If you want to order sushi like a pro, you should know some sushi terminology as well as the proper way to order and eat sushi, resulting in the best possible umami experience. Ordering and eating sushi properly enhances the flavor of each fish and your overall dining experience.

Do you consider yourself a sushi connoisseur? You may enjoy sushi and frequent sushi restaurants quite a bit, but are you aware of the many unwritten rules for ordering, eating, and enjoying sushi? Sure, you don’t really have to follow the rules, but if you do, you may find your sushi dining experience much more fulfilling!

Consider the following, and you’ll quickly learn how to eat sushi like a pro!

Where to Eat Sushi?

The proliferation of Japanese restaurants throughout the United States, as well as the availability of fresh sushi in nearly every chain supermarket, makes it pretty easy to get sushi whenever you want. But if you want to enhance your sushi experience and order sushi the proper way, you’ll need to do it at the sushi counter in a fine sushi restaurant.

Sitting at the sushi bar at a fine sushi restaurant gives you the opportunity to interact directly with the sushi chef, which can definitely enhance your meal. Conversing with the chef gives you the inside scoop on what might be best on that particular evening. Additionally, you can enjoy your sushi as it was meant to be — seconds after the sushi chef has made it. Believe it or not, just a few minutes left sitting can affect the texture of sushi.

Sushi Terminology

If you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about when you are speaking with the sushi chef, you’ll need to brush up on your sushi terminology. You’ll also want to read our handy guide to common Japanese sushi ingredients. Some of the items not mentioned in that article include:

  • Neta: The piece of fish that sits on top of the sushi; the combination of neta sitting atop a molded clump of sushi rice is nigiri.
  • Shari: The rice portion of sushi.
  • Gari: Pickled ginger. The ginger is used as a palate cleanser between different pieces of sushi.
  • Agari: Green tea. It is customary to ask for a cup of green tea at the end of a sushi meal, as the flavor complements and completes the experience.
  • Murasaki: Soy sauce. You shouldn’t have to ask for soy sauce in a fine sushi restaurant.

Try something new. ABCs of sushi guide here!

Hand or Chopsticks?

Traditionally, it is customary for patrons to use their hands to eat sushi. This is essentially why traditional maki rolls (hand rolls) have the seaweed on the outside of the roll. Using your hand to select each piece of sushi and then consume it in one bite is part of the experience. However, you aren’t breaking any rules if you choose to use chopsticks. And just in case you weren’t sure, gari (pickled ginger) should only be eaten with chopsticks.

Note: Many sushi restaurants today make ridiculously large maki rolls that are sliced into portions much larger than a single bite. Traditional maki rolls and nigiri made in a fine sushi restaurant will be just the right size — biting into a piece of nigiri is frowned upon, as it leaves an unsightly remainder that may fall apart, essentially destroying the sushi chef’s handiwork.

The Right Way to Order Sushi

You can choose to order omakase, which means you are letting the chef decide what sushi to give you — this can delight in some wonderful, tasty surprises and a superb meal if you really love sushi.

Otherwise, there is an order you should follow to really get the most umami out of your sushi dining experience. This is because the flavor of one type of fish can directly affect how the next piece tastes. For example, if you eat sea urchin first, your mouth will have a thick aftertaste that will interfere with your enjoyment of other sushi.

Note: You can, of course, choose to order sushi any way you like — you aren’t breaking any rules if you opt for strong flavors first, though you might catch a stare from the sushi chef!

How to Order Sushi Like a Pro

  1. Start with a mild white fish like flounder, red snapper, or sea bream.
  2. Order red fish with stronger flavors like fatty toro tuna or yellowtail.
  3. Eat some gari or sip green tea to cleanse your palate.
  4. Order hikarimono. Hikarimono refers to fish with silver skin. (Hikari means shiny and mono means thing). Hikarimono is fish like mackerel, sardines, and Pacific saury.
  5. After the above strong flavors, go back to a simple neta, preferably something like octopus or squid.
  6. Try some bold shellfish like abalone, scallop, and then shrimp.
  7. Finally, eat uni (sea urchin) or eel. These exhibit the boldest flavors.
  8. Finish with Kappa maki (cucumber maki roll) or gyoku (egg).

How to Eat Omakase or Plated Sushi

When you order a full sushi plate or omakase sushi, it will typically be served on one rectangular plate. The sushi will be plated for you to eat from left to right.

To Dip or Not to Dip?

Unbeknownst to many, the rice is already seasoned and never meant to be dipped in anything. When eating nigiri, you should turn it to the side so that only the fish is dipped slightly into the sauce, not the rice. And only a little bit of sauce should be used to subtly enhance the fish, not overpower it.

Also, the neta should never be separated from the shari — this is a big no-no!

In the case of a maki roll, you can first dip a piece of ginger into the soy sauce, and then hover the ginger over the maki roll so that a few drops of soy sauce land on the maki.

If you are given other seasonings, do not mix them. Each type of sauce or seasoning possesses distinctive flavors — it is considered rude to make your own combinations.

Now you know how to order sushi like a pro! With this knowledge at your disposal, you’ll not only be able to consider yourself a sushi connoisseur, but also enjoy your sushi meal that much more!

Know your tune: otoro, chutoro, and akami, here.