If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you know that the stuff you find as part of a Tesco meal deal doesn’t quite make the grade. Making sushi is an art form, with the greatest masters in the game striving for perfection in order to bring out the best of their high-end ingredients. But even if you avoid those clammy rolls like the plague, there’s a pretty high chance you’ve been eating sushi all wrong. And no, Itsu doesn’t count either.
To help us all to appreciate the delicious and delicate flavours better, The Independent have spoken to some top Japanese chefs to outline what the greatest faux pas are when it comes to eating the nation’s cuisine. From miso soup to matcha tea, sashimi to sake, here are the mistakes you’ve been making.
Too much soy sauce
Soy sauce should be used sparingly to complement the taste of raw fish rather than overpower the delicate fresh flavours. According to Mark Edwards, Head Chef at Nobu, the best way to avoid this is to “refrain from letting the rice soak up the sauce, and instead dip the piece of fish.”
Also, treat the communal soy sauce with respect and don’t double dip for obvious reasons.
Putting loads of ginger on your sushi
Pickled ginger is traditionally meant to be used as a palate cleanser between different types of sushi rather than in the same mouthful. Oops.
Disregarding the garnish
Whilst you’ve been piling ginger on your sushi like an idiot, you’ve probably been ignoring the stuff that you’re meant to be eating. Shredded daikon and shiso leaves aren’t just decoration according to Andrew Kojima, Japanese restaurateur and chef, “They taste great and they aid digestion of oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.”
Drinking sake with rice dishes
“Traditionalists believe that you shouldn’t serve sake with rice dishes, as sake is made from rice and it would conflict the flavour,” says Zhao. Save it for the sashimi course.
Eating ramen without slurping
Slurping your noodles when eating ramen is a sign of appreciation and shows respect to the chef, says Shane Zhao, head chef at Isso. Plus it helps cool the noodles so you don’t burn your mouth. And don’t chop your noodles - it’s insulting.
Facing chopsticks the wrong way
According to Shunpei Yamaguchi, manager of Ginza Onodera, placing your chopsticks vertically into a rice bowl when eating is a huge faux pas, as it reminds people of funerals “where a bowl of rice is left with two chopsticks standing vertically as a part of traditional custom.”
Mixing wasabi and soy sauce
This one cut me deep. “Soy sauce has a lot of sodium and also wasabi has too much spice and it blocks a lot of the flavour because sushi is very delicate,” says Nobu Shoreditch. Again, your focus should be on the fresh fish.
Eating cold sushi
“Sushi rice is meant to be warm and soft when it is freshly prepared, not cold and hard,” says Andrew Kojima. The fish is the only part that should be cold, with the warmth of the rice helping you detect the flavour of the fish better. Try not to feel too upset by this new knowledge next time you find yourself in Itsu for lunch.
Dousing matcha tea in boiling water
“Never pour boiling water on matcha green tea, it burns the leaves and creates a bitter taste,” says James Shillcock, founder of Vivid Matcha Green Tea. Any lumps should be whisked out, and you should only buy the high-grade stuff for peak enjoyment.
Eating miso soup with a spoon
“Japanese soups tend to be thinner and the bowls they are served in are smaller, so that you can sip straight from the cup,” says Kojima.
Pouring your own sake
In Japan it’s custom for others to pour for you whilst you pour for others. “It really brings a sense of occasion, and is much more sociable” advises Ken Ohashi, Master of Wine and Sake at International Wine Challenge Sake.
Not knowing what sushi even is
Clue: it’s not the roll. ‘Sushi’ actually means ‘vinigered’ rice.