My First Sushi Eating Experience!
you'd like to contribute a brief (say, 200-300 words) narrative of your
first sushi experience, please e-mail it to me at the address below, and I'll publish it
here. I reserve the right to edit, and please be sure to tell me how
you want to be identified.
These originated during correspondence with a friend who was planning to brave the world
of sushi for the first time. These are not the last word on sushi by any means, but maybe others in
the same situation will find some useful tips here. If you have any comments or suggestions, please write me at: LRampey@panix.com.
Lesson One: Pronunciation
Lesson Two: Sushi and Sashimi
Lesson Three: Dubious Stuff
Lesson Four: Favorites!
Lesson Five: Some Other Good
Lesson Six: Condiments,
Lesson Seven: Odds and Ends
(And if you are interested in trying this at home, take a look at Mark Hutchenreuther's
"Rolling Your Own Sushi".)
LESSON ONE: PRONUNCIATION
OK -- first lesson. Basic Japanese pronunciation, so that you can
ask for what you want. And this part of the language is easy (good thing,
because nothing else about it is). Basically, just remember that in
almost every case, consonants are going to be pronounced just like you
think they should be, and the vowels are pronounced exactly the same as
Spanish vowels (which is easy in itself as Spanish has only the five vowel
sounds as opposed to the 15 or more in French): a = our broad "a" sound as in "father"
e = our long "a" sound as in "hay"
i = our "ee" sound as in "see"
o = our o sort of but shortened (you kind of have to
imagine a Spanish-speaker pronouncing this one)
u = our "oo" sound as in "boo"
And that's it. Just get those five sounds, and you can sound very
passably like you know what you are talking about.
LESSON TWO: SUSHI AND SASHIMI
Many people do not know the difference and misuse the terms:"sushi" = vinegared rice served with pieces of something else --
not necessarily raw fish, and not necessarily fish at all. The majority
of the times people use the term "sushi," they are referring to the rice
with raw fish, but not always. Sushi can come in the individual (about
two bite-size) pieces that may be called "nigiri-sushi." Or it can come
in rolls cut up in to pieces (probably called "maki-sushi"). The rolls
make for a bit easier eating, so if someone is self-conscious about how
he/she is going to look eating it, the "maki-sushi" might be the way to
go. [It's possible that you may see "sushi" spelled as "zushi" in these
combinations. I don't think it makes much difference in the
"sashimi" = always means raw fish without the rice. (I would
prefer always to eat sashimi, but without the rice filling me up, I would
never stop and run up a bill the size of the national debt!)
LESSON THREE: DUBIOUS STUFF
Lesson Three: Things you probably *don't* want to eat.This is a
bit subjective on my part, but I have had about 25 years of experience.
"ika" and "tako" = squid and octopus. Although these are very
popular items, I've just never seen the point to them. They are very
chewy with no particular taste at all as the payoff.
"hamo" and "uni" = eel and sea urchin. Pretty much only for the
experienced and/or really adventurous. I've heard "uni" described as a
definitely acquired taste -- someone said that it tastes like something
that had been sitting in a tidal pool in Puget Sound. If I've ever eaten
it, I don't remember.
Next: my favorites! :)
LESSON FOUR: FAVORITES! Hamachi -- ah, hamachi! My favorite of all! It means
"yellowtail." It is possible but probably not likely that that you might see
it listed as "buri" or "inada."
You can get it straight as nigiri-sushi -- that is the piece over
the rice -- or as what might be called "negahamachi-maki" -- that is,
hamachi with scallions (which really is a wonderful combination) in a roll
of rice wrapped in seaweed. Either way, you cannot go wrong! (But you
will get more pure hamachi flavor the first way.)
Other than hamachi, you can't go wrong with:
-- tuna, which will be listed as "maguro" or "toro," the latter
being a much choicer cut. This will be available on the single "nigiri"
pieces or in the "maki" rolls. It's nowhere near as big a taste as
"hamachi" but many people, especially beginners, find it very pleasant. I
would, however, stay away from anything called a "spicy tuna roll." As far
as I can figure out, they douse it with tabasco-laced mayonnaise. I don't
think that it's exactly authentic, and it'll ruin your palate for the rest
of the meal anyhow.
-- salmon -- the fresh salmon is "sake" (not to be confused with
the rice wine "sake" -- the accents are a little different). This is good
-- very delicate tasting, probably best eaten prior to hamachi. Sushi
bars very often will have the smoked variety of salmon also. That will
taste more or less like novalox. I don't particularly care for the smoked
salmon in the sushi context (I guess because if I want smoked salmon,
I can buy it and serve it at home), but it's OK and certainly a respectable
choice if one really can't handle the raw items. Am trying to remember
the word for the smoked variety, but just can't come up with it right now.
-- mackerel -- many words for the varieties but often grouped
under the generic word "saba." Now, this mackerel thing is a true mystery
to me, and I would love to solve it. It seems that there are not only a variety of
mackerels, but it can also come in various stages of preparation. When it
is good, it rivals the "hamachi." (In fact, there has been more than one
occasion when I've driven Bryan up a wall by continuing to order one after
the other, trying to figure out which one was better!) But often, I don't
care for it at all because it has been pickled or something, and then it
loses its rawness and tastes more like plain old cooked fish. So, I never
know whether to order it or not, because I haven't been able to figure out
the right question if it is of the right type or the right condition that
it's what I like. As I said, very mysterious. So, if you learn anything
about mackerel, let me know.
-- salmon roe -- "ikura." If you like caviar, you really must try this!
Large red roe that are fun to pop between your teeth. (Also very good
with champagne should you ever get it in mind to stop for a jar on the
way home.) It usually comes in a short, squat tube of seaweed -- packed
into it with rice on the bottom. It is a bit tricky to eat, as there is no way
to make two bites out of it. Easier to eat if you can find it in the "maki"
(roll) format, but that does not seem to be very popular.
So, to summarize, the Big Five for me are:
-tuna ("maguro" or "toro")
-salmon ("sake" = the fresh, non-smoked)
-mackerel ("saba" or "?" -- when it is how I like it)
-salmon roe (ikura)
LESSON FIVE: SOME OTHER GOOD
STUFF Here's some suggestions if one wants to join in the fun but finds
him/herself unable to handle the raw stuff:
-- There is the smoked salmon that I mentioned.
-- Shrimp -- "ebi." The shrimp is boiled first. (But not "ama
ebi," which is raw. I think that raw shellfish is a good thing to avoid.
There is also a still-living variety, on which I will not comment.)
-- Faux crab -- "kani-kamaboko." It's just that salad "crab" meat
that is really pressed, rolled pollack (cooked).
-- Cucumber -- "kappa" or "kappa-maki" in a roll.
-- Sweet egg omelet -- "tamago." Comes in little sushi pieces,
often wrapped with a strip of seaweed.
-- California Roll. Most likely not authentic and perhaps a bit
declasse to order, it is still very tasty (and good to make at home).
Strips of avocado and faux crab are sprinkled with sesame seeds and
wrapped in rice and seaweed. Often it will be rolled up inside out with
the rice on the outside and then rolled again in a coating of smelt roe,
which makes it very nice to look at, and I like the crunchiness of the
Note: A lot of new-fangled sushi rolls, such as the above, have
appeared in recent years -- often mind-boggling concoctions of individual
chefs. Some have become generic, such as the California Roll, but others
are idiosyncratic and often named for cites.
LESSON SIX: CONDIMENTS,
MANAGEMENT OF The basic condiments are important because being able to handle
them, well, shows that you know how to handle them. :) Also, they really
add greatly to the enjoyment of the meal. The basics are just three:
1) Soy sauce
2) Wasabi paste
3) Pickled ginger slices
THE SOY SAUCE: At your place will be your own small saucer-like
dish (might be round or square or rectangular). The sauce itself will be
either in the original commercial bottles or in a very small ceramic
pitcher which you will share with one or more other persons. (If the
commercial bottles are there, and you have a choice between the regular
and low-sodium, choose the low-sodium. Of course, it is healthier but it
really does bring out the flavor of the fish better *and* doesn't drown it
in so much salt that you'll be spending the rest of the afternoon at the
water cooler. In fact, if you want to try asking for the low-sodium
stuff, I suppose that that would be OK.) Anyway, pour a small amount in
your little dish -- enough to soak but not so much that it will slosh.
You can always add more later.
The actual dipping of the sushi pieces is a matter of many
opinions. Some people hold that the ONLY way is to allow only the fish
part of the piece to touch the soy sauce. For myself, I like to let the
rice soak up some of the soy -- just be careful not to let it do that for
too long because then the packed rice will fall apart, and it's kind of
icky to have a whole lot of rice grains floating in your soy dish. You
might want to watch what some others are doing.
THE WASABI PASTE: This will appear as a clump or mound of green
stuff on the dish with the sushi. It is horseradish and usually *very*
hot (although the strength can vary depending on who makes it), so try it
only in a very SMALL amount first. We have been told that it is authentic
to put some of the wasabi paste into your soy dish and mix it around.
Bryan has grown to like doing this, but I still prefer to smear a small
bit on the fish itself. Again, I guess you can watch what the others are
doing. Keep in mind, however, that the chef usually will add a bit of the
wasabi himself between the rice and the fish, so you might not need any at
all. Probably taste the sushi piece first. If it's already hot enough,
forget the wasabi.
THE PICKLED GINGER: This will appear on the plate with the sushi
as a mound of golden or pinkish slices. It is very spicy although not hot
in the same way the wasabi is. It generally is NOT to be eaten *with* the
fish, but between sampling the different varieties. The idea is that it
clears your palate. It is also wonderful for your stomach! Just use a
slice or two whenever you change to a new fish. (Haha -- DON'T make the
mistake I did on one of my early Japanese restaurant visits: I had a
sashimi plate, and in my eagerness to try *everthing* I took the ginger
clump for another variety of fish and ate the whole thing at once!!!
As good as ginger is for you, you don't want to do that!)
You might find a few other odds and ends on the plate as garnish
-- some edible, some not. Obviously, doon't eat the little piece of green
paper grass. :) There might be something that looks like a clump of
white grass. I originally thought that might be shredded cabbage, but one of the readers of this page informs me that it actually is a shredded white radish called "daikon" -- probably OK to eat,
but not required. Citrus slices also might appear.
So, that's the condiment basics. I think that all we have left to
cover is some odds and ends!
LESSON SEVEN: ODDS AND ENDS Just a few comments left:
1) Chopsticks: You're kind of on your own here, as I am not
expert. Perhaps you have had some prior experience in Chinese restaurants
which will come in handy. If not, go to:
They've got diagrams there that show the basics much better than I can
explain them. The thing is that even if you've got the basics of it down,
sushi still presents some problems. If you get the "maki" (the rolls)
that are cut up in bite-size pieces, that shouldn't be any trouble. The
problem comes with the "nigiri" pieces. These usually are larger than one
bite, but it's impossible (for me) to get that first bite while holding
the remainder of the piece between the chopsticks. And it ain't easy to
dip the whole thing in the soy sauce either while holding it in
chopsticks. Usually the result is a very large and embarrassing soy sauce
splatter! :( So, I usually give in with "nigiri" pieces and just pick
them up with my fingers. We've been assured by many Japanese restaurant
personnel that this is entirely acceptable -- but, then, I don't know
enough of the language to figure out what they're saying when we actually
do it! :) On the other hand, I figure at the prices we're paying in a
sushi bar, we can do just about anything we please. :))) And sometimes we
2) Ordering: This pretty much is going to depend on your company
and whatever the plan is.
If feasible, try to order ala carte. That way, you can control
what you get. That usually works by filling out a little form on which
you indicate how many pieces of what you want. (Be a little careful here.
Once it was customary that one order of, say "hamachi nigiri" meant *two*
pieces. Now many places have gone to one order meaning one piece. If it
does not clearly say on the form, you can figure that anything under about
$2.25 probably means that you will get just one piece. The "maki" rolls
always mean one roll, but keep in mind that they are cut into six or eight
[While I'm on the subject, avoid what are called "hand-rolls,"
cone-shaped ones that are really messy to eat.]
If the agenda is such that it is not possible to order ala carte,
then you will have to settle for ordering a sushi or sashimi sampler
plate, which usually come in two sizes. If that is what you must do, try
to request "no squid or octopus" ("ika" or "tako"). It's been my
experience that they always put that on the assorted plates, and that
they're just not worth it. And if you do get a sampler plate, ask the
wait-person what is what. That way you'll know what you like for future
I think that is about it . . .
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