The Ultimate Guide to Eating Sushi Like a Pro

  • Wondering what the etiquette is for eating sushi? Are you trying to recognise your temaki from your nigiri? Or just not embarrass yourself at the sushi bar. Here's a complete guide to eating sushi like a pro.

Are you wondering if you eat sushi the right way? Perhaps you’re new to the world of sushi or you’re someone who loves sushi but has difficulty ordering or eating without feeling self-conscious in a restaurant.

mage result for sushi

Sushi is much more than simply a Japanese delicacy that has been adapted in various forms in the West. It’s an experience in itself and when you know how to order and eat it correctly, you will get so much more out of each visit to sushi restaurants.

In this ultimate guide to eating sushi, we will discuss the different choices you can make when ordering sushi, understanding the different items on your plate, learn the correct method of eating sushi, and also some sushi etiquettes. So, let’s get started.

How To Order Sushi At Restaurant

As you walk into a sushi restaurant, the staff will welcome you by saying ‘irasshaimase’. Greet the staff with a warm smile and if possible reply back saying ‘Ojama shimasu’. Now, just take your seat at the sushi bar or at one of the tables. If you are a beginner, we would recommend that you avoid the bar to feel less conscious of fellow eaters. Take the table instead so that you can eat at your own pace.

Look at the menu that will typically include maki or sushi rolls, nigiri sushi, temaki sushi, and sashimi. You will find the ingredients listed below the items in most menus. If there are Japanese names or you don’t understand something, feel free to ask the server. You may also ask the chef or server for recommendations and they will be happy to suggest dishes to you.

If you are a beginner, make sure you let the chef or server know so that they can help you with the lightest variety of raw fish and then take you to the fatty versions. Those who don’t like the idea of eating raw seafood, still have a plethora of cooked and veggie options to choose from. Some examples are shrimp tempura roll, California roll, avocado roll, cucumber maki, and so on.

If you have any dietary reservations such as a gluten-free or you’re vegan then let the server know that too. Some restaurants use tamari sauce instead of soy sauce for people who are allergic to gluten or have gluten-free soy available. You may ask any questions but remember to never ask ‘Is the fish fresh?’ as this is considered rude. All reputed sushi places use only sushi-grade fish of highest quality, so you can put your worries to rest. 

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Rice Balls – Onigiri

Knowing What’s In Your Plate

If you have ordered a maki or sushi roll, expect to find bite-sized pieces (6-8) served on the plate. At the side, you’ll find condiments like soy sauce, wasabi paste, and pickled ginger. A sushi roll typically includes nori or seaweed on the outer side, a layer of vinegared sushi rice beneath it and fillings may include raw fish, seafood, veggies, or fruits.


Nigiri sushi – Comprises a bed of seasoned sushi rice topped with a carefully cut piece of raw fish, sometimes held together by a nori strip. The chef uses the warmth of his hands to mold them together in a beautiful form. He already applies some soy sauce and wasabi between the fish and rice to balance the flavours. Nigiri is meant to be eaten in one go or in a maximum of two bites without destroying its form.

Temaki sushi – nori on the outside with a layer of rice and fillings inside, however, it’s shaped like a cone instead of a cylinder. There are several other forms of sushi such as the inside-out rolls wherein the nori is hidden between the rice layer and fillings. The inside-out roll or uramaki is mostly garnished with sesame seeds, masago (fish eggs), and tobiko (fish eggs). 

Some of the common varieties of fish used in sushi are tuna, salmon, yellowtail, mackerel, seabass, snapper, halibut, and so on. You can also find seafood like prawns, shrimps, octopus, scallops, squid, clams, sea urchins, and eel. Octopus and sea urchin are an acquired taste so we would suggest you avoid them if you are a beginner.

The soy sauce is served in a small bowl, make sure to dip the sushi slightly in it before putting into your mouth. Add a little green wasabi to the pieces if you wish to increase the heat (please be warned that a little bit of wasabi can be too much). The pickled ginger is to help you cleanse the palate before trying a new variety of fish so that you can identify the flavours.

Read More: A Guide to Japanese Snacks (And Where to Buy Them)

What’s the Correct Way Of Eating Sushi?

You will find a pair of chopsticks on the table or served to you with the sushi plate. If you don’t know how to use chopsticks, simply don’t bother. There’s nothing to feel ashamed or self-conscious about as sushi is best eaten by hand!  Pick the sushi with your hands, dip the fish part (in case of nigiri) slightly in the soy sauce and put it in your mouth.

When you are done eating, take a small bit of pickled ginger and chew it well to cleanse your palate before tasting the next item. Don’t add wasabi before tasting a piece. The chef has already balanced the flavours and ideally, you should not need any extra wasabi or even soy sauce. Sushi tastes best when you trust the master chef and go with his choice.

While it’s okay to not use chopsticks, it’s certainly not right to play with it. Please remember that there are a few sushi etiquette rules you need to follow when you are in a sushi restaurant or bar. For example:

  • Never play with the chopsticks as it’s considered a rude gesture
  • Avoid mixing soy sauce and wasabi to create an ugly green dip
  • Don’t slather your sushi with too much soya sauce and don’t take pics without the chef’s permission

After you are done eating, wash your hands in the bowl of warm water kept on the table, dry hands with the towel, and thank the chef for a great experience.  A great sushi dinner is best concluded with a glass of Japanese lager, sake, or wine. Buy your chef a glass of beer as a token of your appreciation and he will remember you and your preferences when you visit next.

About the Author: James is a sushi enthusiast and the owner of Easy Homemade Sushi. He has been to Japan several times and loves Japanese food and culture. He is also a passionate writer and likes to share his experiences and knowledge through his blog.

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