Sushi is one of the fastest-growing cuisines across the globe. To become a true citizen of the world, prepare yourself with this primer on sushi-eating rituals.
Step 1: Choose a good restaurant Go to a restaurant specializing in sushi—Japanese-owned or -operated establishments tend to offer the most authentic selections. And if you’re in a land-locked place, make sure they pride themselves on sushi that’s as fresh as possible.
Step 2: Wash your hands If you’re offered a hot, moist towel, wash your hands with it now. It will be removed from your table before your food is served.
Step 3: Order sake It is customary to order some sake, likely served in a carafe with small cups, to enjoy before your meal is served.
TIP: Although expensive sakes are often better enjoyed chilled, sake with sushi is traditionally served warm, since the fish will be cold.
Step 4: Toast Pour sake for your dinner companions—traditionally, no one should pour it for themselves, at least for the first round—and then toast. Hold your cup aloft and say, 'Kampai!'
TIP: It’s customary for the most senior person at the table—the boss, or the eldest person—to raise their glass the highest.
Step 5: Switch drink When your sushi platter arrives at your table, switch your beverage to cold Japanese beer or hot green tea.
Step 6: Prepare chopsticks If your chopsticks come wrapped, take off the wrapper and break apart the sticks—but don’t rub them against each other to remove splinters, which rudely implies that the restaurant has cheap chopsticks. When you’re not using them, they should be propped on the holder or soy sauce dish parallel to you.
Step 7: Finish You’re done when your plate is clean—except for the wasabi and gari, of course. Place your chopsticks horizontally across your soy sauce dish to signal that you’re finished, and thank the chefs.
Step 8: Pour soy sauce Pour a small amount of soy sauce into the little empty dish, but don’t pour in more than three tablespoons at a time. If you need more later, add more then.
Step 9: Add wasabi Notice the green mound of wasabi on your sushi plate. This spicy horseradish is used to season soy sauce and add flavor to the fish. With one chopstick, take a pea-size amount and stir it into the soy sauce.
Step 10: Continue alternating Continue eating the pieces of nigiri sushi and maki rolls one at a time, alternating with pieces of gari and topping off the soy sauce dish as necessary.
TIP: Sushi aficionados believe you should only use wasabi for sashimi—never for nigiri sushi or maki rolls, since the chef has already used the precise amount of wasabi necessary to enhance the sushi’s flavor.
Step 11: Begin with sashimi If you have a plate of sushi and sashimi, it is customary to eat sashimi first. With your chopsticks, pick up one piece of sashimi, dip it in soy sauce, then place the whole piece in your mouth.
TIP: If you don’t know how to use chopsticks, don’t try to eat sashimi—it is considered incredibly uncouth to use a fork.
Step 12: Eat ginger Using your chopsticks, eat a piece of gari, or pickled ginger, from the pile of wet slices on your sushi plate. This is to be eaten between pieces of fish as a palate cleanser.
Step 14: Refill soy sauce When you have finished all your sashimi, refill your soy sauce dish.
Step 15: Eat sushi With your chopsticks, pick up a piece of nigiri sushi and drag it through the soy sauce fish-side down, so the rice doesn’t soak up too much. Place the entire piece in your mouth, unless it is very large, in which case two bites are acceptable.
Step 16: If you are uncomfortable using chopsticks, eating nigiri sushi with your fingers is an acceptable custom.
TIP: If you’re sitting at the sushi bar, offer to buy the chefs a round of sake or beer. It’s not necessary, but it just might make you a new friend.
FACT: Soy sauce was first made in China more than 2,500 years ago by Buddhist monks—it didn't reach Japan until the 6th century.