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How can such a basic combination of ingredients require a complex manner of consumption? How can the sacred matrimony of raw fish and vinegared rice - a delicacy savored in Japan for centuries - become so misunderstood by so many? Eating with chopsticks, dipping rice in soy sauce, mixing wasabi with condiments, combing rolls with shreds of ginger - these are all signs of a novice sushi eater. At best, committing a sushi eating faux pas can rob you of the full dining experience. At worse, some of the more egregious errors can be offensive to the chefs.
There's a lot you might not know about eating sushi. Before you head to Japan, make sure you study up on some of the cardinal culinary rules.
Ditch the chopsticks
According to a CNN interview with Koji Sawada, a sushi master in Tokyo, for practicality's sake, eating sushi should be done by hand. That's for two reasons:
The fish is the tastiest and most important part of the sushi. Therefore, you should savor that part first and foremost. In order to do this, you have to invert the roll, and doing this with chopsticks takes some skill. It's much easier to toss the chopsticks and take a more hands-on approach. The same goes for dipping the sushi in fish-first in the soy sauce. Rice has a tendency to absorb a lot of sauce, so it will overshadow the natural zest of the fish and rob you of the flavorful experience crafted by the chef. While it isn't frowned upon to use chopsticks, dip rice or eat the sushi rice first, refraining from those common practices can provide a completely different eating experience.
Don't mix the ginger with the sushi
Ginger is meant to cleanse the palate between sushi rolls - not as a topper. Use it between different types of fish to rid yourself of the taste of the previous roll, and fully enjoy the next piece of sushi to come.
Don't mix the wasabi with the soy sauce
This is the sushi slip up that will make your chef shake his head. While wasabi and soy sauce are meant to improve taste, mixing them together can be taken as an insult because the combination can completely mask the flavor of the roll crafted by the chef. In more authentic restaurants, beware of this eating error.
Eat a roll in one bite
Many people take two bites to finish a whole roll, but a guide published by the Food Service Warehouse highlights one practice that can turn taking two bites into an insult. Taking a bite of a piece of sushi and returning the roll to the plate before finishing it can be considered rude. If you can't finish the whole roll in one mouthful, keep it in your chopsticks or in your hand.
Eat in the right order
There's a proper order to eat sushi based on the flavor of the fish. According to FSW, start with more mild flavors - try lighter varieties like whitefish or yellowtail tuna - and gradually move to more flavorful varieties. The most fattiest fish with the heaviest flavors come next. That includes salmon, fatty tuna and roe. The very last rolls you eat should be more elaborate rolls, temaki, rolls with egg or simple tuna rolls. Ordering these options marks the end of your dining experience and helps communicate your satisfaction of the meal with the dining staff.
As your small motorboat slides onto the sandy bank of a deserted beach and your attentive guides set up a gourmet seaside picnic, all that’s left to do is allow the turquoise waters of this remote paradise wash away your stresses.
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Embark on this exploration of Japan's highlights, with the support of local guides, comfortable train transportation, and enough down time to truly get lost in the land of the rising sun.
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