How to eat sushi and sushi bar etiquette... that's what this document is about. Its target audience are non-Japanese people who enjoy sushi but aren't familiar with the customs and traditions that make for an outstanding dining experience. If you enjoy sushi, or if you think you'd like to give sushi a try, or if you want to learn what sustainable sushi is about, this document is for you.

Many sushi eating subcultures have developed outside of Japan, particularly in the United States. Sushi etiquette is not complicated, but it's rich in traditions that you may want to become aware of. When a custom is discussed this HOWTO chooses the "Japanese way" of doing things over "the local way". The most important thing to remember is that sushi is just fast food! If it gets too fancy, or too expensive, it's probably not that good.

Note: Most sushi chefs (itamae) are male because of traditions dating back to the time of the samurai. This document assumes adherence to this tradition and uses male pronouns to refer to the sushi chef and his actions. This document was updated on 20.June.2011.

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Table of Contents

The Tesla Testament book coverAbout the Author

Eugene Ciurana became fascinated with sushi after his first dining experience in 1988, when he was around 21. He's developed a taste for all things sushi since then, and goes out of his way to sample new dishes wherever he can find them. He then tries to enrich this HOWTO with those experiences.

When he's not at the sushi bar, Eugene likes to practice skydiving, Muay Thai kickboxing, motorcycle riding, and writing. His latest novel, The Tesla Testament, has received great reviews and is available from all major on-line booksellers in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Choosing a Sushi Restaurant

Many people I'm met told me that they don't like sushi; upon pressing the matter, I learned that the place where they ate it was far less from ideal. It's sad to think that many people cannot enjoy sushi because of a bad first experience. The usual culprit for this is a combination of lack of tradition in the place where they ate and poorly prepared fish. All fish swim in the ocean, but not all fish are suitable for sushi because how the fish is handled, from the water to the sushi bar, influences its quality.

The Japanese word for sushi restaurant is sushiya.

Warning signs that you probably won't get good sushi

  1. The fish and other seafood are not on display at the sushi bar
  2. The fish and other seafood on display look dry
  3. The sushi chef or (worse) a food server wants to take your order for all sushi items at once
  4. The sushi chef doesn't give you a chance to order "one or two pieces at a time", Japanese style
  5. The restaurant advertises "all you can eat sushi" for a fixed price
  6. The menu items are not listed in Japanese followed by a translation; they appear only in the native language
  7. The menu consists mostly of rolled sushi with names like California Roll or Oriental Delight
  8. More than half of the available ingredients are cooked
  9. The sushi chef hasn't the vaguest idea of what you're talking about if you ask for kazunoko, shiso, inago, chirashi, or yama gobo
  10. The morsels of fish atop nigiri pieces are so large that you can barely see the rice underneath (some people think that the sushi place is good because you get big pieces of fish); big pieces of fish are good as long as the fish quality is good.
  11. The sushi rice is flavorless; sushi rice must have a delicate aroma and flavor
  12. The restaurant is part of a chain or franchise

If four or more of the conditions above are met, head to a different restaurant.

How to Order Your Food and Drinks

Eating sushi is not about filling yourself with raw fish. Eating sushi is an experience--some say a ritual--that involves all your senses. Serious sushi can only be eaten at the bar because that's the only place where you'll see the colors, inhale the aromas, share the laughter, and taste the food fully immersed in the environment. Plan on a one and a half to two hour meal.

  1. Eat at the sushi bar.
  2. Greet the other people at the bar and start a conversation with them; sushi is about community.
  3. If you cannot eat at the bar, walk to it and check the quality of the fish before ordering.
  4. Greet the itamae (sushi chef) even if you don't eat at the bar. He'll recommend special stuff if he recognizes you as a regular and/or someone who truly knows how to eat sushi.
  5. Remember that itamae are not just "cooks". They have traditions dating back to the time of the samurai. These same guys fed the meanest leanest macho hombre warriors of Japan. Be respectful and you shall enjoy the best sushi.
  6. Order all sushi items from the itamae, everything else from the food servers.
  7. Order sashimi (selection of fresh fish slices) first; ask the sushi chef for his choice of fish. He knows what's fresh today better than you. "Please prepare what you think is freshest," is the best way to order. Let him be creative.
  8. Order one kind of sushi at a time, maximum three if the bar is busy. That could be nigiri, maki or temaki. Big plates are for the table only.
  9. If you are a regular, let the itamae decide what you're having and at what pace it is served.
  10. Don't rush through your meal. Eat at McDonald's if you want to eat fast.
  11. If you're at the bar and in a bit of a hurry (i.e. have a half hour to eat or so), order a chirashi, a small lacquered box with a bed of sushi rice, a bit of sugar, some pickled veggies and a chef's selection of fish and mollusks. This way you'll get all your sushi at once in a single serving and then leave. Eat it with chopsticks.
  12. Pickled vegetables, sprouts, and some things like ankimo (monkfish liver) are OK to order from the sushi chef if you see them advertised at the bar.
  13. Don't be afraid to ask for things not listed in the menu. Chances are the chef has them under the counter for those people (like you) who truly know what they're doing. Kazunoko, inago, hebo and idtakko fall in this category.
  14. If the bar is busy and you feel like you can't wait, order some edamame (boiled soy beans), suimono(clear broth) or chawanmushi (egg custard with shiitake, ginko nuts, and seafood) to keep you busy until the sushi chef can take care of you.
  15. Eat sushi with moderation. More than 10 kinds of fish, crab, and clams are too much because your palate numbs.
  16. Drink beer, cold sake, or green tea with your sushi. Soft drinks spoil the taste and white wine is for tourists. Remember there are more than 300 kinds of sake, so at least one will be better than the cheap Chardonnay they offer by the glass.
  17. If you're drinking sake, keep in mind that not all sake is heated for consumption. Nigori (unfiltered) sake looks like milk; drink it cold. For hot sake, ask for Sho Chiku Bai. Ask the itamae for more exotic drinks like gold sake (with real gold flakes in it!)
  18. If the sushi is excellent and you're having a good time, offer to buy a drink for the itamae and his assistants. You will discover that most Japanese itamae drink Budweiser (as observed in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Chicago, New York, and Moscow). Don't offer to buy drinks during lunch; this is an evening tradition.
  19. Don't be surprised if your itamae pours you a glass of the special reserve sake he keeps under the bar if he realizes that you know your sushi and how to order it. Thank him, raise your glass and toast by saying "kampai!".
  20. Tips: The itamae and rest of the staff are tipped separately unless you pay the bill with a credit card. The bulk of the tip must go to the itamae. Note that this applies only in the US! There is no tipping in Japan. Adhere to local customs in other countries.

Types of sushi

The Details of Enjoying Sushi


Meal Order

  1. Sashimi first
  2. Fresh fish and molluscs (nigiri or maki)
  3. Exotic stuff because it tends to have a stronger flavor
  4. Spicy anything like hand rolls (temaki) should be last
  5. Exception: Fugu (poisonous blowfish) should probably be your only course if you eat it - explanation in the section living dangerously
  6. Edamame, and oshinko may be ordered and enjoyed at any time during the course of your meal
  7. Cooked stuff like unagi (grilled fresh water eel), and/or California rolls*, tempura, etc. go at the end because these things tend to coat the tongue and numb the taste of other things. If you must have it, wait until the end.
  8. Miso soup (shiro miso, nameko miso, etc.) is enjoyed at the end of the meal; you drink it off the cup, and feel free to slurp it if it's too hot. Feel free to ignore the spoon if one is provided (in fact, it's better etiquette to pretend like that spoon isn't there).

*People who know how to eat sushi don't order California rolls. They're for wimps who can't handle raw fish. Rule of thumb: if it has mayonnaise or tomatoes, or if it's cooked and lacks an exotic name like ankimo, it's probably not real sushi.


Omakase is a dining style in which the itamae picks the sunomono, sashimi, nigiri, makizushi, etc. in the order, variety, presentation, etc. that he deems appropriate. Omakase works best if you're a more adventurous patron. It's not unusual for the itamae to go exotic on you and serve things like odori (dancing, live shrimp), for example... some people tend to dislike when their food is staring them back from the plate.

Skip to What to Order

Living Dangerously: Fugu

Fugu sashimi is so special that it's often eaten as a main course.

Fugu is a blowfish from Japan. In the United States, I found only one or two restaurants in New York City that serve it. All other states prohibit (as far as I know) its consumption. This blowfish is so poisonous that minimal amounts of venom are enough to kill a large, healthy adult, in less than a half hour. Its effects are similar to those of curare, a nerve poison used by the natives in the Amazonas. If fugu isn't prepared correctly, chances are good that you'll die of respiratory and cardiac failure.

Here are some tips on how to best enjoy fugu:

Skip to What to Order

What is Wasabi?

People think that wasabi is a form of horseradish or Japanese mustard. It is neither, though it is a distant relative to the mustard green plant.

Wasabi (wasabia japonica) is a plant that grows almost exclusively in Asia. It became a sushi dressing in the mid-1800's when the sushi preparers noticed that people who took small amounts of wasabi did not get sick. It turns out that one of wasabi's best properties is killing parasites in the fish. Its delicate aroma and sweet undertones enhance the flavor of the fish with which it's eaten.

Studies in the United States and Japan confirm that wasabi inhibits microbes, prevents or aids treatment of blood clotting, asthma, and it's helpful with some forms of cancer (J. A. Depree, T.M. Howard & G.P. Savage, Food Research International Vol 31, No5, pp.329-337, 1999). At least one study indicates that it may also help prevent tooth decay (Hideki Masuda, Ph.D. 2000).

Good Japanese restaurants offer fresh wasabi; the best buy the plant and grind it in the premises. Most restaurants outside of Japan will give you horseradish with food colouring; ask for real wasabi and you will get it in most cases. Once you try the real thing, however, you will be able to discriminate its delicate flavor and benefit from its many properties. The image next to this paragraph shows the difference between fake and real wasabi. The real thing is noticeably "greener".

If you manage to get some real, fresh wasabi, it's probably OK for you to bring it to the sushi bar for the itamae to prepare it for you. The itamae will either produce a traditional wasabi grater made with shark skin, made of steel called oroshigane (like the one in the enclosed photo), or made of porcelain and called oroshiki. Both oroshigane and oroshiki have fine grating slots, and they are used for wasabi, daikon, or gari (ginger). If the opportunity arises, try fresh wasabi with your sushi. The good news is that you're in for a fantastic treat. The bad news is that at some point you'll end up eating crappy wasabi substitutes and you'll be able to tell the difference.

For information on where to get real wasabi in the US, contact Pacific Farms (this HOWTO is not affiliated with Pacific Farms in any way).

Skip to What to Order

Kinome and Sansho: Beyond Wasabi

If you want to try something beyond wasabi, kinome and sansho are for you.

Kinome is the leaf of the prickly ash. This plant is native to eastern North America and has prickly twigs and folliage similar to the unrelated ash tree. Itamaes use the young leaves as a decoration and edible condiment. They taste like a combination of mint, basil, and a hint of anise. It goes well with any nigiri and replaces wasabi as a condiment. Eat only a tiny leaf at a time or its flavor will overwhelm everything else.

Sansho are the peppercorns of the kinome plant. Bite half of one before eating delicate morsels of sushi (i.e. hamachi, tai, suzuki, waloo, etc.) and wait a couple of minutes before you put the fish in your mouth. The sansho peppercorn (or berry as some itamaes call it) will explode in flavor, almost numbing your tastebuds, but then it'll create a tingling sensation on your tongue and palate. Eat the sushi when the tingling starts. The best wasabi taste won't come close to how delicious sushi with sansho is.

Sansho and kinome have similar medicinal properties to wasabi. It's used as an antibacterial and for anti-candidiasis. It's known to reduce swelling and it's thought to aid in dealing with colds and coughs.

Skip to What to Order

Why the Rice Tastes So Good

The white rice used for making sushi is cooked differently than the rice you eat with other Japanese food. Sushi rice is made with:

Good sushi rice must have a delicate, sweet flavor that complements fish and clams without overpowering them.

Sustainable sushi

The demand for seafood increased to the point of driving some fish close to extintion. Overfishing is a problem that could affect our ability to continue enjoying delicious sushi in the future. Try to order fish caught or farmed using environmentally friendly practices. This will empower all of us to promote healthy and abundant oceans.

The Sushi Eating HOWTO uses the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation's Seafood Watch Guide to help you identify the best seafood choices you can make during your meal. Each entry is now tagged with one of these icons:

Best Choice most fish caught in the Pacific, with the exception of Oregon and California salmon; it includes anything that is environmentally sustainable and isn't overfished.
Good Alternative many fish caught in the Pacific; none of these species are in imminent risk at this time, but given a choice, try something else.
Avoid most seafood coming from the Atlantic; sad, but this ocean is so overfished it could become an aquatic desert.
Don't know - help the Sushi HOWTO identify the appropriate sustainability category! Click on the blue fish to update it.
Not applicable - some things listed here aren't seafood!

So... what do you do if you see more than one fish icon next to the description? Simple - ask your itamae where that item came from, and avoid the ones at risk. Enjoy the sushi!

What to Order

Nigiri and Gunkan Sushi

Shake (SHA-kay) Fresh salmon

Some restaurants use smoked salmon; others offer it fresh and smoked.  Eat it fresh if they have it. Avoid eating any farmed salmon (bad environmental impact) and any from the Atlantic (low stocks).

Toro Fatty tuna Delicious but expensive; expect to pay up from $10 per piece. Avoid Atlantic tuna.
Maguro Blue fin tuna Avoid Atlantic tuna.
Kampachi Japanese yellowtail A bit hard to find; not every restaurant offers it.
Waloo Hawaiian angel fish Incredible, melt-in-your-mouth texture and complex flavor; an excellent choice to try if you're new to sushi.
Suzuki Japanese seabass
Tai Red snapper May appear in some menus as pargo or huachinango (Mexican names). Avoid imported tai.
Saba Mackerel unagi
Binjo or
Fatty albacore Delicious when eaten with ponzu sauce and some green onion. Avoid the imported kind, favor fish caught trolling in the US or British Columbia.
Iwashi Sardine Delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture and flavor; the itamae will usually deep fry the sardine's skeleton and serve it alongside the iwaashi.
Ebi Cooked shrimp Avoid imported shrimp. unagi
Masago Capelin caviar Tiny, tiny fish eggs; do not confuse with tobiko, though the flavour is similar; tobiko eggs are larger. Favor the masago from Iceland. masago
Tobiko Flying fish caviar Masago and tobiko are bright orange and delicious; the orange colour isn't natural. You may find green masago or tobiko -- either one tastes the same.
Ikura Salmon caviar Ikura (salmon caviar). This one also has a quail egg and a bit of shiso. The flavours combination is exquisite - an improvement over having only the salmon caviar in the roll. ikura
Mentaiko Spicy cod caviar Bright red, spicy with added pepper; originally from Korea, now part of every well-stocked sushiya
Aji Spanish mackerel
Katsuo Bonito A special kind of migrating tuna; delicious and a bit expensive, and available only in a few place throughout  the summer
Hamachi Yellowtail
Kohada A silvery, small fish, like a sardine Very tasty
Hirame Halibut Don't eat hirame from the San Francisco Bay; rumor has it that you get your yearly dosage of mercury out of a couple of nigiri pieces. Avoid imported/Atlantic hirame.
Unagi Fresh water eel One of the most delicious fish you ever tasted; served grilled, with a bit of teriyaki sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. unagi
Anago Sea water eel Similar to unagi but with a richer, tastier flavour. Most people prefer unagi but either one will do the job. anago
Takko Octopus
Ika Squid or cuttlefish
Mirugai Long neck white clam
Akagai Red clam Harder to find nowadays outside of Japan
Awabi Abalone Hard to find and expensive; if possible, eat in sashimi instead of nigiri
Hotate Scallop Eat it only if it's fresh; ask the itamae
Kani Crab For all that's holy and good on this earth, please don't eat imitation crab under any circumstances. It'll spoil your dinner and a kitten will die somewhere. Think of the kittehs and ensure that your kani is real crab! Avoid all imported king crab; stick to dungeness, blue, stone, or snow crab.
Ka-Kani Hairy crab Exotic and expensive; hard to find outside of Japan.
Tamago Hen egg omelette Eat only if made in-premises; you'll give your itamae a chance to show off; sushi chefs pride themselves on making good tamago, and each has his own "special recipe".
Amaebi no tama Raw fresh shrimp (fresh = alive just seconds before being served) and its caviar Seldom found; the roe is raw, unlike ikura or tobiko which always undergo some preparation.
Engawa Halibut fin muscle Very hard to find.  One of the most delicious fish you can order; some people find it a bit on the chewy side, although it's not as chewy as takko (octopus). Avoid hirame from the Atlantic.
Tobiwo Flying fish Somewhat hard to find; it has a very delicate flavor.
Ni hotate Cooked scallop Easy to find in Japan, not easy to find in the US.
Wu ika Squid body Common in Japan, somewhat hard to find elsewhere; similar to idtakko but with a more delicate flavor and softer consistency.
Suke maguro Seared blue fin tuna, marinated for several days in a shoju and sake One of the most delicious treats at the sushi bar; eat it without dipping it in soy sauce and after clearing your palate with a bit of gari. Avoid tuna from the Atlantic.
Tai kobujime Tai with skin and seaweed Hard to find in Japan or elsewhere, but very tasty. The special seaweed makes it salty and fresh. Highly recommended. Avoid tai from the Atlantic.
Grilled engawa Halibut fin muscle, grilled The grilled portions of the fish are so tender that they'll melt upon touching your palate. The inner fish still has the delicious texture of engawa. Dressed with a bit of teriyaki sauce. Avoid hirame from the Atlantic. engawa grilled
Sayori Needle fish Shown here in nigiri, with a dab of pickled ginger on top.
Hamaguri Grilled clam Hamaguri grilled
Uchiwa ebi Fan tailed lobster Shown here grilled, with tobiko and almonds on top.
Shima aji Striped mackerel Shima aj
Kue Grouper Kamazu
Kamazu Barracuda Seared with a cooking torch in this photo. May also be eaten raw. Kamazu
Idtakko Baby octopus  


All ingredients are listed from the inside out.

Futomaki Pink fish powder, egg, gourd, vegetables, rice, and nori
Tekkamaki Tuna, rice, nori Originally invented as a snack eaten at gambling parlors (tekka); think of it as a distant Japanese cousin of the sandwich
Kappamaki Fresh cucumber, rice, nori Named after Kappa, a water goblin in the Japanese mythology; Kappa is very fond of cucumbers
  Oshinkomaki Pickled yellow radish, rice, nori
Unakyu Unagi, rice, nori
Umekyu Cucumber, plum paste, rice, nori Eat it as the last entree because of the pungent flavour of the plum taste
Walmartdotcomaki Maguro, shake, suppo, hamachi wrapped in fresh turnip Simple, delicious roll found in the last place on Earth where you'd expect to find amazing sushi
Dynamite roll Maguro, spices, rice, nori
Special roll Unagi, mango, avocado, rice, goma (sesame seeds), shake/maguro/hamachi, tobiko, two kinds of chef-made mayonnaise, a few bacon bits on the plate; shoyu and mayonnaise make the splash pattern on the plate Nobody knows for sure what goes into this one; found at Sushi House in San Bruno, CA; one of the most delicious rolls ever; careful if you find it, though:  it's a meal in itself so don't plan on eating much else if you order it
California roll Crab, mayonnaise, avocado (some times), nori, rice, sesame seeds, tobiko Why eat this when there's good sushi available?
Rainbow rolls All kinds of ingredients Each itamae has his own recipe
Caterpillar or dragon roll Similar to rainbow roll but the ingredients are on the outside Both of these rolls usually involve avocado; avocados, not tomatoes, became part of the sushi tradition via its California newfound roots; avocados are now used on both sides of the Pacific Ocean
Spider roll Soft shell crab, rice, nori
Spicy spider roll Soft shell crag, organic multi-grain rice, nori, ink soy paper, and a fried river crab as decoration Specialty from Juni in San Francisco - not found elsewhere
Tempura roll Shrimp tempura, rice, nori The wimpy version of the spider roll; order only if the spider roll isn't available
Ankimomaki Monkfish liver pate in a roll garnished with several different types of seaweed. Exotic and delicious, this isn't something that you'll find on the menu; ask your itamae.
Eclipse A San Francisco treat:  black caviar and tobiko wrapped in a thin slice of maguro and topped with a quail egg Crazy non-Japanese gunkansushi but quite tasty. Found only in San Francisco's Sunset District.
Masago daikon gunkan Capelin caviar wrapped in sweet radish Itamaes make these special rolls some times to honor the patrons at the table with a little creativity.
Kappa maki Cucumber roll A classic.
Moro kui Cucumber and red miso salad Ask and you shall receive; usually not on the menu but your itamae will probably oblige.


Eat temaki promptly after it's served to you. The nori may absorb some of the moisture from the rice, loosing its crunchy texture.

Other Things You May Find at the Sushiya

Mozuku Seaweed, a bit of vinegar, and a raw quail egg
Sunomono Scallop, crab, octopus, cucumber, a bit of vinegar, and sesame seeds for decoration Appetizer; normally offered by the itamae
Kobe gyutataki Kobe beef, one of the most delicate of all beefs in the world, seared and nice and red in the center of each morsel Expensive and usually available in the autumn or winter
Shishamo Grilled capellin Eat it whole, starting with the head; normally full of delicious caviar; summer fish of the north Pacific and Atlantic, related to the smelt
Tekka donburi Slices of red tuna served atop a bowl of sushi rice A snack common at tekka gambling places
Sawagani Fried river crab Itamaes keep them alive at the restaurant and cook them on-demand when you order; eat them alone on a bed of seaweed salad or atop a spider roll
Oshinko Burdock, radish, and other pickled roots Various roots, pickled, in addition to gari (ginger).
Nakaochi donburi Tuna scrapings served atop a bowl of sushi rice Similar to tekka donburi but much, much tastier.  The itamae scrapes the tuna flesh off the regions next to the fish's spine.  This tuna is very tasty and very, very tender.  Dip each morsel in soy sauce.
Zukemaguro don Slices of marinated red tuna served atop a bowl of sushi rice Special request if sukemaguro is available. Eat it early in the meal.
Kuki wasabi Fresh wasabi leaves, chopped and served gunkan style. Ask for it if you are aware that the sushiya has fresh wasabi behind the counter.
Ika tonbi Fried squid mouths Crispy and delicious, much better than the best calamari you ever had. According to lore, the best tasting ika tonbi is made with the virgin mouths of female squid that never kissed a boy squid.
Hirame tamago nabitashi Halibut caviar cooked in its own broth Served as an appetizer; special delicacy not always available.
Grilled tai skin yakitori Grilled red snapper yakitori  
Oroshiae Grated radish mixed with stuff; in this case, it's mixed with tai (red snapper) Red snapper was rather abundant during the photo sessions for this guide update (20100530)
Chawanmushi Egg custard chicken boullion, ginko nut, shii mushrooms, and chicken or shrimp  
Черная икра Black caviar gunkan style, wrapped in cucumber Seen in Russia
    Grilled fish skeleton - very crunchy and tasty!
Mawa ebi Fried river shrimp Seldom available; try them if the itamae has any. Eat the whole shrimp, shell and all.

Vegetarian Sushi

Vegetables have always been an important component of sushi, and many traditional varieties are mostly or completely vegetarian. There is no excuse for vegetarians or vegans to not join you at the sushi bar. From kappa maki (cucumber roll) to sophisticated nigiri ensembles, itamaes always figure out a way of creating some interesting and delicious vegetarian sushi. If you're a vegan, join your fish-eating friends and just let the itamae know about what you like. Most itamaes will go out of their way to create custom vegetarian sushi to suit your taste and needs.

Becoming a Master: Beyond Nigiri and Makizushi

There is one more level to the sushi experience. This is where you find the most exotic sushi, the one that separates you from the rest. You can really tell others that you know how to eat sushi after you've experienced the delicacies in this section. Beware that most of these are also on the pricey column of the menu.

Uni Sea urchin caviar (roe) It's considered one of the most delicate pleasures at the sushi bar. Uni is a dark yellow mass served on nigiri, with a strong nutty flavor coming from the iodine found in the sea urchin. Always eat it fresh; the grossest thing you can eat is old or previously frozen uni.
Amaebi Fresh water shrimp Raw fresh water shrimp nigiri. The head (and sometimes the shell) of the shrimp are fried and served separately. Squeeze some lemon juice on them and eat them. Favor amaebi from BC.
Odori Dancing shrimp or dancing langoustine Raw live baby langoustines. There is nothing quite like watching your food move its antennas as you eat it. Favor odori from BC.
Namako Sea cucumber Often prepared in sunomono (namako-su)
Fugu Poisonous Japanese blowfish It's the most delicate and sensual of all sushi plates. Your lips and tongue literally tingle while you eat it--and for at least a half hour afterward. The fugu experience is like a long-lasting sensuous kiss.
Kujira Rare whale Prepared and presented in a similar fashion to katsuo.  Whale meat has a very tender consistency that amost melts in your mouth; somewhere between filet mignon and toro, with a strong beef-like flavour with hints of seafood, and a very delicate aroma.  Notice that the center of the piece is raw, and only the thinnest edge shows signs of grilling. Favor kujira from Norway.
Kujira sashimi Whale sashimi Sashimi is another delicious way of enjoy kujira the whale meat is raw and fresh, and accompanied with an onion bulb and chopped green onion, miso paste, ginger, and sprouts.  The shiso buds add a very nice flavour to it, and morsels are dipped in ponzu sauce.  The white speckles in the meat are connective tissue, but they aren't chewy or unsavory in any way.
Hebo Bee larvae Roasted in honey, hebo will be served in a very small porcelain container. Pick one or two at a time, eating them in between other types of sushi. Their flavor explodes in your mouth, blending the hebo with the honey and flowers flavor.  
Inago Roasted grasshoppers Served in gunkan. The taste like shrimp with a bit of lemon.  
Kazunoko Herring caviar Consummed as a traditional New Year's sushi. Also known as "yellow diamonds" because of its texture and exorbitant price in Japan. If you live anywhere from the Bay Area to Mexico City, however, kazunoko is very reasonably priced: The best kazunoko comes from the waters around San Francisco.
Iidako Baby octopus Served atop nigiri, with each octopus (head and tentacles) fitting comfortably on top of the rice.
Ankimo Monkfish liver Think foie gras and you'll get the idea.
Hamachi kama Yellowtail shoulder This consists of the area right behind the fish's head, served grilled on a plate along with some shredded daikon radish and a bit of garlic. Squeeze a few lemon drops over the fish, then carefully separate the meat from the skin and the single bone. Pour some soy sauce (not too much) over the daikon. Garnish each bite of fish with daikon. You will enjoy the most delicate grilled fish you've ever eaten. Avoid this if it comes from the Atlantic.  
Tai kabutoyaki Red snapper grilled head, a delicacy from Western Japan Exactly what its name describes: a grilled red snapper head, served on a plate along with some shredded daikon and lemon. Kabuto is the archaic Japanese word for the helmet that the samurai wore. See the hamachi kama preparation. Eat all the meat around the head, and pay special attention to the eye: it's delicious! To eat the eye: remove the round white thing. Dig the eye out of the socket; it'll have the consistency of jelly. Add a couple of drops of lemon juice and pop it in your mouth... amazing! Avoid this if it comes from the Atlantic.
Matsutake tobimushi Mushroom and seafood soup served in a teapot The soup is prepared inside the teapot.  It contains mushrooms, shrimp, fish cake, a ginko nut, and plenty of kaiware.  The broth is very delicate to the palate.  Open the teapot, add some sudachi (lime) juice, and stir lightly with your chopsticks.  Let it rest for a minute or so, then pour the broth in the accompanying cup.  Fetch some of the goodies from inside the pot at regular intervals.  Be careful... this soup is very hot!  You may see detailed photos featuring these instructions in the Sushi Eating HOWTO Companion.
  Miso soup with shrimp heads  

Nyotaimori: naked sushi

Nyotaimori is the art of serving sushi atop the beautiful body of a model. Very few places in the United States provide this serving option. The history behind this Japanese custom is muddled by legend and hearsay. Some sources quote it as a long-standing tradition. Others claim it was introduced by the Yakuza gangsters.

Nyotaimori sushiNyotaimori means "served atop a woman" in Japanese. A nude woman, usually a model, lays atop a platform or table dressed only with leaves in strategic places; bare breasts are acceptable in some locations. Sushi is served atop the model, using the leaves as serving plates. The leaves are necessary to insulate the sushi from the model's body heat, which would warm it up and spoil its quality if it takes too long before it's eaten. The leaves are optional depending on the party.

Because this isn't an everyday occurrence at the sushi bar, here is some additional information that you'll need prior to enjoying this experience:


The last bullet is very important because most nyotaimori events are at private engagements. Some patrons may not wish to be in the photo and, if you wound up crashing a Yakuza party, the hosts may be rather stern in how they make you turn your camera over to them and how fast they show you to the door, or surprise you with a show-and-tell of what your own pancreas.

The Story of Sushi - by Trevor Corson

The Story of Sushi book coverThis guide explains how to eat sushi.  Trevor Corson, a kindred soul in the realm of sushi, explains the process, end-to-end, in his fantastic book The Story of Sushi (originally titled The Zen of Fish).  From the biology of fish to the finer points of itamae training, Trevor's best-selling book takes you on a worldwide journey that presents the science and craft of sushi, from the oceans to your plate.  Learn about where the fish comes from, the trials that your itamae had to endure to become a skilled preparer, and even about the ecological impact of sushi from this fantastic book.

The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice
by Trevor Corson
ISBN:  978-0-06-088351-5
Harper Collins

Learn more about this from Trevor Corson:  The Story of Sushi.

How to Eat Sushi in Japan

Japan is mecca for the sushi master.  The experience of enjoying sushi there can be either disturbing or fantastic, depending on how you approach it.  Have fun with your sushi outings and learn from the experience.

How to Have a Great Time at the Sushiya

The Japanese culture can be hard to grasp and reactions of the sushiya owners can range from welcoming to downright rude and dismissive when you visit.  I've asked about the reasons for the negative reactions and the explanations ranged from convenience to the establishment (i.e. they aren't equiped to deal with non-Japanese speaking foreigners) to bigotry.  Avoid patronage of sushiya where foreigners are unwelcome, visit the rest when you go exploring by yourself or in a guided tour.  Sucks that things are that way, but that's the way they are.

Signs that You Aren't Welcome at a Sushiya

HOWTO Eat Sushi That Sucks

Malcolm Gladwell describes (in his book Blink) how, as a people's proficiency and expertise in some domain increase, our ability to distinguish subtleties and make quick qualitative and quantitative judgments also increases (blink! This is great sushi! you're able to tell just by glancing at the sushi bar). The downside of this increased awareness is that you'll begin to notice how most sushi isn't as good as it could be. Some restaurants don't have real wasabi. Some don't invest enough attention on the rice. The fish that day was just a tiny bit less fresh. And so on. Most of these quirks you'll be able to ignore if the rest of the experience is good. You may even take the opportunity to discuss this with the itamae in a non-accusatory way and gain his respect as a "true connoisseur" of sushi. The meal will be enjoyable, and the balance of the universe will continue. Sushi, miso soup, and dessert will all come to you, and you'll leave the restaurant with a smile on your face and a happy belly.

At some point, though, for whatever reason, you'll end up at some restaurant where the sushi sucks. It's horrible. You know the place. Even before you really got into sushi you figured something wasn't quite right. The rice has no sushizu or konbu and it's as tasty as licking a sheet of paper. The rolls are wrapped in soggy nori. The fish looks dry. The soy sauce is blended with lemon juice or (barf!) chopped Jalapeños "because our regular patrons don't like how regular soy sauce tastes." And you won't be able to escape because you may have a business or personal reason for being there that's unrelated to eating sushi. You don't have the option to skip the meal because that would seem either weird or rude to whoever took you there. Or perhaps you live in, or are visiting Moscow, and some misguided soul took you to a "sushi" restaurant there (regardless of price, cheap or super expensive -- they ALL suck). And you know that the meal will really, really, really, really, really blow. What do you do?

Ordering Sushi In A Restaurant Guaranteed To Suck

Special tip for denizens of Bentonville and Rogers Arkansas

Try the Panda Chinese Restaurant on Walnut Avenue, almost across the street from Walmart Store no. 1. They have multiple transcultural buffet lines with Chinese, Sushi, ribs/corn bread/corn on the cob/salads, and Mexican food inside. You're bound to find something there that you like.

Bonus Recipe: Yujimaki (aka Amigomaki)

Yujimaki is a temaki developed over a period of seven years between the author and Yoshi The Man in San Francisco. It's a spicy roll on steroids. How spicy you want it is really up to you; we came up with a loose scale ranging from 0 to 10, where 0 = very mild and 10 = as spicy as possible. If you like spicy food, this is for you.



  1. Mix hamachi, hot sauce and tobiko in a small bowl.
  2. Estimate how much sauce in an imaginary scale from 0 to 10, where 0 = one drop of sauce, 10 = so spicy that the white hamachi flesh turns bright red. Let it rest for 2-5 minutes.
  3. Toast a sheet of nori in a toaster or electric oven for one to two minutes so it's crispy.
  4. Apply a layer of sushi rice to one side of the nori sheet.
  5. Scoop the spicy hamachi onto the nori sheet on top of the rice.
  6. Add a stick of yama gobo and a small bunch of kaiware.
  7. Roll the nori and eat immediately.

Ensure that all the ingredients are fresh, and that you use Sriracha spicy sauce. It's not as tasty when made with other sauce brands (this HOWTO does not have any relationship with Sriracha sauce, its manufacturers or importers).


This USENET group is frequented by many people who really know their stuff. Stop by if you have questions. Don't be intimidated by a few posters who take themselves too seriously (like me) and who like to posture and lecture; that aside, it's probably the best resource of sushi information on the 'net.

Odds and Ends

This section covers a couple of points that caused quite a stir when discussed in the USENET.

Why Tip the Itamae and the Waiters Separately?

In some Japanese restaurants the food servers must share their tips with the sushi bar. In some others the policy is more draconian: All the tips from people eating at the sushi bar go to the itamae regardless of whether the food consumed came from the sushi bar or from the kitchen. Tipping the itamae and waiters separately, specially if you are a regular, guarantees that you'll get excellent service from both camps. It doesn't leave doubts on anyone's mind as to how much of the tip was meant for whom.

If you don't like this advise, or getting involved in your restaurant's politics, tip whichever way you feel is the most comfortable. It's your money.

How Much Wasabi?

Put as much as you like, directly on the fish or mixed with soy sauce. Beware that wasabi mixed with soy sauce loses its flavor within 10 minutes or so. Trust your itamae regarding how much wasabi should go with your morsels.

Acknowledgments and Copyright Information

This document wouldn't have been possible without the patience and training from all my friends who enjoy eating and preparing sushi. Special thanks to:

This web page and photos © copyright 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Eugene Ciurana. All rights reserved. Feel free to reproduce it in whole or in part as long as this copyright notice and a link to it or its URL are provided.