** SINCE POSTING THIS ENTRY, THIS ARTICLE HAS ALSO RUN IN EXPAT LIVING (JANUARY 2015). See PRESS page**
Japan, as far as I can make out, is one of those places that people go to and get hooked on. I have Singaporean friends who go (not for business – we are talking strictly holiday) two or three times a year. And it IS addictive, I certainly found ‘Japan Bug’ to be as real as typhoid, figuratively speaking.*
So, during my trip there last week, one of the things on the culinary hit list was sushi at a proper sushi restaurant. A lovely Japanese friend booked us in to Mizutani, mentioning after he had done so, that reservations here were hard to come by and newbies only ever introduced if they came recommended by a regular.
“You do know how to behave, don’t you?” he asked questioningly. I was flooded with panic. I’m a well bought up girl, natch, but can I behave Japanese style? What does that even mean?
One of the blogs I follow here in Sing is Aun Koh’s Chubby Hubby and I remembered reading his list posted a while back on what not to do when eating sushi. Here it is again, along with some comments and annotations. Aun’s original post can be seen here.
Top Rules to Sush-Scoffing:
-Never rub your chopsticks together after snapping them apart (CMG: I do this all the time – someone English once asked me if I was trying to start a fire, caveman style). This is the height of rudeness.
– Never mix wasabi in with the soy sauce. Sushi should be prepared with the proper amount of wasabi directly on this fish. If, however, you would like more, simply apply it directly to the fish. (CMG: This is KEY. However, at Mizutani it went one step further. Despite being offered an empty bowl for soy sauce, you DO NOT eat soy with sushi. This may be an esoteric Mizutani thing – his creations were brushed with his own version of soy sauce – but I was too nervous to ask him. You CAN have soy and wasabi with sashimi – but as above, do not mix them together like a loser.)
– Never rest your chopsticks with just the tips on your plate. And never, ever leave your chopsticks sitting in a bowl with the ends jutting out. (CMG: I’d go a step further and say always use the chopsticks rests provided.)
– Do not put the ginger on your sushi and eat it together. Ginger is meant to be consumed between bites to cleanse the palate. (CMG: I am not Japanese but I hate it went people do this! It offends even me!)
– If eating in a sushi bar, never hand money to the chef. It is considered to be the height of rudeness (CMG: this is quite obvious as his hands are usually occupied/wet with fish, but good to know.)
– My other addition would be DO NOT take any pictures of your food. Forbidden only in the smartest of establishments. The inference being that a sushi affair is a private affair.
He also wrote a bunch of ‘To Do’s’ which I forgot to read – so entranced was I about what not to get wrong.
Here’s what I leant in terms of what was OK to do:
-Every other diner at Mizutani (there were nine of us in total, so it was very intimate) when eating sushi used their HANDS. No chopsticks at all. Ginger was even eaten with fingers between courses. One chap next to Mr Changmoh didn’t touch his chopsticks, to the extent that he didn’t even take them out of their packet. I was thrilled by this as I always find eating a whole piece of sushi hard to do in one bite; eating it with your hands means that you can bite it in half quite neatly. Sashimi IS, however, eaten with chopsticks (Aun comments with reference to sushi scoffing that hands or chopsticks are both equally fine).
– If you are in the sort of establishment which allows soy/sushi dipping, i.e. not where I was, Aun says to turn the sushi roll over and dip the fish (not the rice) into the soy sauce.
– Put the whole sushi portion into your mouth, fish side down toward the tongue.
– Use the fatter back end of the chopsticks when taking food from a shared plate (CMG: same rule as you’d employ with Chinese banquet food).
– When not using your chopsticks, they should be rested across your plate or on the chopstick rest, parallel to the sushi bar. Signal you are finished by resting your chopsticks across your sushi saucer.
Do all this and you’re officially a Sushi Sensai. Good luck!
Sushi Mizutani, Juno Building 9/F, 8-7-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku; +81 (0) 3 3573 5258; 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m., closed on Sundays and national holidays.
* I’m already longing to go back.