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Sushi Protocol

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If I have a free afternoon lunch, I tend to treat myself to a nice indulgent meal of sushi, real pig out style. Today I ordered a whole plate of different kinds of sushi. And OF COURSE it came with a piece of shrimp sushi. Sigh. It’s not that I don’t like shrimp, it’s that I never know if it’s rude not to eat the tail! WHAT IS THE PROTOCOL?! There’s nothing savory about the tail, but it feels weird biting it off, leaving it on the plate so the Japanese dishwasher can look at my dirty plate in contempt, as a stupid American non-tail-eater.

I know at Chinese restaurants they stir-fry shrimp in their shells with salt, and you’re supposed to eat the shell. I know this because I ordered this as a house specialty somewhere and was served a plate of shell-in shrimp. Uh…I ate them whole because I didn’t want the ridicule of ordering something I had no idea how to eat. It was crunchy. Not in a good way. It was like…eating a shell.

Anyway, I wanted to explore the actual rules, and it turns out, after a little surfing, I’ve been pooping all over sushi protocol for years! I always dip the rice into the soy sauce. I thought that was the polite way to do it. No, idiot, NEVER DO THAT! This post I found is most adamant about this, although the analogy with putting ketchup only on the burger and never the bun made me feel like, “Wow, I don’t know how to eat a burger either.” 🙂

Also you’re never supposed to put the wasabi INTO the soysauce, which I do frequently and on and on. One interesting fact is, “Never pass food to another person using chopsticks as this is too close symbolically to the passing of a deceased relative’s bones at a traditional Japanese funeral. Pass a plate instead allowing an individual to take food themselves.” Gah, I think that’s one rule I can remember.

  • Michael

    I clicked the link to hit the post on sushi-eating protocol, but it didn’t work. I think the link is bad. I always mix the wasabi in the soy sauce, so I definitely need tutoring!

  • Dustin

    I went to a proper finishing school that taught me all these proper things and whatnot. I can be a real English gentleman if need be.

    What I’ve learned about food though, out of all my travels and learning. Food goes in the Belly!

  • J.K.

    The link is:

    http://www.sushifaq.com/howtoeatsushi-etiquette.htm

    …unless there’s another site somewhere that happens to have the “deceased relative’s bones” line verbatim.

  • cirby

    I think a lot of the Sushi Protocols are more on the “whim of iron” level, rather than a rigorous presentation of manners.

    I’ve met a number of folks who say one thing or another about how do eat sushi, and most of them just relate whatever silly crap they heard from some unnamed friend the first time they ever ate any.

    It’s not just a sushi thing, either. I’ve heard the damndest things from people when it comes to food and drink. “Never finish everything on your plate/always finish everything on your plate” comes to mind.

    You also have the formal/informal categories. A formal dinner has a million little rules (which fork to use, what direction the server hands the plates in from, what to say about the wine) that nobody in their right mind uses when they eat at the corner cafe…

  • J.K.

    Traditionally, one doesn’t finish every last bite on one’s plate. Leaving a few bites indicated that the host had satiated the appetite of the guest.

    And then, there was the Depression.

    As opulence was replaced by frugality as a social virtue, the rules for clearing one’s plate followed.

  • Damien / manic.half

    i have never eaten sushi in my life.

    no particular reason, i just kind of decided it was un-appealing to me and never went near it.

    but why would people eat/not eat the tail? what’s the deal with it?

    obviously my opinion is not entirely valid, but i believe if your paying your moneys for your sushis – you alone decide if you eateth the tail or not! PROTOCOL BE DAMNED!

  • I thought this to be a very interesting and insightful tip, particularly if one likes to sit at the bar:

    It’s nice to offer a beer or sake to the itamae (but of course not required). He may remember you and treat you well upon subsequent visits.

    While I have no doubt that a healthy tip would also generate such a response, it seems that this gesture would be taken more to heart, particularly if one likes to order the “Chef’s Choice”.

  • Ben

    Felicia, this post was very funny. This isn’t a bit? If not, it totally should be.

    I’m not one to live by all of life’s little rules however one of Ben’s little rules is, “don’t eat the shell.” Shrimp, egg, peanut, crab, lobster (I guess all seafood that has a shell) are all shells that are off my menu. I draw the line at the thin candy shell…:)

    I remember being told as a kid not to eat peanut shells because they rip holes in the delicate lining of your intestines.

    ps–that gag reel was great fun!

  • Thirdfret

    Here’s a video of how to eat sushi.
    I’ve never had it, but this video makes it looks very appetizing.

    http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-eat-sushi

  • kerri

    re wasabi-into-the-soy, I too was sushi-protocol squeamish, and found a similar page. I stopped putting wasabi into the soy, instead keeping them seperate, but still having a little bit on each piece, and I know it sounds Mariah Carey Crazy, but it was much tastier!

  • Kobun

    Try this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0b75cl4-qRE

    It’s a parody of the how to eat sushi videos.

  • Jay

    You beat me to it, Kobun.

    I am Nisei (Japanese-American in my case). While I found that video hilarious, my mother did not.

  • LOL Kobun, that is hilarious.

    And yet, no one here posted whether they ate the shrimp tail or not! THIS IS SERIOUS!

    And I dunno about serving a guy with a huge knife, slicing stuff all night, some alcohol. Seems counterintuitive for everyone eating after me 😀

  • OMG Thirdfret! That video showed the lady with a piece of shrimp sushi BUT SHE NEVER ATE IT! SHE SWITCHED TO THE SALMON! GAAAAAAAAAAAA

  • Jay

    I just got finished talking to my mother. According to her the tail is kept on for color and flavor. Apparently most of the “shrimp-ness” is in the tail.

    The important part is that, according to her, it depends on the dish.

    Even if you can’t eat the tail or shell in some cases (fried Amaebi heads, for example) no one will judge you for it.

    There are many more “important” cultural faux pas that Japanese will judge you for: placement and use of shoes inside the house, for example. House slippers are not bathroom slippers!

  • Courtney

    Re: the Chinese shrimp shell eating thing

    I asked my brother and mom, and they both told me the same thing. According to Cantonese culture, you don’t eat the shell. I’m not sure if this is common, or if we’re just a bunch of yellow-trash hicks… luckily, I’m allergic, so I don’t have to bother with it

  • Kobun

    You’re welcome,

    This site says for sweet shrimp (ama ebi) not to eat the tails:

    http://ease.com/~randyj/rjsushi.htm

    I can say that deep-fried shrimp head is surprisingly tasty.

    In case you’re curious, the Rahmens are the duo that did the parody. I latest work I saw of theirs was the ‘I’m a Mac, I’m a PC’ commercials:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgVpcxfBwjI

  • Razzek

    In all the years I’ve eaten sushi, I’ve never eaten a tail. That’s how I roll. Never had complaints about it.

    I know some chefs would consider putting something inedible on a plate to be improper, but not sure how sushi chefs roll
    😉

  • Cicatrixtwigs

    I dont eat Sushi myself, but i did commit a huge faux pas this week at lunch with a friend.

    She asked me to put some Soy sauce on her tuna roll… and the bottle had an air bubble in, so i was squeezing it trying to get it out when suddenly it burst… and we had a soy drenched tuna roll.

    I’m so smoothe.

  • Cicatrixtwigs

    Oh, and my best friend lived 3 months in Japan and now eats the tails. She grosses the rest of us out.

  • check out this video about Sushi eating.. it’s quite funny..

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=pIb6ZSqal64

  • Courtney: Great. I crunched that stuff for NOTHING?!?!

    I think my body is still trying to pass that stuff, lol.

  • Virginia

    Ok so here’s a real nifty way to look at things… Is sushi a food? Does food go into your mouth? If yes to both answers, then you’re doing nothing wrong. I do the wasabi/soysauce mix thing too because one time I uh… didn’t really know what the fuck wasabi was and thought it was like guacamole or something. I had a glob about the size of a quarter, if a quarter was a spherical object. If those dudes making the sushi gave a crap, they would have stopped me from doing that! Also, that tail thing is gross. I can’t imagine that uh… “passing” very well, ya know?

    Sushi-elitists should just be damn thankful you didn’t eat it bobbing-for-apples style directly from the plate ^_^ (although if you did they could catch it on vid and post it to youtube, thus ending the insanity over Ellen and bringing you further into the spotlight of celebrity)

  • I love sushi, but I have a severe shellfish allergy (somewhat ironic, I suppose), which means that any time I go for sushi, I’m too busy worrying for my safety to worry about protocol. “Am I doing this correctly” turns into “Will that bite of sushi kill me? No? What about that one?”

    I’ve decided that my own personal protocol should suffice: I honor my host by not dying in his or her establishment. It’s worked out pretty well so far.

  • i love sushi… especially shrimp (though i think i have a little shrimp allergy that i suddenly developed… i don’t know why). i never eat the tail. i’m Asian (Filipino) and in every dish that my mom has prepared or i’ve ever had at a party, i’ve never eaten the tail, regardless of how it’s prepared. it’s like part of the shell. why would anyone eat the shell, unless it’s a soft-shelled crab?

  • somasaint

    this entry makes me miss cali SOOOOO much

  • somasaint

    i had to convince my mom that the shell was NOT
    so much good for you as it was to serve as a
    carrier for fat absorbtion, whereby the chitin
    takes the fat and passes through the body..

    so if your [asian] mother tells you that the shell
    is good for you.. well.. it is, just not as a nutrient..

  • i don’t think i’ve ever had a conversation with my mom about eating the shrimp tail… i don’t think she eats the tail either. i’ve seen other people eat the tail, and it makes me squeamish. hehe.

  • HAHAHA daysies, you made the conversation sound SO WRONG.
    Or was that just me? :O

  • Courtney

    Not just you 🙂

  • Jen

    Felicia, I never eat the shrimp tail on either sushi or tempura…but I’m only sansei, so what do I know. There are a ton of little rules, like the no-no of passing food from chopstick to chopstick like you noted. Here’s another one: don’t stick your chopsticks upright in the food, especially in rice. It’s another funeral thing.

  • Gnome

    Hrm, I often dip wasabi into the soy sauce, and a chopsticks full of race into the soy sauce as well! Or at least I put wasabi on top of the roll, and dip the bottom of the roll into the soy sauce.

    If they never touch is it ok? Help me I don’t know what to do now!

  • Discussion about whether or not to add wasabi to your soy sauce is actually missing the point.

    Let me make a quick parallel: at many high-end restaurants of Western cuisine, there is no salt on the table, because proper seasoning is part of the chef’s art, and you should allow him or her to practice it.

    The same applies for good sushi – part of the chef’s rigorous training is the proper application of wasabi, which is a very potent ingredient. Every piece of sushi you get should already have some: for nigiri it’s a small dab between the fish and the rice, and for maki it’s added to the contents before they’re rolled up.

    If you eat sushi in Japan, you will normally be given no wasabi whatsoever. I was offered it, once, but only once the chef noticed I was a Westerner. It was never given by default.

    I highly recommend trying to eat sushi without adding wasabi. You’ll probably find you like it better.

  • I should also make a positive recommendation also. The next time you’re at your favorite sushi place, sit at the bar and offer to buy the chef a beer.

    This is not actually weird; it’s pretty standard sushi etiquette. If the chef isn’t interested, they’ll thank you and politely decline, but you’ll be surprised at how often it’s gratefully accepted. If I’m feeling shy, or if I’m trying to break the ice at a place I’ve never been before, I’ll buy a large bottle of beer (typically Sapporo or Asahi), pour some into my glass, and then ask the chef if they have a glass you can refill.

    A sushi chef shouldn’t just be someone who works invisible in the kitchen; any sushi chef worthy of the name will be happy to help you have an excellent meal. You can ask for recommendations*, or even ask these sorts of etiquette questions. Quite often buying the chef a beer will get you something free at some point of the night, something you might not otherwise have ordered but will be surprised by.

    Try it! I can all but guarantee you will look at sushi eating in an entirely different manner.

    *(One thing I try to avoid is asking “what’s good today?” It sort of implies that there are things that aren’t good. I prefer to ask “is there anything you’d especially recommend today?”)

  • somasaint

    P.Kaze;

    so true.. altho i like a bit of wasabe on evthing..

    sorry..

    i almost always sit at the bar.. and i almost always
    get “hey try this” samples, but i dont drink beer
    so that bit of camaraderie with my chef is a no go..

    lastly, i like to eat in front of the chef to
    show how much i enjoy food and particularly his
    food in general.. i always engulf, never bite and i
    smack my lips, and try to be generally in a state
    of ecstacy when i eat.. because, i am..

    outside of japan, chicago seems to have great
    sushi bars.. and there is a place in nashville
    where the chef rejects tips.. ! [

  • somasaint

    *heart heart heart

  • Felicia – i just reread my comment! shame on you! LOL

  • actually, shame on me! ROFL!

  • somasaint

    daysies:

    everything my mom has ever told me to eat
    that was supposedly good for me, i have questioned..

    my family eats duck from time to time..

    i have never eaten duck.. and will never eat duck..

    but as my mom says, its supposedly good for me..

    http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts-C00001-01c20F8.html

  • somasaint

    at the risk of being/sounding pretentious;

    izumi in chicago.. http://www.izumisushi.com/

    i had the tiger roll..

    *drool

  • Courtney

    Duck is really hit or miss at most places. Odds are, most cheap places use really fatty pieces.

    Good Peking Duck though is absolutely amazing. Crispy skin, some lean duck meat, a few greens, wrap it in a mushu pancake or a steamed bun with some tangy sauce.

    This place near my house has really amazing duck. They scrape away the fat, so all you get is meat and crispy skin.
    http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/uBuIZ8Pdk9HegYSAU0EsKA?select=hyRClCqfrUpVzfbluCF5zA

    If it didn’t cost $30 for a whole duck, I’d go more often.

  • somasaint

    its the skin that gets me.. same for when we
    do a huge roasted pork [usually from atlanta?]

    my fam has had duck outside of our house..

    my mom is elitest like that..

    i cant even say it w/o getting little shivers..

    skin.. [brrr]

    it makes me insta-puke

  • somasaint

    edit: HASNT had duck outside of our home..

  • somasaint

    edit x2: last time i had pork was before 2000

  • Crouton

    One can learn a thing or two on the internet every single day. I’ve always eaten sushi with the rice dipped into the soy sauce, but now I know better.

    Thanks for sharing the link to how to eat sushi in a proper manner. Now to find a real sushi restaurant in my area… Sounds like a new quest!

  • “Michael Says:
    It’s nice to offer a beer or sake to the itamae (but of course not required). He may remember you and treat you well upon subsequent visits.”
    We have made best buddies with our local sushi chefs doing this, at our sushi spot, once it’s been offered once, it is assumed that your bottle is always open… Our chefs often treat us to rolls when we bring in food we have cooked for them to try… It’s like on big fat foodie family… Granted, our sushi chefs are Chinese, lol… I don’t think this would happen in a proper Japanese establishment…

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  • Check this comedy sketch on what NOT to do when eating sushi, especially on a date!
    http://youtu.be/C0RGskobEFQ

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