9 Sushi Etiquette (Do’s and Don’ts)

Sushi Etiquette
Sushi is Japan’s most famous food and is eaten all over the country, from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka. It is delicious but comes with some quite specific etiquette. Never rub your chopsticks together; don’t add pickled ginger to your sushi (it is a palate cleanser); and be wary of overpowering your sushi by adding too much wasabi or soy sauce.

Sushi restaurants come in many forms, from high-end omakase dining experiences to cheap and cheerful sushi bars with conveyor belts.

1. Traditional Greetings

‘Irashaimase’ is the traditional greeting shop owners give customers and roughly translates to: ‘Welcome to my shop/restaurant.’ There is no expected reply, but a smile and a thank you (in Japanese if you are in Japan) is a polite and well-mannered response.

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2. Order Matters

Many people don’t know that there is a correct order to eat sushi! When at a sushi restaurant or bar, don’t just grab whatever takes your fancy – try following the traditional order. Eating in a different sequence won’t be frowned upon, but following the correct method might improve your dining experience!

Start with whitefish and lighter fish before moving on to fattier, heavier options. Always cleanse your palate between each different piece of sushi – use the pickled ginger and green tea for this purpose!

3. Chopstick Etiquette

holding sushi with chopsticks properly
Holding sushi with chopsticks properly

The main rule to follow with chopsticks is never to rub them together, which can cause splinters. Try not to fiddle with your chopsticks – when not using them, place them neatly on the holder or shoyu dish, running parallel to your seating position.

4. Nigiri vs. Sashimi

Nigiri is the type of sushi where a piece of fish (or other toppings) is pressed onto a small bed of rice. It can be eaten with your hands rather than using your chopsticks.

Sashimi is thinly sliced raw fish, which is usually served without rice. Never eat sashimi with your hands. Always use chopsticks!

5. Be Wary of Wasabi

Wasabi is an incredibly hot variety of horseradish, and even a small amount of wasabi can be very overwhelming to first-time consumers. Use it sparingly to not blow your head off with the spice.

Remember that you come to a sushi restaurant to enjoy the fish. Don’t douse your sushi pieces in wasabi and soy sauce so much that you can’t taste the delicious flavors created for you by the sushi chef.

6. Don’t Mix Ginger and Sushi

The pickled ginger provided at a Japanese restaurant is not to be combined with the sushi – it is there as a palate cleanser! For correct Japanese dining etiquette, eat a small amount of pickled ginger and take a sip of green tea to cleanse your palate between dishes, allowing you to fully appreciate the flavor of the next dish.

7. Don’t Skip the Rice

Rice is an important part of the sushi experience. Make sure to grab some sushi rice dishes alongside the sashimi to bulk out your meal and offset some of the richer dishes.

8. Watch the Soy

According to Food Truck Empire, soy sauce is the most popular condiment. Much like wasabi, soy sauce should be used sparingly so as not to overpower the flavor of the sushi piece. Many nicer restaurants will add sushi for you to get the right balance – if this is the case, don’t add more!

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9. How to Dip

Dipping the fish side down is the correct way to dip your sushi into soy sauce. This prevents the rice from falling apart and also helps improve the flavor! Pick up the sushi piece on its side, with one chopstick below and one above, to keep its integrity intact.

Is it rude not to eat sushi in one bite?

Proper sushi etiquette states that sushi should be eaten in one bite. This will always be possible in Japan, as the Itamae (head chef) will make the sushi the correct size. It can be harder in the States, where sushi pieces can get huge!

What not to do when eating sushi?

  • Don’t add ginger
  • Don’t forget to fold your hot towel neatly after using it
  • Don’t put wasabi in the shoyu dish
  • Don’t rub chopsticks together
  • Don’t stay too long once you’ve finished eating, as this hogs the table
  • Make sure you finish all the food on your plate, especially if eating the ‘chef’s choice
  • When picking up food from someone else’s plate, don’t use the end you put in your mouth – use the end you hold

Sushi Vocab

  • Gungan-Maki: Battle-ship style sushi
  • Itamae: Head Chef
  • Nigiri: Fish on a bed of rice
  • Omakase: Chef’s Choice
  • Sashimi: Thin strips of raw fish, no rice

Jack Fairey

Jack is a writer based in west London, England. He is a keen traveler, and has a particular interest in the fascinating differences in etiquette across the world. When not writing, he can be found dreaming up his next trip to far off places.

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