There are roughly 4000 sushi restaurants in the United States, serving up $2 billion worth of sushi each year. Most of them are relaxed venues but brushing up on your sushi etiquette is still a good idea.
We’ve created a guide to walk you through how to eat sushi at a restaurant. Before we start, you may also want to check out our guide to different types of sushi so that you look like a seasoned professional when you order.
How do I eat sushi the right way?
Although it is more common to eat sushi with chopsticks, it is perfectly okay to consume menu items using your fingers. Whenever possible, dip the fish part of the sushi into soy sauce instead of the rice. This stops it from falling apart and you won’t end up with a salty mouthful.
How to use chopsticks
Pick up the sticks with your dominant hand and hold them loosely. Rest the first stick in the gap between your thumb and pointer finger, balancing the pointy end on your ring finger.
Do the same with the second chopstick, except the point side should rest on the middle finger. Use the pointer finger and thumb to grip the second stick a little tighter. It will do the moving while the bottom chopstick won’t move much.
Practice moving the second chopstick with your pointer finger and thumb. It will feel awkward at first, but you’ll soon pick it up (excuse the pun).
What order should sushi be eaten in?
There are no strict rules around the order sushi should be consumed. Some sushi chefs suggest eating milder-flavored menu items first, then ending with pungent flavors. If you reverse this order your palate will struggle to taste the more subtle ingredients.
Mild sashimi is a good place to start. Begin with white fish that’s mild, lean, and delicate then move to rich seafood like eel, tuna, and salmon. Next, move on to sushi with rice that gets dipped into soy sauce. Finally, end the meal with miso soup which often gets served with your meal.
How to eat conveyor sushi
Dining at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant is a fun, relaxed way to test out Japanese cuisine. A wide variety of sushi is lined up on the conveyor, and you’re able to choose anything that passes by the table. Usually, menu items vary in price depending on the plate’s color. Sushi etiquette isn’t a high priority at these venues, so feel free to eat what you like, in whatever way you want.
Commonly asked questions
Why is ginger included with sushi dishes?
Thinly sliced pickled ginger is commonly served on the side of sushi plates and has a fresh, sweet flavor. It is excellent eaten in between different types of sushi to cleanse the palate, resetting the taste buds.
Can I chat with the sushi chef?
It is okay to ask the sushi chef for menu recommendations. Small talk is a distraction and should be avoided unless the chef initiates the chat. If you’re still at the restaurant towards the end of the night, you can shout the chef a round of sake shots.
Is it rude to eat sushi with a fork?
Although you’ll be handed chopsticks at a sushi restaurant, it is still fine to ask for a fork if that’s what you prefer using. You can also treat sushi like finger food and eat it with your hands.
Is wasabi paste made from real wasabi?
Although some high-end restaurants use real wasabi, the vast majority of restaurants serve fake wasabi that is made from horseradish, cornstarch, mustard powder, and green food coloring.
What is the crunchy stuff on top of sushi?
The crispy, brown flakes that sometimes coat sushi rolls are panko crumbs. These Japanese breadcrumbs add texture to sushi and can be combined with other ingredients like bonito fish or wakame seaweed for added color and flavor.
Tips for eating sushi
Don’t mix wasabi into soy sauce: If you enjoy wasabi and soy sauce, then it is good etiquette to add a dab of green sauce then dip the sushi in soy.
Eat sushi immediately: The quality of sushi is much better when eaten within minutes of being made.
Take advantage of ginger: Reset your taste buds with a little pickled ginger – you’ll appreciate the next piece more by doing this.
Eat in one bite: Taking small bites often results in the sushi falling apart. Most sushi is made small so that it’s easy to eat in one mouthful.
Use soy sparingly: Unless you’re happy with very salty food, don’t douse the whole piece of sushi in soy sauce.
Eating out at sushi restaurants is meant to be a fun, social occasion without too many rules. Don’t waste time worrying about doing the wrong thing; no one will be watching.
If you’re keen to make a good impression in front of Japanese diners, then keep in mind: first-timers who have never used chopsticks should just use fingers; eating milder food at the beginning of the meal is a good idea to appreciate the flavors more, but it’s certainly not an issue if you don’t.
Finally, save your favorite Western sauces like ketchup for another time. It’ll overwhelm the other flavors that sushi chefs take great care to perfectly balance.
Enjoy your first sushi restaurant experience and be sure to sample as many different menu items as possible!