One glance at a packet of £2 Tesco nigiri rolls should be all you need to tell you that Western sushi and actual sushi are not the same thing. Sure, both include fish and rice and both look sort of similar, but when it comes to the actual eating, the experiences couldn’t be more different. It’s like ordering a pint of cider and getting apple juice - incredibly disappointing, if you were looking forward to a foodie buzz.
It’s not just the taste that sets the styles apart. For a food that is as culturally complex as sushi, there are a whole heap of rules and traditions that white people happily ignore for the sake of a speedy, healthy lunch. So that we all appreciate how ignorant we’re all being, here are seven things that most of us are getting wrong about sushi.
1. Soy sauce
At most sushi places, the first port of call is usually to grab one of the nearby small, concave plates, drown it in soy sauce and dunk everything you can get your hands on into its inky depths. Shockingly, this isn’t how it’s supposed to work. Soy sauce is only to be used to lightly season the fish, rather than be sucked up by all the rice, so only the fishy part of the sushi is all that should be dipped.
2. Respect the chef
It might seem baffling that learning to cook something that doesn’t need any cooking can take years. But, unsurprisingly, there’s a whole lot more to great sushi than slapping some salmon on a slab of rice. Sushi chefs understand the perfect balance between heat, flavour and seasoning in order to bring the most out of every slice of fish, so underestimate them at your peril. It’s also an unwritten rule that showing due deference is one way to guarantee access to the prime cuts.
3. Easy on the wasabi
One way to show your faith in the chef is to lay off the wasabi. An extremely powerful and potent spice, the green paste can easily obliterate everything else on your palate, so is best left to the professionals. In a good sushi restaurant, the chef will almost certainly have already added the perfect amount of wasabi to your piece before you eat it, so no need to start spreading like a mad man.
4. Wasabi/soy mashup
Sushi restaurants are not an excuse for amateur alchemy. As tempting as it is to start pouring soy sauce, adding wasabi and stirring until you have a poisonous-looking green and brown potion, this is not how the food was intended to be eaten. Dunking in the mixture will almost certainly overpower the delicate fish and leave you looking like a fool.
5. One at a time
In the West, we like things fast. The idea of ordering singular pieces of sushi one teeny roll at a time is utterly opposed to almost everything in our culture. Nonetheless, if you want the traditionally sushi experience, this is how it should be done. This way, your food will be as fresh as possible and will provide the best exhibition of the chef’s skill and ability. For the sake of a bit of patience, the sacrifice is well worth it.
6. Put down the chopsticks
It’s not just the fact that you’re useless that makes some sushi so tricky to tackle with chopsticks. It turns out that, in Japanese tradition, nigiri should be eaten with your fingers. This will allow you to better appreciate the balance in the dish and apply any extra touches of soy sauce with greater ease.
7. No ginger sandwiches
Rather than deconstructing your sushi roll, stuffing in a few flakes of ginger and glueing it back together, the delicious strands of pickled gari should be left until the end of a mouthful. Though tasty in their own right, those juicy ginger pieces are actually supposed to act as a palate cleanser, and are not designed to be eaten with the fish.
Obviously, when you’re wolfing down a meal deal or waiting for an animatronic conveyor belt to bring you a lukewarm selection of rolls, tradition might not always be at the forefront of your mind. Nevertheless, it’s important to bear in mind that, if you do want a proper sushi experience, it might be drastically different than what you were expecting.