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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rules of Sushi Etiquette (Top 10)

Whether or not you’ve ever been to Japan, there’s no doubt that you’re aware that they do things quite differently over there.

Why do they bow so often? Why are they so great with technology?

This top 10 list will not answer those questions. What it will do is arm you with 10 etiquette tips that will allow you to integrate seamlessly into any authentic sushi-eating situation. Master these and everything else will fall into place.

10 Kneeling while eating

Remember Kerri Strug? She was the American gymnast who took gold on a broken ankle at the 1996 Olympics. Ever want to be more like her? Then try sitting “seiza”-style without dropping a single piece of sushi.

Seiza is when you sit in a semi-kneeling position with your butt cheeks rested on your Achilles tendons. It originated in the era of samurais in order to honor the others sitting with you, but because it can numb your legs pretty quickly, many Japanese people today have chosen to ignore this piece of etiquette.

If you break out the seiza at a table full of Japanese people, however, they will be extremely impressed.

Note: This only works at restaurants that offer traditional Japanese seating. Do this while sitting in a chair and you will look like a moron.

9 Say "Itadaki masu!"

There is no English equivalent to saying “itadaki masu,” as it is a combination of “looks great!” and “OK, I am now commencing my meal.”

Say it before your first bite to express your gratitude for the food you are about to consume and Japanese girls will find you adorable.

8 Never pour your own drink

One of the best things about going for sushi is the gigantic bottles of Kirin, Asahi or Sapporo beer that accompany your meal. And since the Japanese invented the dry brewing process, they are all delicious and refreshing.

Keep in mind, however, that these are not meant to be consumed quickly in a brown paper bag like an Old English, but are meant to be consumed quickly while sharing with others.

Pour everybody else’s drinks first, then coyly place the bottle on the table. Another attentive person at the table should jump at the opportunity to pour for you. Not only is this a much more social way of drinking, but it also promotes heavier alcohol con
Never pour your own drink

One of the best things about going for sushi is the gigantic bottles of Kirin, Asahi or Sapporo beer that accompany your meal. And since the Japanese invented the dry brewing process, they are all delicious and refreshing.

Keep in mind, however, that these are not meant to be consumed quickly in a brown paper bag like an Old English, but are meant to be consumed quickly while sharing with others.

Pour everybody else’s drinks first, then coyly place the bottle on the table. Another attentive person at the table should jump at the opportunity to pour for you. Not only is this a much more social way of drinking, but it also promotes heavier alcohol consumption. Win-win.

7 Order omakase-style

No matter how much you know about sushi, the chef knows better. He (women’s hands are believed to be too warm to prepare sushi) knows what’s fresh, and what’s in season.

Omakase is when you leave it up to the chef what you are served. Not only does this ensure the freshest fish possible, but sushi chefs take great pride in their omakase selections, so you know that you are getting the best that the house has to offer.

In addition, a huge pet peeve among sushi chefs is the fact that Westerners often order exclusively tuna and salmon. Get the omakase to show that you know what’s up, but be warned that this knowledge will set you back more than the tuna and salmon would.

6 Waribashi (disposible chopstick) snapping 101

A high-end sushi restaurant would never be caught with disposable chopsticks, but if you find yourself in a place that does use them, this does not mean that civility should break down. Snap your chopsticks while holding them horizontally for maximum gentleman points.

This tradition originated for practical reasons, because the type of establishment that serves “waribashi” in Japan would often be very crowded, and snapping horizontally cuts down on your chances of elbowing someone in the face. Although this tradition is not that practical in a North American setting, the sushi etiquette lives on.

5 Don't pour soy sauce on your rice

Don’t do it! You may be tempted, but don’t pour soy sauce on your rice. Japanese people take a ridiculous amount of pride in their rice. Just try serving them Chinese rice with their sushi and see how happy they look. It’s all about the texture and the subtle flavors of the grains, so if you add soy sauce to the mix, you will appear to be destroying something beautiful.

We have a lot of friends who can’t seem to eat white rice without their precious soy sauce, so we can understand the urge, but consider this: Do you want to be seen as a destroyer of beauty?


4 Don't plant your chopsticks in your rice


Ever see the movie Mr. Baseball, starring Tom Selleck? Great flick.

Remember the scene where our mustache-sporting hero plants his chopsticks in his rice? Remember how the entire table practically jumped across the table and tackled him? Ever wonder why?

In Japan, visiting the graves of ancestors is an important part of life. People sweep up around their family graves, leave flowers and also leave bowls of rice with -- you guessed it -- chopsticks sticking out of them. Unless you are a ghost or a zombie, doing so in a restaurant is a bad omen. But then again, Tom Selleck can do no wrong in our book.

3 Don't pass food from chopstick to chopstick

Similar to Tom Selleck’s blunder, passing food from chopstick to chopstick is another cardinal no-no in sushi etiquette.

Partly due to Buddhist influence and partly due to space constrictions, the standard way of laying the dead to rest in Japan is by cremation. Contrary to popular belief, however, cremation is not exactly a neat and tidy process. After the burning, it is traditionally up to the core family members of the deceased to sift through the ashes and separate what remains of the charred bones from the rest of the matter by passing them from one pair of chopsticks to another.

Therefore, if somebody tries to pass you a piece of sushi with their chopsticks, hold out your plate in order to avoid the bringing up of painful memories and awkwardness.


2 Don't leave bits of rice in your bowl


It’s easy to forget that 65 years ago Japan was a war-torn nation. Food was so scarce that many people had to resort to eating grasshoppers -- or whatever else they could find. Since people would have killed for a bowl of rice, to have left even a single grain in a bowl would have seemed extremely bourgeois.

Although today’s Japan would be almost unrecognizable to someone from that time and place, the aversion to wastefulness lives on. In addition, finishing the last grain of rice is also a way of paying homage to a worthy chef.

1 Finish your meal with, "Gochi-so-sama-deshi-ta."

Saying “gochi so sama deshita” is the equivalent of saying “Wow, what a feast that was!” Although we wouldn’t deliver such a compliment unless truly deserved, it is standard protocol to say so after every meal in Japan.

Say it to your sushi chef and he will likely bow to you. However, if you visit a Korean-run Japanese restaurant (there are a ton of these), the chef might just squirm awkwardly.

But if the chef is hardcore, he will respond by saying “osamatsu deshita,” which basically means “I’m sorry I couldn’t have provided a superior meal” -- even if, in his mind, he knows that he may have served you the best sushi you’ve have ever had.