Sushi Etiquette 6 Rules: How To Eat Sushi Right

The key sushi etiquette rules on how to eat sushi. Tips to be the perfect guest at the dining table. Avoid embarrassment and be an elegant guest.

What sushi etiquette is

Sushi etiquette is the set of rules to properly eat sushi. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow sushi etiquette to appropriately serve it to your guests.

If you are a guest, respect sushi etiquette rules to properly eat and enjoy it.

What you should know about sushi

Sushi is a typical food in Japanese cuisine. Sushi is a slice of raw fish, accompanied by rice. A sushi nigiri is a slice of raw fish on a block of rice. A sushi roll is a piece of raw fish rolled in rice and sometimes seaweed.

The main difference between sushi and sashimi is the rice. Sashimi is a slice of raw fish, served without rice. While sushi is a slice of raw fish that always comes paired with rice.

How To Eat Sushi: The Top Etiquette rules

Sushi etiquette rules: how to eat sushi

1) When to eat sushi

Sushi is usually eaten at lunch and dinner. However, it is appropriate for many other occasions. Such as an aperitivo or a drinking party.

In Japan, sushi is often eaten as a snack between meals. Sushi bars are a popular venue for a mid-morning or afternoon snack.

In Westerner countries, sushi is appropriate for both formal and informal events. Such as a formal dinner, a brunch, or a picnic. However, sushi is still an unfamiliar food for many guests. Furthermore, raw fish is one of the most disliked foods, due to its texture and health concerns. Thus, sushi is most appropriate for informal occasions.

2) Food and beverages to pair sushi with

In general, Japanese cuisine does not mix flavors. Sushi is an example of such a principle. Its two ingredients are served together, yet not mixed. Thus, it is not proper sushi etiquette to pair other food with sushi. While you can order additional courses before and after sushi, it is best to eat sushi on its own.

Sushi rolls are the exception. Even more, in Westerner countries. There, Japanese restaurants adapted sushi to the local taste. Thus, it is possible to find sushi with additional ingredients. The most popular added foods to are salmon roe, cream cheese, avocado, mango, and cucumber.

The best beverages to pair sushi with are tea or beer. In Japan, when people eat sushi as a snack or for lunch, they usually pair it with green tea. At dinner, beer is the most popular.

Japanese usually do not pair sushi with sake. The main reason is to avoid redundancy. Sake is based on rice. Thus it is considered redundant when paired with the rice in sushi. However, drinking sake with sushi is not against etiquette. For the same reason, pairing sashimi with sake is more common, as sashimi is without rice.

Traditionally, sushi and sashimi do not pair with wine. Today, it is allowed. Pair sushi with sparkling wine or white wine. Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño, or Grüner Veltliner. Never pair sushi with red wine. 

3) Sushi seasoning etiquette

Sushi etiquette suggests avoiding any seasoning. Normally, the sushi chef seasons each piece with the right quantity of the right condiment. Thus, adding seasoning to sushi can be seen as a lack of appreciation of the taste, and thus as an insult to the chef.

Westerner etiquette allows seasoning sushi. However, you should eat sushi only with soy sauce and wasabi. Avoid other seasonings.

Etiquette for adding soy sauce to sushi

Pour a small quantity of soy sauce into the saucer. Do not pour the sauce directly on the sushi and never on the rice. Then, you can gently touch the soy sauce with a single slice of raw fish. Do not dip a full piece into the sauce. Furthermore, the rice should never touch the sauce.

Etiquette for adding wasabi to sushi

You can put a small quantity of wasabi into the soy sauce. Then, stir gently. Japanese do not mix wasabi and soy sauce. However, it is allowed in Westerner countries. Do not add wasabi to the sushi directly.

How to eat ginger and daikon

Most restaurants serve ginger and shredded daikon with sushi. Daikon is a radish, usually served in white strips. Use both as a palate cleanser. You can eat them between pieces to wash your palate and prepare it for the next flavor. Do not mix ginger or daikon together with a piece of sushi.

4) Sushi utensils etiquette

You can eat sushi with your fingers or with chopsticks. Japanese often prefer to eat sushi with their fingers. Use your fingers like a pair of chopsticks. Hold the sushi from the rice. Do not touch the fish. Eat sashimi with chopsticks.

Using regular cutlery is uncommon.  

5) How to eat sushi

nigiri sushi

How to eat nigiri sushi

Nigiri sushi is a slice of raw fish on a block of rice. Eat one piece at a time. Eat pieces whole. Do not take more than one bite of the same piece.

To eat sushi, pick one piece with your chopsticks or fingers. Dip it gently into the sauce. Only the fish is supposed to touch the soy sauce. Keep the rice unspoiled. Then, put the whole piece into your mouth. 

When you have finished, place the chopsticks on the holder if available. Otherwise, leave them on your plate with both ends resting on the edge of the plate.

maki sushi roll

How to eat maki sushi rolls

A maki sushi roll is a slice of raw fish in a roll of rice. Nori seaweed covers the outside of the roll. Futomaki is a larger version of maki sushi rolls.

To eat maki sushi rolls, pick one piece with your chopsticks or fingers. Hold the piece from the sides covered with nori seaweed. Then, gently touch the soy sauce with the maki. Touch the soy sauce on only one side that is not covered with seaweed.

uramaki sushi roll

How to eat uramaki sushi rolls

An uramaki sushi roll is a slice of raw fish in a roll of rice. The main difference between maki and uramaki is the nori seaweed. In uramaki rolls, the seaweed is on the inside of the roll.

To eat uramaki sushi rolls, pick one piece with your chopsticks or fingers. Hold the piece from the outer round sides. It is best to eat uramaki without adding soy sauce. If you prefer it with soy sauce, gently touch the sauce with the uramaki. Touch the soy sauce on only one side.

temaki sushi cone

How to eat temaki sushi

Temaki sushi is a cone of nori seaweed, filled with rice and slices of raw fish.

To eat temaki sushi, hold the cone with your fingers or chopsticks. Due to its size, it is preferable to eat it with your fingers. Bring the temaki to your mouth and eat it in small bites. Do not try to eat it in one bite.

Avoid dipping temaki in soy sauce. Instead, add soy sauce from its top. If possible, drop the soy sauce only on the fish and not on the rice.

chirashi sushi bowl

How to eat chirashi sushi

Chirashi sushi is a bowl of rice, topped with slices of raw fish. Eat it with your chopsticks. Follow the standard chopsticks etiquette. You can add soy sauce to chirashi by dripping a few drops on the slices of raw fish. If possible, avoid adding soy sauce to the rice.

sushi etiquette mistakes

6) Sushi etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

When eating sushi, avoid the worst etiquette mistakes. 

  • 8/10. Not respecting chopsticks etiquette.
  • 7/10. Pairing sushi with other foods.
  • 6/10. Dipping the rice into the say sauce.
  • 6/10. Adding excessive seasoning to sushi.
  • 6/10. Pairing sushi with red wine.
  • 5/10. Eating one piece of sushi in multiple bites.

Additional information for properly eating sushi

How many calories per serving?

Sushi contains between 40 and 50 calories per piece. A single serving is usually 6 pieces. Thus, it contains around 250 calories.

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