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Sushi etiquette

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Is it terribly gauche to mix one's wasabe paste into the soy? If so what is the correct way to do it?

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Is it terribly gauche to mix one's wasabe paste into the soy? 

Soaking your sushi in a mixture of soy and wasabi is kind of like covering a steak with ketchup: you're going to taste the condiments and not the actual food. Good sushi usually doesn't need any condiments -- each piece is a complete package, and already contains a little wasabi (which is usually not real wasabi, but that's another story).

If so what is the correct way to do it?

For those who like extra wasabi, direct application of a little smear to the sushi is recommended (you can also just ask to have your sushi made with extra wasabi). For soy sauce, inverting the sushi and dipping the fish is best. You don't really want to be dipping the rice part in the soy sauce, as it will quickly absorb enough to mask the taste of the fish.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I was taught by a Japanese lady to make a mix of soy, wasabi and sake as a dip. I guess that is only for gajin. Sure is good though.

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(which is usually not real wasabi, but that's another story).

We like stories, tell us please...


"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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i alsways thought that the wasabi should be eaten separately to the soy and that the ginger should be used as a "paltae cleanser" between dishes...


"Experience is something you gain just after you needed it" ....A Wise man

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I was taught by a Japanese lady to make a mix of soy, wasabi and sake as a dip.  I guess that is only for gajin.  Sure is good though.

Thats the way I was taught too, and the way it says to use it in a few books I have.


Wawa Sizzli FTW!

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Here are two passages from Trevor Corson's book, "The Zen of Fish." I picked them simply because it's the first book I grabbed as a reference. Similar information is available in many other sources. On the mixing point:

Jay was American, but his ancestors were Japanese. As he'd learned more about sushi, he'd become worried about the state of sushi in the United States. He would sit at a sushi bar and see people stirring globs of green wasabi paste into their soy sauce to make a thick gray goo. They'd slather their fish with the goo, eat it, and exclaim, "Oh, that's such good fish!" Jay himself used to do the same thing.

But now Jay knew that this behavior was distressing to the chef. Wasabi is a type of horseradish, and in the quantities required to make that thick gray goo, the spiciness of wasabi overwhelms the human capacity for taste and smell. The chef might have risen at 4:30 that morning to go to the fish market and haggle over the best fish, only to see his customers slather it with wasabi so they couldn't even taste it.

On the real wasabi point:

Toshi's office assistant dumped a 2-pound bag of bright green powder labeled "wasabi" into a mixing bowl. Like most wasabi served in restaurants, there wasn't a shred of wasabi in it. Real wasabi is a rare plant that is notoriously difficult to grow and tastes quite different. This was a mix of horseradish and mustard powder.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I don't know what real etiquette is, but I don't add any condiments to my sushi. I like to taste the fish, vinegared rice, and whatever the chef himself puts into the sushi. Not to mention at most sushi places the wasabi isn't real...

Then again, I don't add any condiments to my food at any restaurants, unless it's provided specifically for that dish...

Oh yeah, I also eat sushi with my fingers... It's much easier, no chance of making a huge mess as I often see at sushi restaurants (and have done before :shock: ).


Edited by Mikeb19 (log)

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No question that over-seasoning anything is gross, whether it be ketchup, wasabi or plain old salt.

My OP was prompted by a piece in which Bourdain said that it was swinish to mix wasabi with the soy. News to me. I typically mix just a bit into the soy and apply it lightly to certain sushi and rolls.

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There must be some confusion between eating sashimi (which is wasabi-less) and eating sushi (which usually has some wasabi between the topping and the vinegared rice).

When eating a piece of sushi, we usually put some soy sauce in a small plate and dip the piece (often the topping) in soy sauce.

When eating a slice of sashimi, there are two possibilities:

1. Put some soy sauce and some wasabi in a small plate and mix them together, and dip the slice in the mixture.

2. Put some soy sauce in a small plate, put a bit of wasabi on top on the slice, dip the slice in the sauce.

I'm sure that most Japanese use method 1.

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There must be some confusion between eating sashimi (which is wasabi-less) and eating sushi (which usually has some wasabi between the topping and the vinegared rice).

When eating a piece of sushi, we usually put some soy sauce in a small plate and dip the piece (often the topping) in soy sauce.

When eating a slice of sashimi, there are two possibilities:

1.  Put some soy sauce and some wasabi in a small plate and mix them together, and dip the slice in the mixture.

2.  Put some soy sauce in a small plate, put a bit of wasabi on top on the slice, dip the slice in the sauce.

I'm sure that most Japanese use method 1.

Actually, I don't think we're confused but we certainly might be wrong. It's become accepted wisdom in the U.S. that mixing soy and wasabi is a gauche custom of Americans who don't know better. But here we have evidence from Japan that it's common practice there. Interesting.


Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I learned to mix the two in Japan, so I was surprised to see that it is frowned upon.

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even in conveyor belt sushi restaurants here I have seen suggestions of how to eat. In sushi restaurants which are one or two ranks above conveyor belt sushi they will often tell you how to eat a piece of sushi (meaning maki-zushi/nigiri-zushi in this case) with lemon, salt, wasabi-jyouyu, soy sauce, ponzu, "tare" for things like unagi, and other sauces including ginger, sudachi, etc. In these cases the sushi usually comes already seasoned or with a small dish of the accompanying sauce. With nigiri there are two schools of thought: make wasabi soy sauce by mixing the two in your dish or add a small dab of wasabi to each piece before dipping it in soy sauce. I have rarely seen real wasabi used under the "neta", or topping, on nigiri sushi even in the highest class sushi restaurants. And I have been served real wasabi only a few times.

Hiroyuki noted in another thread the usual progression of the meal is white fish, non-white fish, tamago yaki. I usually stick to that pattern when I order on my own. When I order omakase the chef sometimes deviates from this pattern.

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It's become accepted wisdom in the U.S. that mixing soy and wasabi is a gauche custom of Americans who don't know better. But here we have evidence from Japan that it's common practice there.

Common practice isn't the issue, though. Correct practice is. It's not Americans that decided for other Americans that mixing soy and wasabi was bad practice. It's what Japanese sushi chefs tell us. It's possible to cite plenty of sources from Japan and the US recommending that diners mix wasabi into soy sauce to make a dip. But is that correct? Despite common practice, the sushi chefs I've asked about this has been unequivocal on the point: don't mix wasabi and soy for sushi (though it's arguably acceptable for sashimi).

For example, in Morimoto's new book, "Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking" (and this is one of many examples), he states:

please, don't mix wasabi into your soy sauce. I've noticed that many American diners practice and identical ritual when their sushi arrives. I've watched them nab a wad of wasabi with their chopsticks and plunge it into their dish of soy sauce. Ideally, the sweet bite of the wasabi tucked under the fish and the rich, salty slick of soy on top should meet each other in the mouth, not before. This creates an exciting friction that's lost when they are combined into a murky sauce. And it's up to the skilled sushi chef to add the appropriate amount of wasabi for the strength of the fish.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Eat your food the way that is most enjoyable to you, dear. If being seen as a "Gaijin" is an issue that will mar your experience, then read as much as you can, and decide for yourself- which rule will make you seem more rarified a personage than the rest of the "Gaijin". If you simply ENJOY dipping your food into a soy/wasabi mix, then do THAT. If someone gives you a hard time, tell them that "HRH, La Reina, Rebecca de la Cuidad Diminuto de Inglaterra" authorized your behavior. Just don't mention that I'm the queen of irreverence, and you should be fine.


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There must be some confusion between eating sashimi (which is wasabi-less) and eating sushi (which usually has some wasabi between the topping and the vinegared rice).

When eating a piece of sushi, we usually put some soy sauce in a small plate and dip the piece (often the topping) in soy sauce.

When eating a slice of sashimi, there are two possibilities:

1.  Put some soy sauce and some wasabi in a small plate and mix them together, and dip the slice in the mixture.

2.  Put some soy sauce in a small plate, put a bit of wasabi on top on the slice, dip the slice in the sauce.

I'm sure that most Japanese use method 1.

I am glad you said this. Number 1 is exactly what I do.

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I'm getting more confused! I still don't understand the sushi (not sashimi) eating practice in the United States. Am I right in understanding that when eating sushi, many of you mix wasabi and soy sauce together in a small plate and dip a piece of sushi in the mixture and that (from Fat Guy's description upthread) wasabi is readily available somewhere (on the plate on the sushi is placed, at the counter, or on the table)?

Sushi

gallery_16375_5341_100794.jpg

gallery_16375_5341_79775.jpg

No wasabi on the plates.

Sashimi

gallery_16375_5341_1608.jpg

gallery_16375_5341_61957.jpg

Wasabi provided on the plates.

To view all other photos, go to this thread in the Japan Forum.

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I'm getting more confused!  I still don't understand the sushi (not sashimi) eating practice in the United States.  Am I right in understanding that when eating sushi, many of you mix wasabi and soy sauce together in a small plate and dip a piece of sushi in the mixture and that (from Fat Guy's description upthread) wasabi is readily available somewhere (on the plate on the sushi is placed, at the counter, or on the table)?

Yes. Sushi is often served in the USA either with a mound of wasabi on the plate, or at cheaper kaiten-zushi places (rotating conveyor belt sushi bars), wasabi is readily available in containers at the counter. Almost all the wasabi is made from the powdered stuff -- not freshly ground wasabi root.


SuzySushi

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I'm getting more confused!  I still don't understand the sushi (not sashimi) eating practice in the United States.  Am I right in understanding that when eating sushi, many of you mix wasabi and soy sauce together in a small plate and dip a piece of sushi in the mixture and that (from Fat Guy's description upthread) wasabi is readily available somewhere (on the plate on the sushi is placed, at the counter, or on the table)?

Yes. Sushi is often served in the USA either with a mound of wasabi on the plate, or at cheaper kaiten-zushi places (rotating conveyor belt sushi bars), wasabi is readily available in containers at the counter. Almost all the wasabi is made from the powdered stuff -- not freshly ground wasabi root.

THANKS!! That clear up everything for me. :smile:

As for wasabi, the same goes for Japan, too. I've been so used to fake wasabi since birth that when I had the first taste of real wasabi, I wasn't very fascinated by it.

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In 17 years of eating in Japan I can't ever recall a mound of wasabi being served on a platter of sushi. Sashimi is a different matter, sashimi (the sliced fish without the rice) is always served with a mound of wasabi. Whether you want to mix it into your soy sauce or not is personal preference. I prefer to add a dab to each slice as I eat because I like to vary the amount depending on the fish, some of the oiler fishes are even better with grated ginger instead.

Just to show the difference in wasabi vs no wasabi sushi platter in the US and Japan, I. googled images of sushi at google.com and then at Google Japan. Almost all of the sushi platters from American restaurants have a mound of sauce while the platters from Japan do not.


Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Like Kristin has confirmed, this is simply personal preference. Another thing I want to say is that while there are strict dos and don'ts about the handling of chopsticks in Japan, there really are no strict sushi etiquette and manners in the Western sense and that you should be careful when asking questions to native Japanese because not all Japanese are the same. Some are snobs, some want to impress you by saying impressive things, some want to tease you and say stupid things, and others are lenient like me.

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are there any japanese (or other) restaurants in the u.s. that serve real wasabi? i've only heard about it being extremely rare and expensive. does it even resemble the wasabi powder mix served normally, or does it taste completely different?


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Like Kristin has confirmed, this is simply personal preference.  Another thing I want to say is that while there are strict dos and don'ts about the handling of chopsticks in Japan, there really are no strict sushi etiquette and manners in the Western sense and that you should be careful when asking questions to native Japanese because not all Japanese are the same.  Some are snobs, some want to impress you by saying impressive things, some want to tease you and say stupid things, and others are lenient like me.

dare i ask... what are the complete chopstick rules?


Edited by gfweb (log)

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I don't see the wasabi-and-soy thing as a question of etiquette, at least not in the formalistic sense. The sources I've cited above emphasis that dunking sushi in a wasabi-and-soy mixture ruins the sushi. That's the problem, not some notion of propriety. I also think there's a related element of disresepct, though: it's entirely possible that a sushi chef will feel insulted by the practice, because it's like dousing your food in salt and ketchup.

In terms of real wasabi, it's not all or nothing. Needless to say, a lot of real wasabi is grown in Japan (and some is grown elsewhere), so somebody is using it. There are several sushi places in New York, for example, where they have it but don't spontaneously offer it up. They figure that if you ask for it, you know enough to tell the difference. So they might have one piece of real wasabi behind the sushi bar, and if you ask for it they take out a sharkskin grater and use it. Otherwise, you get a paste.

Those prepared pastes and powders, however, can contain anywhere from 0 to 100 percent real wasabi. Your average cheap sushi place uses an entirely fake product, whereas a lot of upmarket places use a paste that has some real wasabi in it. Real wasabi loses much of its complexity when packaged in this way, though.

Does it taste different? Yes, it does. Real wasabi has more flavor and complexity but less outright burn. Which is not to say the fake stuff isn't enjoyable. It's just not in the same league as the real stuff. Real wasabi isn't green, by the way. There might be a greenish tint to parts of it, but overall it's more of a cream color.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Eat your food the way that is most enjoyable to you, dear. If being seen as a "Gaijin" is an issue that will mar your experience, then read as much as you can, and decide for yourself- which rule will make you seem more rarified a personage than the rest of the "Gaijin". If you simply ENJOY dipping your food into a soy/wasabi mix, then do THAT......

Indeed! :cool:

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