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What is the correct way to eat sushi? (or how to enjoy sushi)

Is there a such thing as the correct way to eat sushi?

"What is the correct way to eat sushi?" is one of the most commonly asked questions both in person and online.

Having spent two decades perfecting my sushi techniques, here's my advice: eat it in a way that brings you joy. Taste is a personal and highly subjective matter. Just because I enjoy something doesn't necessarily mean you will too. For instance, I adore Natto, fermented soybeans known for their potent aroma. Although many Japanese people enjoy Natto, plenty do not. My mother, for example, did not like it at all.

I relish Natto hoso maki — a thin roll with the seaweed on the outside, or as a hand roll. It's delicious to me. Should you try it and expect to enjoy it? Probably not, especially if you're not accustomed to Japanese cuisine. The strong smell and taste of Natto may be off-putting. So, I don't typically recommend it during my sushi classes or to my catering clients.

When I say taste is subjective, I mean our sensory perceptions can be influenced by numerous non-food-related factors. The color of a plate, for example, can affect our appetite, with certain hues increasing or decreasing our desire to eat. The same amount of food can seem more filling when served on a large plate compared to a smaller one. Numerous studies show we are often willing to pay more for beautifully plated meals. In other words, taste encompasses a multi-dimensional experience involving all our senses and emotions. Focusing solely on flavor means missing out on the full dining experience.

In addition, what we find to be tasty can be tied to our emotions. Let’s say if you were forced to eat beans every day because of your family circumstances, you may grow up to dislike beans, while others may love them. This is one example of taste being highly subjective, and emotional.

That's why I see a sushi chef's role as a tour guide. At the sushi bar, a chef's recommendations are just that, recommendations. You might have heard that when eating Nigiri, you should start with lighter flavored fish like Halibut and Tai, before moving on to stronger-flavored fish like Tuna and Toro. This approach was first suggested by the world-renowned Jiro Ono, as featured in the film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." I generally agree with Jiro, but I don't always follow this order myself.

What’s my favorite fish? I love Saba, Mackerel. When it's on the menu, I usually order at least two to three Nigiri. I'm not a fan of Toro, especially O-toro as I find it too fatty. I enjoy "Hikari mono" — shiny, silvery-colored small fish like Saba (Mackerel), Aji (Horse mackerel), Iwashi (Sardine), and Kohada (Gizzard Shad). I could happily eat just these fish. To cleanse my palate, I might order tekka (tuna roll) or ume shiso (pickled plum, Umeboshi) – a thin roll with seaweed on the outside.

Would I serve these selections to my private clients in the San Francisco Bay Area? No, because these are my personal preferences and not necessarily what others might enjoy. My enjoyment comes from eating sushi in the way that brings me the most pleasure.

I used to have one customer who loved Albacore so much that he ordered at least 40 pieces of nigiri every time he visited the sushi bar. Another customer only ordered spicy scallops. I'm guessing you have your favorites, too. Perhaps you love a crunchy shrimp tempura roll with eel sauce, or maybe you prefer spicy tuna and Hamachi. The more you experience sushi, the more relaxed you will become about what to order, how to order it, and what to expect.

Rest assured, there are no sushi police watching your every move, ready to issue a citation for eating sushi the "wrong way." The sushi dining experience should be enjoyable, relaxed, playful, and flexible.

If you would like Breakthrough Sushi to be part of your next celebration - whether at home, or office, please email us. We are always happy to be your sushi guide.

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