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Imagine that you walk into a high-end sushi restaurant for dinner and you are really excited to try the food. You see people around you eating with chopsticks and wonder whether you can use a spoon or fork. Would it be impolite to ask for one? Does it reveal your shortcomings? Is it something to be ashamed of?
The BIG question is – can you eat with a fork? While this is not the best option, I would still say yes. If you are not comfortable with chopsticks, politely ask for a fork or spoon. But, don’t stab a maki or nigiri with a fork as this would hamper their shape. Use it only for eating meat/ fish slices as in a chirashi bowl.
There’s nothing to feel embarrassed if you can’t eat sushi with chopsticks. However, it would be impolite if you use it the wrong way and throw food around while struggling to eat. The people at the restaurant want their customers to enjoy the food and it’s understandable if non-Japanese ask for a fork.
Besides fork, you may also use a spoon to eat the rice in a chirashi bowl. Some people prefer using hands over chopsticks while picking up sushi pieces and there’s nothing wrong in that. No one’s going to look down upon you except the food snobs and some sushi traditionalists. It is more important to not hurt any traditional sentiments than try something you are not good at.
How To Eat Sushi The Right Way
If you are a beginner and all those delicious items on your table make you wonder how you are going to eat them, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you.
As you take a seat in a traditional sushi restaurant, the servers will place an oshibori in front of you. This is a small damp towel meant for cleaning hands only, not your face. Wipe your hands using the towel, fold it back and keep on the table. You may use it again if needed.
If you are an avid chopsticks user, go ahead and pick your sushi using them. If not, you may use your hand, fork, or spoon. Please remember that it’s absolutely fine to eat sushi with your hands and you must be polite when asking for a fork.
Dip the fish side of the nigirizushi in the soy sauce lightly. Don’t dip the rice part because rice absorbs sauce quickly and may fall apart, making it difficult to eat. Also, avoid adding more wasabi or soy sauce as it is considered rude.
If you are eating sushi rolls, eat one first and then decide how much sauce you may want to add. Some sushi rolls containing mackerel and eel may already contain sauce, so it’s better to not add any extra condiments.
Now pick the sushi with chopsticks, fork or your hands and put all of it inside your mouth. The traditional maki roll pieces are small enough to be eaten at once but the American versions may be too large. It’s acceptable to take two bites but make sure you hold the remaining piece together.
After you have eaten a nigirizushi or a complete roll, take a blob of pickled ginger or gari and eat it. Gari is the pink stuff you see at the side of your sushi plate. It is used to cleanse the palate and enable you to enjoy the subtle flavors of different types of fish.
Clean your plate completely without leaving any food bits behind. Wasting food is considered disrespectful because it shows that you did not like the food. The chef puts in a lot of effort to create the perfect pieces of sushi for you, so remember to appreciate and show respect.
Learning The Art Of Using Chopsticks To Eat Sushi
There’s no age for learning and it’s always fun to learn new traditions and customs. If you are a non-Japanese, you will impress the chef by using chopsticks correctly while eating sushi. So, if you are eager to learn how to eat sushi as the Japanese do then read on.
When you visit a sushi restaurant, you will be given a pair of chopsticks along with your meal. If you are given disposable chopsticks, you must snap open the packet. The sticks are usually marked as Stick 1 and Stick 2.
Take the Stick 1 on your dominant hand (right hand for most people) and hold it like a pencil, narrow side towards the food. Hold it in a way to have only an inch of the thicker side stick out from between your thumb and forefinger.
The joint of your thumb should help the stick stay stable. Let the narrower end of the stick rest slightly on your ring finger. Let the middle and forefinger hold the stick properly. Stick 1 is your base stick so ensure that it does not move when you pick the sushi pieces.
The second stick (Stick 2) will be responsible for a lot of tasks such as transporting the food from the plate to your mouth. Make sure the thicker end of Stick 2 lines up parallel with the thicker side of Stick 1 that emerges from between the thumb and forefinger
The Stick 2 will do a lot of moving and you will need to use the upper section of your thumb as the base part holds Stick 1 which should not move. In between your meals, you may use your middle and index finger to tighten or loosen the grip.
While this may sound easy, it takes some practice to get perfect. The most important thing is the way you synchronize your thumb (upper and lower part), forefinger and middle finger to control the movement of Stick 2.
I suggest that you practice using chopsticks at home to master the technique of grabbing and releasing the food. When you are able to do this well, you are ready to use chopsticks for eating any kind of food served at the restaurants.
If you are a beginner, I would suggest that you use chopsticks to eat larger items like prawns or toppings on chirashizushi. Smaller foods like rice require more controlled movements so you may request for a fork or spoon.
Six Mistakes To Avoid When Eating Sushi
Japan is a land of rich culture, revered traditions and customs, and the Japanese are really particular about everything, especially their food. No wonder the chefs spend over 10 years as an apprentice, learning the art of sushi making. As a result, the master chefs are highly respected.
If you are planning to eat out at a sushi restaurant, here are a few common mistakes you must avoid. While no one will throw you out of the restaurant for committing these mistakes, it’s good to be polite and be respectful towards other’s traditions. I have created an article that explains in detail about sushi etiquettes, check it out.
#1. Trying to eat nigirizushi with chopsticks or fork
In Japan, people use their hands to eat nigiri sushi, so avoid using chopsticks or a fork. By using a fork, you may spoil the form of nigiri so painstakingly created by the sushi chef. You may use chopsticks or fork while picking pieces of sushi roll or sashimi slices on a chirashi bowl.
#2. Mixing soy sauce with wasabi paste
I know this seems tempting but avoid playing with the sauces or mixing them up to create your own flavor. The chef already puts wasabi in the sushi to ensure that it tastes right without overpowering the flavors of other ingredients used in the dish.
Slathering up more wasabi on your sushi will make it more salty and spicy. It also shows that you don’t trust the chef, which is impolite. Take a bite first and then add condiments if needed.
#3. Eating miso soup as an appetizer
Unlike the westernized sushi restaurants that treat miso soup as an appetizer, the traditional sushi bars serve it at the end, after a meal. Japanese use the soup as an after-course item to settle and digest the food. So, don’t ask for it before your meal if they don’t serve that way.
#4. Rubbing the chopsticks
You may not know how to use the chopsticks, but that should not be used as an excuse to play with them. Avoid the temptation to rub the sticks together, especially in front of the chef as this is considered as bad manners.
#5. Sitting at the bar and asking for other items
If you are seated at the bar, make sure you are there for the sushi and nothing else. Don’t sit at the bar and tell your chef to give you tempura, ramen, or edamame. If you want to order other things besides sushi, take a seat at the table instead. When you are in front of the chef, respect his presence and order only sushi.
#6. Texting or taking pictures at the table
I know you may be tempted to take a few pictures of your exotic-looking dinner and share it with friends. Ask the chef politely, take a few pictures and keep your smartphone away. A sushi dinner is not just about the food but experience as a whole, so keep the glaring screen aside, shut your mind from the outside world and let the food pamper your tastebuds.
Can I get a fork in a traditional Japanese restaurant
Yes of course, but you may need to ask for one. Tell the server or chef politely that you are not comfortable using chopsticks and request a fork instead.
Is it impolite to eat sushi with a fork?
Some food snobs and sushi traditionalists may say so but don’t let that bother you. It is more impolite to struggle with chopsticks and throw bits of your food around. If you really want to eat like a Japanese, read my instructions (above) on how to hold chopsticks and practice using them at home.
You may also want to see my previous article: Do You Reheat Sushi?
Can I use a fork to eat nigirizushi?
No, I would not recommend you to eat nigiri with a fork because you will spoil its shape by stabbing the food. Use your hands for nigiri instead. A fork is best used for eating fish or meat slices over a chirashi bowl. You may also use a fork for picking the solid particles in miso soup.