Visitors of Japanese restaurants, especially those who are there for the first time, often ask how to properly eat sushi? It is not only about ethical manners and the skill to use traditional tableware. In order to be able to truly appreciate the splendid taste of this dish, sushi should be eaten, as they say, in accordance with all the rules of art. Authentic Japanese sushi is convenient to be eaten by using hands. This is why the portions are bite-sized and it is also not customary. An ideal sushi piece fits into the mouth with ease and eating it bite by bite is considered rude. In addition, not all types of sushi can be bitten into without spilling the rice. Holding sushi is another skill to master – you should hold the sushi piece between your thumb and middle finger and slightly support it from the top with your index finger. An exception is made for temaki-sushi and shaped sushi that can also be eaten in two bites.
When it comes to dipping, the top side of a sushi piece (not the rice) should be dipped into sauce and then put on the tongue. If pickled ginger is served with sushi, it should also be dipped in the sauce and then rubbed on the top side of the sushi piece. You shouldn’t overdo it with ginger as otherwise you won’t be able to experience the more delicate flavours.
In modern Japan, women are allowed to eat sushi with chopsticks, as it was also customary many centuries ago. Once only the poorest ate food with their hands and the nobles ate with chopsticks. Noble women ate only with chopsticks and their men only with hands. This, first quite peculiar custom, has an interesting historical background. When visiting a geisha in her tea house, a nobleman ate with his hands to stay polite. The reason for this was that he couldn’t have touched the geisha’s kimono with dirty hands as a ruined outfit would have cost the man a fortune! At the same time, the samurai were required to eat with chopsticks, so that they could reach for their sword at any time. Old folk tales say that women ate with chopsticks for exactly the same reason – so that they could grab a dagger when necessary and protect themselves.
Today, this is not a common approach anymore but traditions are traditions. Modern etiquette allows the use of chopsticks for lifting sushi closer on the plate or picking up fallen off rice. If your sushi has broken apart for some reason you won’t get in trouble for finishing it with chopsticks.