What You Need to Know About Sushi Before Going to Japan


Awesome Tips   Flight Network Foodie  

Sushi bar | Photo credit: kaldoche

By Akila McConnell

You land in Tokyo, exhausted from the long flight, and know that the only one thing that can rejuvenate you is a big platter of fresh sushi.  But, before you hop into the nearest sushi joint, let’s go through the basics on what you need to know about sushi before traveling to Japan. 

What is Sushi?

Sushi refers to any dish made with vinegared rice, called sushi-meshi.  Japanese diners will compare and contrast the quality, moistness, and flavor of the sushi rice before they even begin thinking about the quality of the fish or vegetables to top the sushi.

Sashimi, on the other hand, refers to the thinly sliced seafood served without any sushi rice.

Popular Types of Sushi

Maki sushi | Photo credit: cito

Makizushi is “rolled sushi.”  Maki rolls are the most popular type of sushi outside of Japan.  Makizushi is a cylindrical roll with filling inside, wrapped in dried seaweed, called nori.

Inari sushi | Photo credit: johnji

Inarizushi is a vegetarian dumpling of fried tofu skin wrapped around the sushi rice.

Chirazi sushi | Photo credit: denn

Chirazizushi, or “scattered sushi,” is thinly sliced fish, or sashimi, placed on top of a bowl of sushi rice.

Nigiri sushi | Photo credit: adactio

Nigirizushi, or “hand-pressed sushi,” is a single piece of fresh fish or vegetable draped across a mound of the vinegared rice.

Temaki | Photo credit: avlxyz

Temaki are known as “hand rolls.”  To make temaki, the chef wraps seafood and rice loosely in nori shaped like a cone, with the cone open at the top.  Temaki must be eaten quickly before the nori loses its crispness.

How Do You Order Sushi?

You can order sushi cheaply at kaiten-sushi joints, where the sushi is served on conveyor belts for around 100 Yen per piece (about $1 CDN).  However, if you go to a Sushi-Ya, a restaurant that specializes in sushi, you should expect to spend at least 2,500 Yen per person (about $25 CDN).  At a Sushi-Ya, you may order in one of three ways.

  • Okimari means that you order from a set menu for a specific price,
  • Okonomi means “as you like it,” and you will specifically request certain types of sushi.  Unless you speak excellent Japanese, this is not a great approach for the average tourist.
  • Omakase means that you order “as the chef likes it,” and the sushi chef will create a plate for you based on the fish received at his sushi-ya that day.  This is the most common way to eat at a high-end sushi-ya.

How Do You Eat Sushi?

There are five steps to eating sushi:

  1. First, you must decide on your utensil.  Eat maki sushi (rolled sushi), inari sushi (fried tofu dumplings), and chirazi sushi (scattered sushi) with chopsticks.  Eat temaki (hand rolls) and nigiri sushi (hand-pressed sushi) with your hand.
  2. Never add wasabi to your soy sauce unless you want to royally irritate the sushi chef.  At most sushi-ya, you will not receive wasabi as a condiment when you order sushi because the chef has included wasabi into the sushi roll.
  3. Start eating from lightest fish to darkest fish, ending with the egg roll.  Sushi chefs will sometimes arrange the dish with the fish sorted for you, so you can eat from left to right.
  4. Dip your sushi into soy sauce.  For nigiri sushi, only the fish should be dipped into the soy sauce.  Because this can be tricky to manage with chopsticks, remember to eat nigiri with your fingers.
  5. Eat the whole piece of sushi in one bite!  The sushi chef designs each piece of sushi to be eaten in one bite so that you will get all of the flavors he hopes to achieve in that piece.

But, remember that these are only tips and tricks.  Enjoying the food is far more important than trying to properly eat sushi in the Japanese way.  Itadakimasu!  (Or, bon appetit in Japanese!)


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