Sushi with Monokuro
For some time now, people have been asking me about sushi. It's not a big deal really but I can understand how it can be very curious to some people. So I've decided to share some information on sushi, as well as some Japanese eating tips that I have learned over the years and have "perfected" in knowledge in the last year.
What is What?
Ginger - This is the pink slices you get free, like salt/ketchup for English meals. Ginger is used to clean your tongue between different sushi pieces; the ginger is strong so it "refreshes" your tongue, making it a clean pallet so the taste of each sushi is not affected by the next or previous. I often eat the ginger but if you do not like it you can buy a strong drink or green tea to strip the tongue between each sushi, but it does not work as well. If you do not like ginger order something with orange, as orange juice is great for cleaning your pallet.
Miso - It is perfectly acceptable to pick up the bowl and drink from it. In fact this is seen as quite respectful and, to most chefs, shows you appreciate their miso soup. Miso soup is not an appetizer/starter (or meant to be), you're meant to order it with or after your main course. Also when you get your miso, you may take your chopsticks and gently mix the soup. When the miso is sat for a long time, it forms a cloudy style powder in the water; mixing it adds all the flavors together, but don't do this lots or it's as if you're saying "your miso is bad".
Cheese, why not? - Sushi and cheese are never seen together, and if they are put together this is wrong and / or extremely rare. Cheese is extremely strong and distracts from the taste of the sushi too much (Remember the ginger?). I've only ever heard of one sushi dish with cheese added, and that was just an experiment at a non-Japanese restaurant for American style sushi. So if you ever go somewhere and they offer you cheese with your sushi, decline it.
Green Tea - Green tea is not only extremely good for you, but Asian green tea has a different taste and is extremely refreshing. Green tea is full of antioxidants which helps better digestion, it also helps when you have a poorly tummy. Green tea is usually drank throughout the whole dining process and in good sushi restaurants once you've bought one cup, you get free re-fills. It also helps the body when eating the sushi so you have room for more.
Never drink the tea all in one go, savour it and take it in small amounts. Too much will fill you too fast and cause an opposite effect. When you have an empty cup, if you wish for a re-fill place the cup near the end of the table and make sure you say thank you. If you do not want a refill, keep the cup in the center of the table close to you with a small amount left at the bottom. ""Chinese tip (Thanks to my family and partner) - A new discovery for me a year or two ago was this. If the Japanese sushi restaurant is ran by Chinese people (which is common in the UK) it is common to see people holding their hand in a loose claw and tapping the table gently. This is a way of saying thank you and "that's enough" as your cup is being filled. There is a story in Chinese culture is based on an old legend of tea ceremony where another creature serve tea to a great golden dragon, and in gratitude, the dragon held out his claw and tapped it on the table as a thank you. This is repeated by people today and is still acted upon.Also if you are of the younger generation show your respect by offering the older generation, or the eldest present, the first pour/cup of tea. This will show great respect and will also show that you care for their wellbeing" Had enough? Leave a bit! - In Japanese culture, especially/mainly when eating at someones home, it is seen as grateful to leave a small amount of food in your bowl to signify you are full and appreciate the food. If you finish your bowl completely without leaving something (this can be a few bits of rice, tiny bit of fish, no bigger than a 5p coin really) you may find you'll get 2nds... and 3rds... and 4ths... Your bowl will get re-filled non stop until you end up saying "OH GOD stop feeding me, I'm dying!" This is an act of kindness to make sure your belly is full and to make sure you will not want for more. As some of my friends have seen when I cook for them, I often offer to re-fill their bowls or offer 2nds when they finish their plate completely and /or offer dessert. It is a sign of gratitude and care, to make sure you do not leave with an empty stomach.
Between/During your meal - Japanese eat-outs / dinner times usually last up to 2 hours. If a meal is made like a small buffet, usually a huge selection of food is made for you to help yourself to. BUT DO NOT RUSH IT, take your time. Here's a few mini tips to aid your experience;
Do not order everything at once. Order each item/selection one at a time, even if that's a starter/main etc. ordering all at once means your food won't be as fresh. You'll find when food is cooked at home the food is covered with plates/lids between cooking if a huge selection has been made.
Remember your green tea. Keep taking sips between each sushi/meal section to ease any strain on your tummy. Don't feel odd if you need a bathroom break.
If you plan a sushi event out, try not to eat before hand. If you plan to eat in the afternoon/tea time, try to eat less at lunch/dinner time. You may feel really hungry but if you take your time and eat slow you'll find your sushi experience will be better as you can eat more.
Bento boxes are a common set for quick meals, but if you fancy a bento between your meal, order it as a near last dish before dessert. This will fill you up with a selection of treats and give you your finished rolls.
Dessert? Do not be afraid of sharing. Desserts are usually quite small for large orders because your tummy will be full, but if you feel you are too full you can share a dessert with someone. Just simply ask for a certain amount of spoons or tell the waiter/waitress your sharing. Commonly if you are a couple and ask for one dessert, they will bring 2 spoons out regardless as sharing a dessert promotes togetherness as well as a sign that your partner has made sure you have eaten well.
Bring cash, and lots of it! - For a small meal during lunch time, you'll expect to pay maybe £10 per person but for a traditional huge sushi order you will be looking at £20/£30 between two people (depending, more can be £20/£30 per 4 people etc). Usually in restaurants, there will be offers for huge sushi platters and these aren't cheap, if you want the full experience you've got to pay more moolah. Remember if you eat less during the day it is all worth it, but remember this food is made very delicately and, unlike English food, is made with a lot more care/time and preparation.
Pay by card? You are the bread earner -In both Chinese and Japanese culture, if one person is the sole payer for the food it shows that they earn the most money and by that right also shows that they are well off enough to care properly for their family/friends. It is a sign of respect and I find even if I am paying half of the bill I will give my boyfriend the money so he would be the one seen paying for it. Chop Sticks! - In Japanese they are called "箸" pronounced as "Hashi" and come in all shapes and sizes, you can even get training chop sticks, decorated/animal/Pocky shaped sticks, child sized chopsticks and more!
You'll find that most restaurant's will provide plastic chopsticks but sometimes you will get wooden chopsticks (Waribashi (割り箸）) attached together, after you've broken them for the love of all things do not rub them together afterwards (to remove splinters etc). This is an insult, implying that the chopsticks/utensils given are cheap and is outright insulting the chef/restaurant by implying that the restaurant is also just as cheap.
Don't use non-matching chopsticks. Usually a person can be allowed to have exactly the same looking chopstick in different colors but completely non-matching chopsticks are considered very unlucky and again can be an insult to the dead. (A lot of death related with chopsticks... haha)
Never stab them into your food facing up. It can *sometimes* be considered as okay when you're at home with family as a joke but stabbing your chopsticks facing up can be seen as insulting. For most Buddhists, rice is like an offering to the deceased so stabbing your chopsticks faced up is like insulting an alter (When someone dies, rice/food is offered to the deceased in a bowl) it is also considered as insulting to the place/venue/home you are in, like saying "Your offering is s***" so yeah, don't do that.
Never cross your chopsticks over bowl/plate/table/bento box etc... Crossing your chopsticks (like a cross X etc) is similar to the reason above and also if you can avoid crossing them whilst eating too, that's also awesome (Westerners can get away with crossing chopsticks whilst using them due to lack of experience using them). Always try and keep them together/straight.
Don't lance your food. You know that annoying WOWCHER advert on British TV (which I yell at all the time because the woman stabs the food with one chopstick because she can't use them? (gasp for air) Chopsticks are always used together, its very unity like in other words. Stabbing your food is considered bad manners, you'll find people tend to only do that in Japanese culture when they are extremely annoyed to express their rage whilst eating.
Kanzashi and Chopsticks are two different things so don't put chopsticks in your hair! Kanzashi are decorated sticks that go in your hair (you know like geisha, maiko etc?) they look like chopsticks but they aren't. In Japan, that's like putting a fork in your hair instead of a hair clip. I admit I have done this before but usually only whilst I am in a cooking emergency and need my hair tied back and have nothing else to tie my hair back with.
If you get some Hashi-oki "箸置き"/chopstick rests, use them. Its like a tiny little flat table you place your chopsticks on. If you do not have them, it is fine to place your chopsticks over your food bowl as long as they are together and not crossed.
BTW if you can't use chopsticks you can always ask if they have a training pair or if you can't use chopsticks to save your life do not be afraid of asking for a fork, they will always have that option available.
Shoveling your rice - Before you read this, this is what I have been told from a few Japanese friends, it is not evil, it is just considered bad manners. Now this is where I've had a hard time with Chinese culture at first. In Chinese culture it is common to use the chopstick like shovels for rice soup etc and spoon the food into your mouth, but in Japan culture no, just no. Each grain of rice is sacred, you are lucky to eat so you should respect your food. Japanese rice is different and is very sticky so it is easier to pick up in clumps or grain by grain, you only lift the bowl if you think you may drop some. Instead, lean over your bowl ever so slightly in case you drop something or bring the bowl to your chin. I had a hard time when I was briefly mocked by my boyfriend's parents (who are Chinese) for picking the rice up grain by grain when my bowl was near finished for another bowl, they did not mean to insult, but for me I was awkwardly embarrassed because I am not Chinese, obviously, and Japanese culture is a big influence on my life and has been for an extremely long time. However whenever I eat around his parents I tend to take a more Chinese outlook on eating.
SOY Sauce - You'll find a bottle of soy or two is always provided for you with a small rectangular dish. Once you have chosen your soy, you pour it into the little dish. This dish is to make dipping your sushi into soy a lot easier. (LITTLE TIP, with sushi don't dip the rice into the dish if you are clumsy, dip the meat/egg/fish etc. into the soy, this way it won't overpower the sushi and your rice won't break) What's the difference between dark and light soy sauce you say?- Light soy sauce. Is a light brown sauce, slightly opaque and is steamed with wheat and soybean and something beginning with A? Not sure if Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus sojae molds? This is a lighter salty taste, common used for dipping more than dark soy and adds a lot of yummy flavor especially when eating fried rice. Dark soy sauce. Is much darker, near black and very thick. It is caramelized and is aged and commonly used during cooking as heat changes the flavour. It is slightly sweeter and less salty than light soy and is mainly used to add color to a dish. Making it into a dipping sauce is great, just adding something simple like garlic can change the flavour completely! Wasabi - I hate wasabi personally, it's just that the taste is too icky for me (reminds me too much of horse radish) but the burn does not bother me so much. If you find yourself eating too much, drinking water does not really help instead eat some plain rice, if that doesn't help then breath through your nose. Odd you say? Nope, breathing through your nose really fast/rapidly makes the burn go away in a matter of seconds but you may look silly doing it, haha. BTW only use a tiny amount, this stuff is STRONG, I can eat raw chillies but a mouth full of wasabi makes me loose my ability to see, that s*** is crazy hot, like a dry burn.
Order of food - It is more of a desired preference but sushi does have an order to eating it. Why? FLAVOUR! It's all about making your taste palette feel good, the order is something like this; During any/all;
Salmon and fish eggs
Wet fish/fat fish piece
Egg (As in chicken egg etc)
Rolls (Or order rolls with bento)
Bento Box (Or Ramen/Set meal)
Sometimes comes with Miso, if so share it throughout the dish
Eat in any order
Finish with rolls
Dessert. Yum, common desserts are such like;
Doriyaki (Personal fave)
Green Tea Ice Cream
Fried Ice Cream
Dai Fu Ku
Apparently eating rolls is to end your order, or near the end of your order but I am not 100% sure on that one~ Common Dishes in Japan -
Egg dish with ketchup/ Omurice (Looks like mashed potato)
Teriyaki / Sukiyaki Dishes
Ramen (Big noodle soup)
What not to expect - If your sushi dish has any of these it's probably wrong, or made with an English/western twist. Always hunt for the recipe/ingredients online.
Coffee (Unless this is in Bubble Tea)
Ham (Not common at all in Japanese in comparison)
Eating at a short table - Kneeling when eating in Japan is considered well mannered and, for women, very lady like - like a geisha. In Chinese culture, kneeling is only really done at weddings and at funerals... I learned this the hard way but if you are visiting a Chinese household it goes by the house owner's/elder's rule rather than your own. It's not like English culture when we adapt to our guests out of pure courtesy, this is nothing mean it's just respecting the elder and all that~