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.
Thinking of mixing wasabi into that soy sauce? Sushi guru Kaz Okochi would like you to reconsider. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Thinking of mixing wasabi into that soy sauce? Sushi guru Kaz Okochi would like you to reconsider. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

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.



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