Go Ahead, Pick It Up: The Right and Wrong Ways to Eat Sushi

Chef Kaz Okochi on the right—and wrong—ways to eat raw fish.

By: Jessica Voelker

Kaz Okochi, owner of Kaz Sushi Bistro (1915 I St., NW; 202-530-5500), is an easygoing fellow, quick to point out that people should eat raw fish—and everything else—the way they want to. That said, a few tips from the seasoned chef can put newbies at ease.

You can eat with your fingers. To the unaccustomed, chopsticks can be tricky. The good news is that using your hands to eat maki (rolls) and nigiri (slices of fish atop rice) is totally acceptable. In fact, when Okochi sees someone pick up a piece, “I think, ‘That’s a person that knows how to eat sushi.’ ” Use the sticks when eating sashimi (raw fish without rice), however.

Speaking of chopsticks . . . Never stand them in a bowl of rice—in Buddhist tradition, it signifies mourning. When you’re not using them, rest your chopsticks on a stand or prop them against the side of your soy-sauce bowl.

Go easy on the soy sauce. Some cultures, such as Korea, show hospitality by loading guests up with food. In Japan, food is meant to be consumed completely—leaving no waste behind. So it’s polite to pour a bit of soy sauce at a time, popping each piece quickly into the bowl. At the end of the meal, no sauce should be left. Chefs often will dress pieces with sauce before serving, so you may not need to add any.

Hold off on mixing wasabi into soy sauce. Try the sushi first. Part of the chef’s training is to apply the proper amount of wasabi to each piece. Think of it as the salt and pepper of the sushi kitchen—when you’re at a good restaurant, the food shouldn’t require additional seasoning. If you want to add wasabi, keep in mind that a little goes a long way with lighter fish, while fatty toro and other heavier seafood can handle more.

Pickled ginger is a palate cleanser. If you like a little ginger on your fish, Okochi sees no problem with that. Know, though, that the pink petals are intended as a refresher for your mouth rather than a flavor enhancer for your fish. Consume accordingly. And enjoy.