Sushi is traditionally eaten at the sushi bar, where the colors, aroma and visuals of the chef preparing the food will enhance the sushi-eating experience. However, there are specific rules for how to properly eat at a sushi bar, and most of these rules should be followed when eating at a table as well. If you do not follow sushi etiquette, you will appear to be a sushi newbie. Furthermore, you may offend your server, other diners or the itamae – the sushi chef. Follow these guidelines to learn how to eat properly at a Japanese sushi bar.
Sushi Etiquette Part 1: Chopstick Etiquette
In Japan, chopsticks are more than just an eating utensil. They are used in a variety of Japanese rituals as well, especially in funereal rituals. Because of this, chopsticks should be respected, and using chopsticks the wrong way while eating can be highly offensive to a Japanese person. Here are some rules on how to use chopsticks at the table:
- Do not play with chopsticks. Fooling around with chopsticks at the table or sushi bar is considered childish and barbarous in Japan.
- Be careful with splinters. If you use disposable wooden chopsticks that are joined at one end, when you break them apart, splinters might be created. You can rub the chopsticks together to get rid of the splinters, but do not let anyone see you doing this. And never rub together high-quality chopsticks, or you will insult your hosts.
- Use the chopstick rest. While waiting for food or in between dishes, place the chopsticks in front of you parallel to the edge of the bar. The narrow ends of the chopsticks should rest on the chopstick rest, or hashi oki. Never stick chopsticks in your food and leave them there, or lay them cross-rise, since this symbolizes death. If you are using disposable chopsticks and there is no chopstick rest available, create one with the paper wrapper from your chopsticks and use that. If there is no chopstick rest available whatsoever, then you can put them on your plate, but make sure they are set across the plate rather than leaning on the plate.
- Serve sushi with the broad end. If there is not a communal set of chopsticks available, food must be transferred from the serving platter with the individuals’ chopsticks. The wider end of the chopstick should be used when picking up sushi from a shared sushi tray, since the narrower end is used by individuals for eating and could be contaminated with their germs. It is polite to use chopsticks, not your hands, to serve sushi from a shared platter.
- Only pass food to a plate. If you need to pass food to another diner, pick it up with chopsticks and rest it on his or her plate. Never pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks. As part of traditional funereal ceremonies in Japan, mourners would pass the bones of their deceased loved ones to each other using chopsticks, so passing food this way recollects this ritual and is considered offensive.
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