You’ve been eating sushi forever, but do you know how to behave at a sushi bar? It’s not just that good manners count; your sushi chef wants you to enjoy your meal to the fullest. Here are some sushi etiquette tips from a few of the country’s top sushi chefs.
Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Morimoto, New York, New York:
* Do not put wasabi directly into your soy sauce. The sushi chef has already placed the proper amount of wasabi for the fish in nigiri.
* Do dip your nigiri into soy sauce fish-side down — otherwise, the rice may fall apart.
* Do eat nigiri in one bite to enjoy the perfect harmony of fish, rice, and wasabi. If you bite halfway, the balance will be lost.
* Do enjoy the pickled ginger as a palate cleanser. Eat it between different kinds of nigiri. Don’t eat the ginger in the same bite as nigiri.
Chef-owner Tim Archuleta, Ichi Sushi & Ni Bar, San Francisco, California:
* Don’t expect a quick meal at the sushi bar. Don’t rush a meal or a chef. The sushi bar is the place for people to enjoy sushi —where else can you watch the chef make your meal and talk to them at the same time? Do take your time and enjoy interacting with the chef.
* Don’t ask what’s fresh today. Some fish freeze well. If fish is coming from Japan, it goes through a broker and the FDA and is shipped to a supplier. It could be two to three days since it was caught, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fresh. Do ask what’s in season and where ingredients come from.
* Don’t ask where or how a chef trained. Don’t assume because the chef isn’t Japanese they don’t know sushi. No one would ask that in a French or Italian restaurant.
* Do eat with fingers. Chopsticks are okay, but you have to be careful with how you use them. You’re not going to appreciate the temperature or the texture if you don’t use your hands.
Chef-owner Jackson Yu, Omakase, San Francisco, California:
* Do buy the sushi chef a drink. Any time you like you can offer them beer, wine, or sake. It’s a way to show appreciation and build rapport. Don’t try and make the chef drunk! A couple glasses are fine.
* Do tip your chef. In Japan, the service fee is included, but not in the U.S. A standard 20% tip is acceptable.
* Do make a special request. At Omakase Chef Yu always has some a la carte stuff, and on the weekend there is more available, such as dragonfish from Hokkaido, something he introduces that at the end of the meal. Don’t ask for a California roll.
* Do pay attention to the rice. Sushi is about the rice. We make it super soft; my style is to make it with air inside, so if you use your hands you have better control. It’s less likely to drop or break; it will open in your mouth. It’s designed to be picked up with your hands.