For some it’s the best meal one can order, for others it brings fear of the unknown. But dining on sushi, i.e., morsels of heaven, once mastered, can soon have you venturing into sushi restaurants feeling like a pro.
So, when you are at the sushi dining room of choice, someone will first bring you a little basket of hot towels. Think of these towels as a warm welcome to your first sushi experience. They are an indication of the social atmosphere and hospitality you are about to enjoy through the art of sushi. To fully enjoy the entire experience, here’s the basic information you need to walk through the door with confidence.
Basic sushi categories
When ordering for the first time, you can choose from an amazing variety of subtle flavors and sumptuous morsels. If you want, chat with the server about what is fresh that day. A few of the basic categories of sushi are:
Sashimi – thinly sliced pieces of fish with no rice.
Nigiri – similar to sashimi, but the fish is arranged on top of a little bit of rice.
Maki – pieces of fish or vegetables, stuffed with rice in a roll with crisp sheets of dried seaweed around it.
Chirashizushi – simply a bowl of rice with toppings.
Temaki – shaped like a flower bouquet and made of fish and vegetables, hand-rolled in a large cone of thin, dried seaweed.
Tempura – whenever you see the word tempura on the menu, the item will come deep fried in egg or flour.
You don’t have to remember all those names — they will be on the menu for you. What may be most useful to you are a few simple suggestions for certain tastes, especially American ones new to sushi.
If you prefer only cooked items, try a California roll. It is a crunchy American-style roll made of rice, cooked crab, avocado and cucumber. You may also see a Philadelphia roll on the menu, which is smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber — a great combination of flavors.
For someone interested in trying sushi but who prefers meat and potatoes, eel, believe it or not, is a good choice. Also called unagi, it may sound strange. But it’s cooked until it’s tender and delicious with a teriyaki flavor.
If you want something raw, but don’t want to get anything overwhelming, maki sushi is best. In particular, maki sushi with salmon, called saki maki, is crisp on the outside with firm but melt-in-your-mouth raw salmon inside.
If you are feeling adventurous, you are in for a treat! Try a Rainbow roll. An American creation, it has a variety of tastes. Tuna, salmon, shrimp, yellowtail and various other fish make up the colors that will take you on a tour of sushi taste.
Tips for eating
Once you’ve ordered and your meal arrives, you won’t have to rely on just your chopsticks. You can eat sushi with your hands. This is where that warm towel comes in — to clean your hands. If you ordered a roll you can pick up with your fingers without too much mess, go ahead. But the sashimi pieces — the long pieces of raw fish without rice — should be eaten with chopsticks.
If you are sharing a plate, it is considerate not to eat with your hands. Use the other end of your chopsticks (the end you don’t put in your mouth) to pick up the piece, then put it down on your own plate. Now you can eat it with your hands.
When dipping sushi into the soy sauce, try not to get too much soy on the rice or the piece can fall apart. Try to dip the fish side in, or the side of the roll with the vegetables or fish stuffed in it. You won’t need to drown the piece in soy. A little bit is best.
Sushi goes best with friends
The world of sushi and its traditions are far more complex than this introduction can touch on. But remember when you visit a sushi restaurant, it is meant to be an amiable experience. This is especially true at the sushi bar. There you can order one or two pieces at a time and chat with your fellow diners.
Grab some friends and try out your local sushi place, and if they are also new to sushi, you can teach them what you know. While you are there, never feel like asking a question is a bother. Questions are welcome, so go ahead and ask if something might be too spicy, or if something is vegetarian.
Finally, you should be aware that unless you know the restaurant is a place you can trust, you should talk to your doctor before eating raw fish while pregnant. Enjoy!