Sushi Made Simple, Part I

A seasoned chef explains what to eat, how and why.

What to Eat, How and Why

Most savvy diners are drawn to the fresh, inventive dishes that comprise the modern Japanese sushi bar, but navigating the menu, and properly selecting and enjoying dishes that may be unfamiliar, can sometimes be harrowing. Try these tips on your next outing to sample this elite Asian fare:



  • Get familiar with your fish. Sushi is comprised of four main types: Sashimi (sliced, raw seafood served chilled and usually elegantly arranged); Nigiri (an oval-shaped ball of rice topped with fish or another item); Maki (rice and other ingredients rolled together with nori, then cut crosswise); Temaki (or "hand roll," a large, cone-shaped maki filled with various ingredients.
  • Choose a restaurant that Japanese people frequent. Avoid establishments who advertise "all you can eat" sushi.
  •  Let your eyes taste the food—sushi dishes are both beautiful and flavorful.
  • Chew only a few times; the flavor of the fish is best before it warms in your mouth.
  • On eating nigiri: dip it into the soy sauce fish-side down, or the rice (like a sponge) will soak up too much sauce. Then, place the nigiri fish side onto your tongue, so you taste the fish first.
  • Don't overdo the wasabi—you'll mask the flavor of the fish, and it's insulting to the chef. Bad sushi chefs use wasabi to disguise unpleasant cuts of fish.   If you do consume too much wasabi, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, or you'll just feed the fire!
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions and get recommendations from the Sushi chef (Itamae-San) or waitstaff. They should know what is the freshest.
  • Balance your maki with fresh salads and sashimi, or those little rolls will fill you up fast.
  • Drink green tea, beer or sake with your sushi. Soft drinks clash with the delicate flavors, and many wines don't pair well.
  • Eat small pieces of pickled ginger between bites of sushi to cleanse your palate.
  • If a maki has a special sauce, it is not meant for dipping into soy sauce. Experience the special flavor combination created by the chef.

Click here for our primer on the perfect accompaniment to sushi: sake!

Stephanie Oelsligle of Hot Dish, Inc. is a Chicago-based chef who specializes in ethnic cuisine and aphrodisiac cooking. 

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