8 Ways that Americans get sushi completely wrong
We love sushi here in the West but there's a little something we should understand. Sushi is kind of like Japanese sushi's eccentric cousin. It's fine and delicious as its own thing - but there's also no denying that it's quite far removed from the Japanese cultural institution upon which it's based.
To be fair, that's only to be expected. Every cuisine is changed and influenced by the local area in which it's produced. See also: The difference between Italian food in Italy vs. Italian-American food. Both are delicious, but they're definitely not the same thing.
Keeping that in mind, there are legitimate stylistic differences - and then there are ways that we unequivocally get sushi appreciation wrong.
1. Don't drown your sushi in soy sauce
This is not a good idea, because the saltiness will obliterate the flavor of the sushi. You then have the rice fall apart because it so readily absorbs all that liquid umami goodness. If this regularly happens to you, you're doing it wrong.
When dipping nigiri sushi - those pieces that are just a beautiful piece of raw fish sat atop a small cylinder of sushi rice - you should only dip the fish, not the rice. That way, you get the seasoning effect you want - and you also don't accidentally disintegrate the rice.
2. Stop mixing wasabi with it too
Picture this: You like the spicy kick of wasabi, and you like soy sauce - so you mix them together into a slightly spicy paste, and then dip your sushi. Maybe you do this so much that you don't even notice it anymore. On some level, you've probably noticed that mixing wasabi with soy sauce dulls the sharp heat of the wasabi. Maybe that's the effect you were going for, but see the next item on this list for more info on appropriate wasabi usage.
3. Don’t add extra wasabi to your sushi at a nice place
One of the biggest differences between Japanese sushi and American sushi is that most Japanese sushi is made of extremely fresh fish. American sushi has gotten better, depending on where you live - but it's still not at such a high level. That matters, because the fresher the fish, the less you have to add make it taste good.
Also, the Japanese aesthetic places the highest value on the natural, delicate flavors of the fish as it pairs with the sushi rice. That means accounting for the correct balance of time, temperature, and seasoning with vinegar, sugar, and salt. When going to a good sushi place, it's probable that whoever made your order has put the perfect amount of wasabi between the fish and the rice. Too much wasabi blows out your taste buds, so all you taste is the heat.
4. You should use your hands, appropriately!
Not only is eating nigiri with your hands more traditional, it also allows you to better appreciate that careful balance your sushi chef has attained for you. Good sushi is about the interplay of textures on your tongue, working in tadem with the flavors. Don't just think of it as a meal - think of it as an intimate conversation held through the medium of food, between your sushi chef and you.
5. Savour sushi one at a time
In America, we like to order everything we're enjoying for a single course at once - and that goes double if we're eating with a big group of people. For a variety of reasons, sushi is always at its best directly after the sushi chef has made it - and it deteriorates significantly in quality the longer it sits out. That's why it's always best to eat it right after your chef has made it and not wait around. Order the sushi one piece at a time and immerse yourself in the experience.
Also, if you're eating hand rolls - which are traditionally served in a cone of nori - eating them as soon as they're served is essential. The nori is surrounding rice and fillings, and will get soggier the longer it sits - so it needs to be eaten right away.
6. Eat pickled ginger as a palate cleanser
Gari - pickled ginger - is a great import, but it doesn't belong on top of sushi. Instead, it's meant as a palate cleanser when switching between different types. Spread out the ginger appreciation and your sushi experience will evolve tenfold.
7. Sashimi is just as credible as typical sushi
If you’re avoiding rice because you’re cutting down on carbs, order sashimi - not sushi. Do yourself and your sushi chef a favor and order sashimi instead - that's beautifully sliced raw fish without the rice. No wasted food, no awkward feelings - and no unwanted carbs.
8. Don’t order things that aren’t sushi when you sit at the sushi bar
It's true that many places that serve sushi also serve other types of Japanese food. There's also no denying that chicken karaage goes great with beer - but you should try that magical combo at a table or an izakaya, not at a sushi bar seated in front of the chef.
If you enjoy sushi a different way, no one's coming to get you - food has to be tasty first and foremost, so if you have a thing, do that thing. Just keep these in mind before you start telling people your way is the only way to do things. You will quickly very be silenced.