Ask any sample group of people about what makes for good sushi etiquette and you can guarantee you’ll get a pretty even mix of answers. Some will tell you that the best handmade sushi should only ever be eaten with your bare fingers, while others will insist that this is the kind of blunder that will have you thrown out of a restaurant.
In fact, it’s very rare for anyone to have an opinion that’s right down the middle of the two, which can be troublesome for those just getting to grips with sushi…no pun intended.
Here in the West, it’s fair to say that the only time most of us will ever come across chopsticks is when dining on Eastern goodies. And as we’re not known to eat handmade sushi every day of the week, we don’t get a great deal of practice using chopsticks. If presented alongside a knife and fork in a restaurant, chances are we’ll always go with the standard cutlery.
But when it comes to sushi, we know it’s no good to use a fork, knife or spoon, meaning it’s a case of chopsticks or fingers. And with so much conflicting information out there, what’s the truth in terms of genuine etiquette?
Don’t Believe the Hype
Generally speaking, sushi rolls of pretty much every variety imaginable are eaten using chopsticks. By contrast, Nigiri sushi…as in those with a large piece of fish on top of a rice cube…are almost always eaten by hand, as to use chopsticks is impractical. So technically speaking this should immediately clear up at least one confusing point – eating sushi with your fingers is NOT a big no-no that will have everyone in the restaurant looking at you.
Now, if you were to look back in time right to the very beginnings of the sushi craze we know today, you’d find that it was in fact eaten by hands…chopsticks were rarely brought into the equation at all. Now though, pretty much everyone you see out and about in Japan will indeed be using chopsticks to eat their sushi, despite the fact that it’s not technically the traditional way. Some stick with their hands, but most use chopsticks.
Western diners who base their eating habits on those of the food’s native country therefore will look at Japan and immediately get the impression that sushi must be eaten with chopsticks…end of story. But for those wanting to keep with tradition and eat sushi as it was meant to be eaten in the first place, it’s a case of looking beyond the Japan of today and getting your fingers nice and dirty!
As such, the point to take home from the whole argument is simple – there is no right or wrong way to eat sushi. From the finest handmade sushi to the cheapest store-bought stuff, the Japanese have for generations been using both chopsticks and their fingers, so feel free to use either.
And next time someone decides to tell you you’re doing it wrong, feel free to educate them with a little history!