Everything You Need to Know to Eat Any Cuisine

All About Eating:

  Brazilian Churrascaria

  Japanese Sushi

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  Ethiopian Food

  Indian Food

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First Time Eating...   Japanese Sushi


The first time I ever ate sushi, I was actually in Tokyo.  Unfortunately, my attitude toward eat raw fish was still back in landlocked North America.  Basically, I popped a piece in my mouth, and then went through a series of ‘I Love Lucy’-like face contortions as I tried to chew and swallow it without gagging completely as I imagined the Coroner examining my body and declaring my cause of death, "Eating raw fish."  

Since then, I’ve tried to eat it a few more times, but in all honesty, I’ve come to realize that I’m never going to like it because I don’t really like sticky rice, seaweed or raw fish (or whatever other mystery ingredients sometimes sit atop the rice as it passes on the sushi belt).  So why am I writing about sushi at all, you might wonder?  Well, mainly, it’s because sushi is fast becoming popular in all parts of America, and yet some people still haven't tried it yet.  On top of that, I can give all the sushi virgins out there a way to try it that’s a lot less scary than getting thrown in the deep end like I did.  Plus, I can share a secret: Even if you don't like sushi, there are still lots of things at a sushi restaurant that you might find tasty.



Tell us about your first time eating Sushi



Sushi restaurants in America will usually share some common features: They’ll often have a fabric curtain that you’ll have to lift and walk through at the entrance, as well as a cat or badger with a paw raised by the front door for luck.  You might also see some hanging paper lanterns or stone lanterns.  Traditional Japanese restaurants have probably been created with feng shui principles in mind, a practice that aims to balance the elements of nature- wind, water, earth and metal- resulting in a harmonious environment.    


Once the hostess and other restaurant staff see you inside, they’ll likely shout, “Irrashai imasu!” at you.  This means, “Welcome.”  You can reply just by saying, “Hi,” or “Thanks.”  Only in the most traditional Japanese restaurants in America would you need to take your shoes off, and that’s typically at restaurants that focus on other kinds of Japanese food.  So, for all of you dodgy sock wearers, you can leave your shoes on.  

Seating at a sushi restaurant typically has two options: At the sushi bar, or at a table somewhere else.  The sushi bar is pretty much what it sounds like- a long bar with seats on one side and the sushi chefs on the other.  Along it, you’ll see all the ingredients that are available for sushi that day- big slabs of tuna and salmon, containers with fish roe or condiments.  “By sitting at the counter,” Yoshie Cabral from the California Grill in Orlando explains, “You are better able to observe the quality of the seafood, the technique of the chef, and the preparation of various sushi meals.”  You’ll also be able to interact directly with the sushi chefs.  “Sushi chefs love to talk about their passion to create a delectable and artistic plate,” Ms. Cabral says.  One advantage to sitting at the sushi counter if it is your first time eating sushi, is that the sushi chef can find out what kind of things you might like to eat.  Secondly, you can see what’s on offer, as all of the ingredients can be seen through glass, like at a butcher’s counter.  If you want more privacy, though, or a quieter dinner, there’s nothing wrong with sitting at a table or booth.

            Early on, a waitress will bring you some kind of wet towel.  It might be a kind of wet nap in a plastic package, or a hot face cloth that’s rolled up and presented on its own little tray.  Whichever it is, open it up and use it to wipe your hands down.  Sometimes men also use it to pat down their faces, though women should be careful of wiping off their makeup.   



            If you’re squeamish about trying sushi for the first time, you might be happy to find out that not all sushi is raw.  The word ‘sushi’ actually refers to the rice, not what’s on it, so whereas some sushi will be made with raw fish, not all of it is.  Shrimp sushi is cooked, as are many other types, such as eel (which tastes much nicer than it sounds, like a mild white fish), egg, and crab.  If raw fish scares you, start with these.  The easiest types of raw fish to start with are those which you’ve probably already eaten cooked: tuna and salmon.  You’ll find these in virtually every sushi restaurant. 


There are a couple of ways you can place orders in a sushi restaurant.  If you’re sitting at the sushi counter, you can order directly from the sushi chef.  You should also tell them that it’s your first time trying sushi and ask for their recommendations.  Asking the chef what they recommend is something that everyone should do, as they know what’s freshest.

Now, you might be wondering whether you need to know how to say a million and one things in Japanese so that you can order.  Well, you don’t.  Sushi restaurants will often have menus that have pictures.  Others will write what’s available in both Japanese and English.  The glossary below will list some of the most popular items, if you want to learn how to say them ahead of time.  If you turn up and don’t remember them, though, don’t worry- just use the menu and point to items as you order them, or say them in English.  The other benefit with the picture menu is that you can see what items will look like before they come out.

Another key thing to know about going to a sushi restaurant is that you can probably also order other things that have nothing to do with sushi.  This is where the non-sushi eaters like me find food we like.  One great item is edamame.  It’s an appetizer that everyone can share.  What will come out are things that look like pea pods.  They’re actually soybean pods.  Pick one up with your fingers, put the outside edge near your lips, and squeeze into your mouth.  A bean or two should pop into your mouth.  Discard the pod into a bowl that the waitress should’ve brought for you.  If there’s no discard bowl, put the pods on your own plate- the waitress will swap it out for a fresh plate when she comes back.  Whatever happens, don’t eat the pod itself!

I’ve always loved tempura and recommend this as a part of anyone’s Japanese meal.  Tempura is deep fried battered vegetables and shrimp- think onion rings but with way more than just onions.  How you eat it is by picking up a piece with your chopsticks, and dipping it into the accompanying sauce (a thin soy sauce).  Pop it in your mouth, and- yum!  Another tasty item is chawanmushi.  It’s steamed egg in a cup.  The egg is smoother than scrambled eggs, but not sweet like custard.  You might find chunks of crabmeat and green onion in there too.

Other meal items if you want to avoid sushi altogether include grilled meat often served over rice, like tonkatsu (which is pork), or teriyaki chicken.  These will often come as part of a set meal that might include a Japanese salad (often made with cabbage instead of lettuce and a ginger-soy dressing), soup such as miso (which is a thin broth with a few chunks of tofu and seaweed in it), and fruit for dessert.  If you are served a set meal like this, avoid turning the tray or shuffling around where all of the items are.  How Japanese food looks is as important as how it tastes in Japanese culture, so a lot of thought and care has been put into how everything is arranged in front of you.  This goes for sushi too. 



Share more tips of your own


Eating Sushi

When eating sushi, the most basic thing you’ll need to know is how to use chopsticks.  Eating sushi with chopsticks isn’t particularly easy, and the truth is that the most authentic way to eat sushi is actually with your fingers.  Yes, that’s right- it was common in Japan to pick up the rectangular pieces of sushi with your fingers, and go from there.  Only once sushi spread to America and beyond did everyone start using chopsticks to eat it, and ironically, now, even in Japan, you’ll find that most people use chopsticks.  To learn how to use chopsticks, click here.

Before you actually are served your sushi, you need to prepare your condiments.  You’ll have a little dish as part of your place setting.  You’ll also find a container of soy sauce nearby.  Pour some soy sauce into your little dish.  There should also be a small clump of green stuff near you (this might come on the same plate as the sushi).  This is wasabi, Japanese horseradish, and like the regular horseradish that we’re used to, it’s very hot.  Now, here lies a debate.  In Japan, it is traditional to keep your soy sauce and wasabi separate.  In fact, it can be considered ‘dirty’ to mix them together.  In America, it’s become customary to mix some wasabi into your soy sauce.  So what’s right?  Well, I like to follow the “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” philosophy (or in this case, “when in Japan…”).  If I were to eat sushi in Japan, I’d leave them separate; if I were to eat it in America, I’d mix them together.

‘So what’s this wasabi and soy sauce for anyway?’ you might ask?  Well, what you do when eating sushi, is pick up a piece with your chopsticks (unless you’re in one of the last few places where this isn’t done), turn it over so that the fish side is underneath.  Dip the fish part into the soy sauce.  Flip it back over and pop it into your mouth and eat it.  If it’s too big, gingerly bite the first half off.  Here’s where things could get messy.  Be prepared that your rice might crumble apart if you bite into a piece of sushi, leaving half on your chopsticks.  A gentle hold and a gentle bite will help to avoid this, but still won’t guarantee avoiding problems.  The other way that rice falls apart is when people dip the rice side of the sushi into the soy sauce.  This will most definitely cause the whole thing to fall apart, so avoid, avoid, avoid it!  Dip just the fish side.  Some types of sushi will be easier to eat.  Any of those that are served as round, rolled up, bite-sized pieces can easily be popped into the mouth. 

The best way to order sushi is in small amounts at a time.  Be aware of whether your restaurant takes order by the piece or whether ‘an order’ is two or four pieces.  What you don’t want is to order four pieces of sushi, and end up with four orders that are eight or sixteen pieces accidentally.  By ordering as you go along, you shouldn’t get stuck with lots of leftover pieces. 

It is also normal for sushi eaters to complete their meal by having a bit of miso soup or other items, such as yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers).  It also isn’t unheard of to have a few pieces of sushi as a starter and then move on to a cooked entrée, such as the ones already mentioned, or one made with noodles.



Many sushi restaurants, especially those where the sushi is on a conveyor belt, will have a little hot water tap right at your table.  From this, you can fill your cup to make green tea, and keep it topped up.  Sake is a traditional Japanese drink, and you can choose to drink it hot or cold (Chef Yoshie suggests going with the season- hot in the winter, and cold or room temperature in the summer).  It is made from rice, though, so some traditionalists feel that it is redundant to drink sake while eating sushi.  If you do choose to drink sake, though, be aware that it is very potent and even when drinking small amounts the alcohol’s effect can sneak up on you.  Beer is very popular in Japan, and there are some local brands you can keep an eye out for, such as Asahi, and Kiren.



My favorite sushi dessert is one that Chef Yoshie makes at The California Grill: rice krispie treat sushi!  OK, you probably won’t find it anywhere else, but it’s so cute I just had to mention it.  It’s little rice krispie treats in the shape of sushi rice with gummy fish on top.  Fun for kids of all ages (or at least as old as me).  In a standard sushi restaurant, dessert might be in the form of cut fruit, green tea ice cream or cake, or sometimes made with red beans.

            The meal ends with dessert, as there is traditionally no coffee or tea as an after-meal drink.



             Going to a sushi bar is something that everyone should try at least once- and now you know that having a fear of eating raw food doesn’t have to stop you.  For those who find out that they love it, it tends to become a staple in their life, and for the rest of us, the other choices at most Japanese restaurants also often become favorites.  There are a lot of kinds of Japanese food that I haven’t talked about here (like teppanyaki, for example).  This is because this article is mainly about eating sushi; I’ll talk about other types of Japanese restaurants in a ‘Part Two’, at a later date.



Types of Sushi:

Maguro- Tuna

Ebi- Shrimp (which is cooked)

Hamachi- Yellowtail

Ikura- Salmon roe

Tamago- Egg

Unagi- Eel (which is also cooked)

Ohkai- Snow crab


Other Menu Items:

Sashimi- Raw fish served by itself or with a bed of salad

Wasabi- Japanese horseradish, usually formed into a green paste.

Nori- Dried flat seaweed used to wrap sushi

Maki- Items served in a seaweed cone; these can be eaten with your fingers.

Miso Soup- soup made with tofu

Edamame- An appetizer item of soy beans cooked in their pods (don’t eat the pods!)

Teriyaki- A Popular sweet sauce for meat, such as chicken or beef

Yakitori- Chicken skewers

Tempura- Deep fried vegetables, shrimp or other items

Chawan Mushi- steamed egg in a cup

Udon- Noodles

Soba- Buckwheat noodles



Add more Sushi term to the list




  • Pour drinks for your other tablemates.  In Japan, it is polite to keep their drink filled.  If you want to be very traditional, this is a task normally done by a woman at the table, and after pouring other people’s drinks, she’ll then pour her own.  If you’re out with all guys, then it can be shared, or done by the younger or more junior guy if there is a noticeable difference between you.
  • Order a few items at a time, and talk to the chef for tips on what to eat today.
  • Be careful with wasabi- it’s very strong stuff and just a little goes a long way.



  • Ever stick your chopsticks straight up and down in your rice- it is a sign of death.
  • Pass food between your chopsticks straight to someone else’s chopsticks- this is a funeral ritual and carries a somber meaning.
  • Fill your soy sauce dish too full- you can always refill it if you find that you need more.  Splashing soy sauce all over is not a good thing.
  • Forget to tip.  The best bet is to leave 20% and let them work out who it belongs to.  Typically each restaurant will have a system by which they split tips.



Suggest more DOs and DON'Ts



            As alien as Japanese food can be, I’m actually going to rate it fairly highly for family-friendliness.  Why?  Because there’s a lot that kids will enjoy in both the food and the dining experience.  Kids who are too young to get grossed out by the idea of raw fish typically take to sushi as easily as anything else.  Other kids can certainly eat a full meal of cooked items.  They’ll enjoy seeing food pass by on a sushi belt or watching and talking to a sushi chef.  They’ll be able to eat their food with kids’ utensils and even use chopsticks as drumsticks when their parents aren’t looking.  What’s not to like?



Child-friendly Food (is it easy to find things that American kids will eat):  8/10

Adventure Level (how different is this from standard American food):  9.5/10



What do you think?  Rate Sushi yourself!


To eat where The Food Virgin eats, try sushi at The California Grill- click here. 


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