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Sushi for beginners (and a few fun facts for the pros)

Japan‘s most popular contribution to world cuisine – sushi – is prepared with only a handful of ingredients, but the combination of flavors, textures and tastes are almost limitless. There’s a sushi piece for everyone, and with our beginners’guide to sushi (with a few fun facts for the pros thrown in for good measure), everyone can master the fine art of eating sushi in absolutely no time.

(After reading through our guide and testing our tips out in your favorite sushi joint, we warmly recommend a trip to Tokyo where those newly honed skills can be put to good use each and every delicious day.)

Rice rice baby

It’s all about the rice: Sushi doesn’t actually mean “raw fish (beautifully arranged on rice)”: Sushi refers to the vinegared rice used in the making of those adorable and delicious little rolls.

Talk the sushi talk

Nori is the roasted seaweed that’s wrapped around Maki sushi (rolls). Uramaki are inside-out rolls, Temaki are hand rolls that look like ice cream cones. Nigiri is the sushi with the fish slices on top and Sashimi are the sliced pieces of raw fish – with the rice served on the side.

Finger food

Sushi is traditionally eaten by hand. Feel free to use chopsticks, but if you go to a restaurant where there is a special towel for your hands, you are expected to eat the sushi with your hands.

One (big) bite at a time

Never ever cut a piece of sushi in half. Always eat it in one bite (it’ll taste the best that way!).

The truth about wasabi

The actual wasabi plant – Japanese horseradish – is hard to cultivate and therefore super expensive. In order to keep up with the worldwide demand, the wasabi we usually eat is not quite the real deal: It’s made from horseradish, mustard and green food coloring.

Wasabi no-go

Do not put wasabi into the soy sauce to make wasabi gravy. Instead, put small pieces straight on the sushi right before eating. If you suffer from wasabi burn, just start breathing through your nose.

How to soy sauce

It is rude to leave too much soy sauce in the saucer, so start with a little of it and refill as necessary. Don’t drown your sushi but quickly dip it into the soy sauce instead. When eating Nigiri sushi, dip “fish first” – not “rice first” – to give the fish more flavor and avoid making a rice mess.

The order of fish

To maximize the sushi experience, eat the fish in a specific order: Go from the white fish to the red fish, go from the lighter fish to the fatty fish. Save the strongest flavored fish for last and finish with a sweet egg sushi.

The (not so) fresh fish

If you are scared of eating sushi because of the fresh fish, there’s good news: In Europe and the US, it’s not allowed to serve fish that jumps from the ocean straight onto a bed of rice and seaweed, so even the freshest fish has been frozen for a certain amount of time to kill any parasites. In Japan, the chefs are trained to see if something fishy is going on.

Palate cleanser

That lump of pickled ginger on your sushi plate? It’s not just there for decoration, the ginger it actually helps you refresh your palate and aids digestion, which elegantly brings us to the next point.

The Miso myth

Even though Miso soup is often listed as an appetizer, it actually aids digestions and is traditionally ordered and eaten after the main course.

Image by Rita.Yang, Flickr / Creative Commons

What next? Learn Japanese in JapanLearn more

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