5 Important Tips for Sushi-ya Etiquette
Sushi must surely be Japan's most successful food culture export of recent years, so the truly au-thentic traditional sushi-ya (sushi shop) experience is something all visitors to Japan will probably want to try. Here are five pointers for enjoying delicious sushi in Japan.
As a food culture insight, being seated at the counter, from where you can see the sushi master at work, is the ultimate sushi-ya experience. However, most sushi-ya reserve their counters for reg-ular or honoured customers, so other diners will be seated at regular tables. If having the counter experience is important to you, ask if it is possible; they may be able to accommodate you, if not on the day.
Some high-end sushi-ya offer no printed menu, whilst smaller establishments may only display prices in Japanese. If in doubt, ask the staff for the sushi master’s recommendations (osusume wa arimasu ka?) according to what you are prepared to pay per person. The individual dishes in a course will be brought to you in a traditional order, starting with shell fish and ending with tuna (maguro).
Most sushi-ya also offer very reasonable set menus with a balanced variety of dishes. But sushi-ya are also flexible and will gladly substitute anything that is not to your taste with alternatives; per-sonally, I always eschew uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe) and have never been disap-pointed with the alternatives provided.
Don’t only order maguro
Everyone loves maguro, and the sushi master’s selected cuts usually constitute the pièce de résistance of any sushi course, but ordering only maguro is not good etiquette! Besides, there are plenty of non-raw fish dishes for you to try too, such as unagi (grilled freshwater eel), anago (sweetened saltwater eel), shime saba (soused mackerel) and egg roll.
HOW TO EAT SUSHI
Typically, sushi morsels are served in pairs (nikan), though you can order single or multiple mor-sels in most places. Conversely, set menu sushi is usually served all together on a large plate. Sushi is served with a small dish of soy for dipping and some sliced ginger.
Sushi is eaten with the fingers, but when dipping in soy, always dip the fish side, not the rice, as it may fall apart. Sushi is never nibbled either; just pop the whole morsel in your mouth and sa-vour the flavours. The sliced ginger is best eaten between dishes, both to aid digestion and pre-pare your taste buds for the next dish. The hot green tea provided also adds greatly to the sushi experience.
Don’t overstay your welcome
Try to finish each sushi dish as soon as you can and avoid dallying over your meal; there is a tacit expectation that sushi-ya patrons will finish their meals within an hour, a traditional mind-set with roots in the Edo period when sushi was the fast food of its day. It is also a good idea to be prepared to pay in cash, as smaller traditional eateries in Japan often do not accept credit cards.
There is nothing quite like the tastes and textures of expertly prepared sushi to give visitors a fla-vour of Japanese culture, but observing the correct etiquette is of great importance in Japanese eating establishments and visitors who can embrace these customs will be highly respected. I hope the above tips will help you to enjoy one of the world’s most unique and flavoursome culi-nary delights.