Traditional Sushi Etiquette

Sushi is a food steeped in Japanese history and tradition. The dish of raw fish on a bed of vinegar and rice saw a spike in popularity in the United States during the latter half of the 20th century. However, despite the large number of sushi restaurants across the nation, knowledge of the proper way to eat the meal is not as widespread. Traditional sushi etiquette is the result of a combination of logistics and taste. The way in which sushi is constructed sets certain limits for how it can be transferred from the plate to the mouth without it falling apart. In addition, the best method of accentuating the delicate flavors of different species of fish has determined its accepted methods of consumption.

The history of sushi
Sushi was first developed in Japan around the 8th century AD. During this time, Japanese chefs were serving a dish called seisei-zushi, which had been adapted from earlier methods of preserving fish by packing it with rice and vinegar. It was at the end of the Muromachi period when the dish evolved away from being solely a means of preserving fish to being a food product. Sushi was further developed in Edo-era Tokyo during the late 19th century by chef Yonei Hanaya​, who is credited with popularizing the nigiri-style sushi that is enjoyed today. In these early years, sushi was localized to the food carts around Tokyo Bay. It wasn’t until the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the subsequent dispersion of sushi chefs around Japan that the dish became a national delicacy.

Traditional sushi etiquette
In order to avoid breaking up the rice, sushi chefs agree that the proper way to eat what they prepare is with your hands and not chopsticks. Eating sushi with your hands makes it easier to dip the piece into the soy sauce fish first. Sushi should be dipped in soy sauce fish-first to prevent the rice from disintegrating in the sauce. Additionally, the more traditional sushi chefs will coat their sushi in their own sauce blend, making dipping the sushi in additional soy sauce an insult to the chef. The same goes for wasabi. Chefs at higher end restaurants will put the desired amount of wasabi in between the fish and the rice, again making the addition of more unnecessary. Besides being an insult to the chef, too many extras will overpower the flavor of the fish. These three rules – eat with your hands, dip fish first and don’t add too many extras – are the most important guidelines when eating sushi.

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