How to Eat Sushi

Dave Lowry has a book coming out soon on how to eat sushi, "The Connoisseur’s Guide to Sushi". Here he explains about using soy sauce and wasabi with sushi. Note: Sashimi is little pieces of raw meat. Sushi, on the other hand, is little things (sometimes raw, sometimes cooked) on top of rice.
If, by “only recently learning about stirring the wasabi into the soy sauce for dipping,” you mean you have recently learned to do it, you really ought to make every effort to unlearn it. It is an egregious habit, utterly in contrast to the real enjoyment of sushi.

Sushi is, despite common misconceptions, about the rice. The mixture of rice, rice vinegar, and sugar, was the impetus for the evolution of sushi and it is still the standard by which it is best evaluated. The fish or other ingredients are the icing on the cake. The manipulation of these basic materials, rice, vinegar, and sugar, form most of the real art of sushi. The relative measures, for instance, change between summer and winter, age of the rice, type of sushi, etc. Too involved to go into it here; I spend several pages on this in the book. Suffice to say that whipping up a slurry of wasabi and shoyu and baptizing your sushi in this will effectively kill any chance to taste or appreciate the delicately and deliberately flavoured rice. A tiny bit of wasabi is used on some kinds of sushi, but this is usually to accentuate the taste of the fish in one way or another.

So how did this get started? Because mixing shoyu and wasabi and dunking slices of sashimi in it is a standard practise. Sashimi, as you probably know, is always served with plain rice, not sushi rice or sushi-meshi, as it’s called. Big difference. It is a common practise among sushi tsu (connoisseurs) to order a plate of sashimi at a sushi-ya as a first course, to get an idea of the place’s quality. With that course, wasabi-joyu is typically used. I think people saw this and assumed it applied as well to sushi.

Yes, I know. There will be members writing who live in Japan and who will insist they see Japanese using wasabi-joyu with sushi every day. And of course, they are correct. Unfortunately, it’s become common in Japan as well. There will also be those who opine that not being Japanese I am not in a position to comment on the “correctness” of sushi dining etiquette and those who, conversely, will note that I am trying to “be Japanese.” They are certainly entitled to their opinions. But I have spoken with a hell of a lot of sushi itamae and sushi connoisseurs in Japan in doing research for the book and the overwhelming consensus is as I have told you and for the reasons I have explained.


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