any soy sauce allowed. The sushi chef expects you to eat his wonderful creation “as is” because he is a sushi chef and a sushi chef already knows his food is perfect.
The same thing applies with the wasabi. Wasabi (feel free to scream “Wasabi!” right now as an ode to that Bud commercial from the previous decade) use is encouraged, but mixing it with your soy sauce like you’re a seven-year-old playing with his at-home science kit is not. Instead, rub some wasabi paste on your fish with your chopstick and then dip it (with your hands) into your soy sauce. Again, as in the soy sauce, a little goes a long way. (The same applies to lube. Just sayin’.)
The good news is if you have been drinking beer with your sushi on a regular basis, you are most definitely doing it right. Saki, of course, is a good companion, as is just plain water. Although green or brown rice tea is traditionally served at the end of the meal, it can still be considered a good thirst quencher. That being said, any other beverage is kind of jive, especially if you are drinking a pop which will just coat your tongue and prevent you from experiencing the true flavor of the sushi. And I once had a friend actually order an orange juice with his sushi. He got it — along with a strange look from our server. To save him the embarrassment, I won’t mention my friend’s name. (Mike. His name is Mike.)
Obviously, this is a free country and you can do whatever the hell you want. You don’t have to follow sushi protocol. You can order twenty pieces of sushi, cram them all into a ball, drown it in soy sauce, and eat it in one giant bite if you so please. Go ahead and do you. But if you want to experience the true pleasure of an evening of sushi then you might want to consider following the strict tenants of raw fish consumption. Ironically, it’s the strictness that makes it so pleasurable. And if you take away anything from this piece, please let it be this:
California Roll is complete and total bulls*#t and not even thought of as real sushi and no true sushi lover with even a modicum of self-respect would ever order it.