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Japanese food: small rice squares usually topped raw fish

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The Beginner's Guide to Sushi

  • May 29, 2009
  • by
Inspired by devora's guide to eating Dim Sum, my review will consist of the how-to's and in's and out's of eating sushi.

Disclaimer:  I am not Japanese.  So, I might not be 100% correct in all of the cultural nuances and etiquette when it comes to sushi.  But, I have been a sushi chef for about a year during my college years.  I've also had my share of sushi and have converted many "cooked sushi lovers" to die-hard raw fish eaters.
  1. Sit at the sushi bar.  The sushi chef is your best friend.  Normally, there will be about 1 sushi chef per every 4 people (maybe less for bigger groups).  The chef will be able to recommend based on your previous orders and what you tell him/her. 
  2. Don't ever judge a sushi restaurant by what type of "special rolls" they have.  I've found, in most cases, that the more extravagant the "special roll" list... the fish comes in a lesser quality.  If your fish sucks, you have to use as many sauces as possible to compensate for the taste (or lack thereof).
  3. Eat with your hands, if needed.  Fingers are completely acceptable, and sometimes necessary.  If you still don't want to eat with your fingers, but can't use chopsticks... ask the waitress for the kiddie chopsticks.
  4. Start light, finish dark.  Many people start off with ahi tuna at first.  The rule of thumb is to first start off with a lighter color of sushi--albacore, yellowtail--then work up to the darker colors--ahi tuna, toro.  You can also mix in non-fish toward the end of your meal--sweet shrimp, fresh water eel, etc.
  5. Don't dip EVERYTHING in soy sauce/wasabi.  Some things aren't meant for soy sauce and wasabi.  Albacore goes well with ponzu sauce, and so does amaebi (sweet shrimp).  Scallops tend to go well with a spicy mayo.  And personally, instead of wasabi, I prefer my soy sauce with a bit of shiracha--the spicy red sauce with a rooster on it.
  6. When you dip, dip upside down.  I've seen people dip their sushi with the rice down.  Big no-no.  When you do this, you end up tasting the soy sauce or ponzu sauce first, and not the fish itself.  It'll ruin your palette for the next dish, and possibly for the entire night.  Dip the fish first, and put it in your mouth with the rice on your tongue.  You'll get a better taste that way.
  7. It's ok to bite.  Sushi is meant to be eaten in one bite, but it's fine if you finish it off in two bites.  There's no need to stuff your mouth if it's obviously too big. 
  8. Don't order the California Roll.  I'm the biggest anti-fan of Cali rolls.  First off, they're imitation crab.  Second, they're all premade.  It's not fresh and you're probably getting last night's batch of rice.  Oh, and it's probably cold from being refrigerated overnight.  This means a soggy seaweed and clammy rice.  Big no-no's in my book.
  9. Get the sake!  It cleans your palette, and helps for an exciting night.  Oh, and don't forget to give your chef a drink.  He'll appreciate it and show more attention to your food, and possibly give you a few extra pieces.
  10. Be daring, but not over your limits.  I've sometimes found that the sushi newbies who want to prove something, go for something really exotic on their first try--squid, octopus, salmon roe--and get totally turned off by it that they never come back.  If you've never had sushi before, start off with the cooked items--shrimp, crab legs, egg, fresh water eel.  If you want to try out the raw stuff, go for--yellowtail, albacore, ahi tuna, salmon.  If you're looking for something new and exciting--toro, amaebi (sweet shrimp), octopus, squid, and the roes (salmon roe, smelt roe).  You can also get fresh oysters (sometimes, in the shooter variety) in many fine establishments.
  11. Go with someone that knows his way around the sushi bar.  It'll seriously help with recommendations, how to eat, etc.  Heck, you can ask me to go for a sushi run...  I'm in the Los Angeles area :)
Hmm.. that's all that comes to mind for now.  If you have any questions, feel free to post it in the comments, and I'll be glad to answer!

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July 10, 2011
There are several really good Sushi bars in local Japanese restaurants in the Bronxville, NY area.
October 18, 2009
great advice for the sushi newbie! mmmm...now i'm craving uni.
October 18, 2009
Couldn't help but notice your comment in the activity feed!  This should make you hungry ;D
October 09, 2009
Please let me be your next scholar!!! I need to learn about real sushi! Or at least tell me where to go! PS So. hungry. now. Must. have. delicious. raw. goodness.
October 14, 2009
Where abouts do you live? I tend to dislike sushi joints that are owned by Koreans. Nothing against Koreans... it's just that I'd prefer my sushi made by a Japanese guy. Just like how i prefer my burritos made by Mexicans... Chinese food by Chinese, etc.
October 14, 2009
I live in Hollywood! any recommendations?
October 14, 2009
I'm willing to go a little out of my way, too :)
November 12, 2009
Maybe you don't like Korean sushi because most most all sushi in Korea is made with cooked fish and other items, like pickled vegetables. Not really about the fresh fish over there. Its still good as a snack, just not the real thing. Thats maybe why the Korean sushi places aren't so good?
September 23, 2009
I love sushi, and I have heard the "light to dark" recommendation before, but what is the theory behind that? Why light to dark?
September 27, 2009
Generally, light fish has light flavor... a yellowtail can't compare with the buttery goodness of a fatty toro. You start off with light to help prep you for the fuller flavors later on. The same concept is used when drinking wine: You wouldn't drink a strong syrah before a light merlot.
September 28, 2009
Makes sense. Thanks.
June 01, 2009
justice doing work.
May 29, 2009
Great review. I didn't know about going light to dark. I'm not a big fan of ahi tuna nor eel, but next time I'll try that method.
May 29, 2009
Thanks! The light to dark method was shared to me just recently by a friend's dad--a more cultured and increasingly experienced Japanese sushi chef, the real deal. Apparently, it helps with the taste buds and preps you for the next dish.
May 29, 2009
Great guide!  Didn't realize that you were such a huge sushi fan :P  I totally agree with your first point.  I eat sushi about 2-3 times a week and I always try to sit at the bar, or close to the bar so that I can ask the itamae for suggestions and pointers on how to eat new things.  Plus, I get to watch the food being prepared.  I'd eat sushi breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week if I weren't afraid of getting mercury poisoning :x  I've been going on an uni binge several times a week for the past 5 months, and I recently just discovered ankimo!

If you haven't already, you should check out my Fusion Roll and Sashimi rating games!
May 29, 2009
Wow! You have a one-up on me regarding uni and ankimo. I've tried both and definitely not a fan. The texture really isn't for me.
May 30, 2009
Awww, that's too bad!  I love eating weird foods and will eat almost anything that fits into my diet :D

In regards to point #6, another reason that I dip upside down when I'm eating nigiri is so that the rice on the bottom doesn't soak up all the soy sauce!  Ick!
May 29, 2009
Wow Justice, I've learned something new today! Thanks for the great review, I'll keep those tips in mind the next time I eat real sushi... If you are ever in the San Fran area though and reminiscing about @Devora's Dim Sum review again you should check out Yank Sing.
May 29, 2009
I'll be in the Bay next weekend. I'll definitely try to add Yank Sing on my to-do list! Thank you!
May 29, 2009
Great recommendations and an extremely well thought out review! Much more enjoyable to sit and the bar and go slowly.
May 29, 2009
Definitely more enjoyable to eat at the sushi bar! You also get to meet new people!
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The only place I've heard about having sushi for breakfast is at Tsukiji Fish Market, an area near to Ginza in Tokyo.   And have I had sushi for breakfast? Yep, at around 5.30 am, I do believe!      This is an experience anyone who has the love of sushi must definitely try when in Tokyo. There are lots to see and do in Tokyo so one might not be able to wake up so early (4 am! unless you stay up the whole night ;-)) to venture for sushi!      …
review by . August 21, 2008
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Liking sushi is probably an acquired taste, but it doesn't take long. Once you get past raw fish phobia, you will love it.  Something aboutthe deadly combination of perfectly prepared seasoned rice, fresh fish,stinging wasabi (Japanese horse radish), and some soy sauce gets youtotally hooked.    Honestly, I don't understand the mental block people have with rawfish.  Rare steak dripping with blood seems to pose much greaterpsychological challenge than almost pretty …
Quick Tip by . March 18, 2011
So delicious! I love it. Just be sure to get it fresh.
Quick Tip by . June 08, 2010
I only like the all-veggie and shrimp ones becuase raw fish freaks me out!
Quick Tip by . June 02, 2010
Oh nasty.
Quick Tip by . May 22, 2010
Scared to death to eat Sushi
Quick Tip by . March 26, 2010
A must have with Sushi is pickled ginger. No gluten involved there!! ;)
Quick Tip by . March 15, 2010
Yummy sushi! A great alternative to soy sauce is lemon juice and wasabi. Brings out a wonderful flavor in the fish.
Quick Tip by . March 12, 2010
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Quick Tip by . March 06, 2010
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Oh how I love sushi! It's filling, but still healthy. I need to learn how to make the rolls! My faves: spicy tuna rolls, yellowtail & eel!
About the reviewer
Justice Erolin ()
Ranked #131
Hmm... let's see.    I'm a 20-something living in Los Angeles, CA. I was born and raised here, with the exception of a 3 year stint in the Philippines. This "long" vacation helped … more
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About this food


In Japanese cuisine, sushi is vinegar rice, usually topped with other ingredients, including fish dishes.

Sliced raw fish alone is called sashimi, as distinct from sushi. Combined with hand-formed clumps of rice it is called nigirizushi ; sushi items served rolled inside or around nori (dried and pressed layer sheets of seaweed or algae) is makizushi, toppings stuffed into a small pouch of fried tofu is inarizushi; and toppings served scattered over a bowl of sushi rice called chirashi-zushi.

Sushi Glossary

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