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Nobu's nigiri
Photograph: Supplied

Sushi Etiquette 101

Have you heard of sushi etiquette? Nobu's sushi masters are running you through the dos and don'ts when eating sushi out

Cjay Aksoy
Written by
Cjay Aksoy

If you've ever tried an omakase sushi dining experience, you'd know it can be an intimate and well-thought-out affair with each piece carefully crafted by a sushi master. While we're not in Japan, we do have our fair share of traditional Japanese dining institutions in Melbourne, and the same etiquette rules still apply – even in Australia. From using chopsticks to dipping soy sauce, we've tapped the sushi masters at Nobu Melbourne to learn all about the dos and don'ts of eating sushi. 

1. Work your way up

While many may not be aware, there's a rule of thumb on how you should indulge in sushi. Working your way up to heavier flavours makes the experience more enjoyable, so begin with whitefish before progressing to richer and oiler items like fatty tuna and cooked eel. Be sure to cleanse the palate with ginger between mouthfuls. 

2. Less is more

The flavour of fresh sushi is determined by the delicacy of the fish. Wasabi and soy sauce are designed to enhance the flavours, not overpower them. Oftentimes a chef will apply it for you to ensure the integrity of the fish is maintained, but if you’re doing the dipping, tread lightly and don’t overdo it.

3. Fish-side down

When eating sushi, the fish is the star of the show. For nigiri, place it in your mouth fish-side down so it’s the first flavour you experience before you chew the rice. The fish-side down rule also applies to dipping in soy sauce. Not only will it cause the rice to crumble, but it will also upset the delicate balance of flavour masterfully crafted by the chef.

4. Sharing politely

When dining with a group or sharing from a larger dish, use the opposite end of your chopsticks to pick up sushi pieces. This will ensure the end that has been in your mouth doesn’t touch what’s on the plate.

5. Hands or chopsticks?

When dining out for Japanese, you’ll likely receive a wet towel to clean your hands before the meal. Nigiri (rice topped with fish) and sushi rolls can be eaten by hand, but sashimi should be picked up with chopsticks. However, when using chopsticks, ensure not to rub the sticks together. This can be considered an insult and implies the quality of chopsticks is poor!

6. Waste not, want not

Leaving leftovers is sometimes considered taboo in Japanese dining. If you are left with plenty of soy sauce in the bowl, it can indicate that the fish needed more flavour to be enjoyable. When pouring soy sauce, start with just a little bit and you can always add more later.

7. Ditch the perfume

When sushi is brought to your table, the first thing you’ll smell is the tangy vinegar, shortly followed by the bright and salty aroma of fish. For those who wear strong perfume and cologne, you might not get a chance to notice that – so according to the masters, ditch any overpowering perfume.

8. Down the hatch

Sushi is designed to be eaten in one bite, and that’s why the pieces are sized the way they are. Each mouthful can be tailored with less or more soy sauce and with or without wasabi.

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