The Correct Way to Eat Sushi, Taught by a Gourmand
This is the second edition of a special series for answering questions foreign tourists have about sushi and visiting Japan's sushi restaurants.
This time, Leo Saito, a "self-proclaimed sushi authority" who has been eating at Tokyo's high-end sushi restaurants for around 10 years, will be giving a lecture on "correct ways to eat sushi."
1) Do You Eat Sushi with Your Hands or with Chopsticks?
How to eat sushi is a point of contention; some people say that "sushi has been eaten by hand for a long time," while others say that they "do not like the smell on their fingers" or that "eating with chopsticks is more sanitary."
Old literature suggests that opinions on the correct way to eat sushi were split back then too, even among supposed gourmands.
As such, you should eat sushi in the way that's easiest for you, whether that's with chopsticks or with your hands.
Incidentally, I personally tend to eat sushi with my hands.
I find that I enjoy sushi more when I first can feel the temperature, texture, and weight before I put it into my mouth.
The exception for me is when I'm eating a piece of sushi, for example anago (conger eel), that's coated in enough thick sauce that it drips onto the board.
I don't like having my fingers coated in thick sticky sauce, so most of those times I end up using chopsticks.
This is just my personal opinion, but when I see a foreigner smartly eating sushi with their hands, I can't help but think "how neat!" and watch them.
2) Do You Eat Sushi with the Fish or Rice Facing Down?
At one time, it was said that you should eat sushi with the fish on the bottom.
Two-star Michelin restaurant "Hatsune Sushi" always instructs customers to eat their sushi fish-side down.
I also used to act like a connoisseur and eat my sushi turned over with the fish on the bottom, but when I did I was always bothered by the immediate salty flavor of the soy sauce hitting my tongue, so nowadays I eat my sushi rice-down.
I personally think that sushi is better when what hits your tongue is not cold fish, but body-temperature sushi rice.
If you don't mind the fuss, eating sushi flipped over can look more stylish.
Either way, this is another question without a clear answer. You should eat your sushi however you'd like to.
3) How to Eat Sushi ~ When Using Hands
1. If Soy Sauce has Already Been Applied
Using your thumb and middle finger, pick up from the rice, gently supporting it on both sides.
Use your index finger to gently hold the fish.
2. If Soy Sauce has Not Been Applied
Take the sushi on the counter, gently turn it so the fish topping is facing inwards, and gently pick up the sushi with your thumb on the fish and your middle finger on the rice.
Be careful not to get the rice into the soy sauce when dipping (the rice will fall apart if it's dipped into the soy sauce).
When you're eating gunkan-maki like ikura and uni, all the contents will fall out if you turn it over, so you can dip the ginger garnish into the soy sauce and use that to brush soy sauce onto the piece.
4) How to Eat Sushi ~ When Using Chopsticks
You should not pick up the sushi directly from above with your chopsticks (the sushi will fall apart easily).
Instead, when you're using chopsticks, I recommend first turning the sushi onto its side so that the fish faces inward. You can then pick the sushi up with your chopsticks gripping the fish and the rice together from the sides (technique taken from the owner of Ginza Kyubey).