There is nothing like slaving over a carefully crafted meal, plating it to perfection, dressing it with the most complementary drizzle of sauce, then watching the eater destroy it with ketchup. When you slather that wasabi-soy sauce emulsion you're so proud of all over your rainbow roll, after requesting extra pickled ginger, this is exactly how your sushi chef feels. So, in order to keep you from upsetting the person who is preparing your food, and help you enjoy your sushi to its greatest potential, keep in mind these things your sushi chef wants you to know.
I know it is tempting to eat the food that you paid for exactly the way you want it, but when dining at a restaurant, you are on the chef's turf. In Japanese cooking, especially, this notion should be treated with a little more respect than we typically offer when it is happy hour and we just want to indulge in sake bombs and... whatever raw fish dish goes with sake bombs.
Would you like to know how to really leave a good impression on your sushi chef, maybe make the chef smile, and definitely impress your guests? Check out these eight tips for sushi-eating etiquette, and never rub those wooden chopsticks together ever again.
1. Opt for a hand roll over a complicated "Americanized" roll
Do you really like California rolls? Really? Well, this may be the case, but they aren't exactly representative of a sushi chef's skill, and they've only been around since the '70s. Since the seaweed, or nori, is wrapped on the inside of the roll, chefs don't get to show off their nori-crisping skills in this roll. Opt for a hand roll, which is considered by some to be a much better vehicle for showcasing the quality of a restaurant's fish.
2. Use a nickel-sized amount of soy sauce
I know, I know, salty is yummy, but too much soy sauce is going to kill the delicate flavors of that high-quality fish you're being served. If you must use soy sauce, it's advised you only use a nickel or dime-sized amount. Be cautious not to overfill your bowl, or you're telegraphing your mistrust of the chef's discerning palate directly to the kitchen. Your chef knows how that dish should be served better than you — trust in the way it's served!
3. Don't make the wasabi-soy sauce emulsion
Another word on soy sauce, and a very personal pet peeve of mine: Do not, under any circumstances, mash your wasabi paste into your overfilled bowl of soy sauce and make a topping for your roll with it. This is widely acknowledged by sushi chefs as an abomination of their work. It dilutes the flavor of the wasabi, besides making you look like an amateur restaurant goer.
4. Eat with your hands
This isn't as much of a requirement as it is a suggestion. Sushi is traditionally a finger food, and many chefs actually encourage this approach. This cuisine isn't as restrained as some of the other rules make it seem to be, now is it? Dig in and always eat your roll or sashimi in one bite. If you can't, ask the chef to cut it into smaller pieces for you upon ordering.
5. If you must use soy sauce, dip it fish-side down
Keeping in mind that soy sauce should be used with some serious restraint, there are times you want a little extra sodium kick in with that masago. The fish should always be the first component of the dish to touch your tongue, and the fish is the only part of the dish that should touch the soy sauce. The rice will fall apart when it comes into contact with the sauce, and excellent sushi rice takes a lot of skill to make.
6. Never rub your chopsticks together
There is basically zero chance you're going to get a splinter from these utensils, but there is a very high likelihood you will insult your chef if you're caught trying to start a tiny fire with them. Why, you ask? Because this is a sign that you believe they have given you low-quality chopsticks. Break them apart and dive into your food. Resist this urge.
7. No flash photography, please
Even though we've just established that your sushi is a work of art, think of it more like a Monet than a Banksy. That said, no flash photography in the restaurant, please. It's frowned upon. The more discreet you can be, the better, so if your smartphone's not on "auto," you should be good to go. Sometimes, you have to slip under the velvet ropes and snap a photo to remember the moment by. I get it, your sushi chef gets it, just don't be obnoxious about it.
8. Do not disassemble your sushi
The sushi is a piece of artwork, and your chef has put their heart and soul into its creation. If you don't like cucumber, please do not massacre your order and poke each and every sliver of cucumber out of the roll. Order better next time. That's really the best way not to insult the chef, and it prevents you from fighting with a meal that is literally falling apart all over your chopsticks. Or your hands, depending on your approach.
The moral of the story is, respect your chef and your chef's house. Defer to them for suggestions and be polite. Show your appreciation of their hard work (and all those years of studying how to make killer sushi rice) by behaving respectfully and honoring their effort. Omakase, anyone?