7 Quick Tips to Become a Sushi Snob - Part 2

Grant YNovember 21st, 2008
By: Grant Y

(Page 2 of 2)

4) You order omakase!

Omakase is literally "It's up to you" in Japanese. In the context of a sushi restaurant, it's the equivalent of prix fixe, where the menu is left up to the chef. Sushi chefs love omakase because they get to show you what they think is good. That and well, omakase is often quite expensive and a good chunk of profit for the restaurant. You've been warned- being a sushi snob isn't cheap!

As an example, here's a picture of a serving plate of a six-course omakase that I had a few years back. It's the sushi snob's wet dream: succulent fatty tuna (otoro), king salmon, white salmon - a sweet and moist cousin, snapper (kurodai), eel (unagi), mackerel, sea urchin (uni), king crab (tarabagani) and even real wasabi. Will you find this on the menu? No.

5) You use soy sauce (shoyu) sparingly

Dropping $50 a head for omakase alone isn't enough to elevate you to true sushi snob status. You first have to know how to eat your sushi. The first most important lesson is that you do not drown your sushi in soy sauce! This is the ultimate faux paux in the eyes of the chef and is a truly unforgivable sin. "But that's unfair, I like soy sauce!" you say. True as that may be, you wouldn't order a filet mignon from The Metropolitan and soak it in A1 steak sauce, would you? No, you wouldn't, because steak, like sushi, is best eaten the way it's been prepared and not masked in a cheap agent.

If you insist on soy sauce, then lightly dab your sushi in the shoyu when eating. Or, to really go all out, take a slice of ginger, dab it in the shoyu and "paint" your sushi with soy sauce. That will get the chef's nod of approval.

6) You don't mix wasabi and soy sauce

Wasabi is that green stuff made from horseradish that you get with your sushi. Most people automatically mix it into their soy sauce, which is in fact, bad form for the sushi snob. Sushi chefs regard wasabi primarily as a binder to hold the rice and fish together, rather than flavoring. By adding wasabi to your sushi, you're indirectly telling the chef that the sushi is not good enough on it's own merits. If you prefer more wasabi, simply let the sushi chef know you enjoy wasabi and he will be happy to use more when making your sushi.

A common question is that if customers are not supposed to use wasabi, why do sushi restaurants give it out to begin with. The answer is that practice of adding extra wasabi on the side started some time ago and for better or worse, has become the norm, much like salt and pepper shakers.

Incidentally, the wasabi paste you are served at restaurants is not made from real wasabi. Real wasabi is made from wasabi root and has a sweet, smooth taste and a bit more kick than the common paste. Restaurants don't serve real wasabi paste because it's expensive and until recently, could only be imported from Japan. Instead, what is served in restaurants is dyed horseradish, which mimics the texture and flavor, but is nonetheless quite different from the real thing.

7) You eat the sushi upside down

When sushi enters your mouth upright, the first thing to touch your tongue is the rice. For the sushi snob, you wouldn't want to spoil all that hard earned money by tasting rice, now would you? Of course not, which is why you flip the sushi upside down and taste the fish first.

If you've wanted to become a sushi snob, you may now consider yourself a bit educated. There's still more to learn, but for now: go out, eat, drink, impress your friends and maybe even your local sushi chef!

Update: 8) Eat using your hands!

Though we resisted at first, after some prodding by some super sushi snobs, we'll point out our last tip, which is to eat sushi with your hands. Yes, your hands.

The history of sushi actually originates from Japanese street vendors, who made it as a type of finger food. Workers would come by, grab a few bites and move right along. If you've ever wondered why you are given those lovely warm towels at the start of your meal in a Japanese restaurant - now you know.

If you aren't given towels or don't have the cleanest of hands, we obviously don't suggest you use the standard chopsticks or (ahem) fork method. Otherwise, grab away and enjoy!

Here is a video clip from the DVD, The Art of Sushi, that features Naomi and Hajime from NuCulinary.

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Articles in Series
  1. 7 Quick Tips to Become a Sushi Snob
  2. 7 Quick Tips to Become a Sushi Snob - Part 2
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