How Sushi Works

At the Sushi Bar

Saba (mackerel) nigiri-zushi
Saba (mackerel) nigiri-zushi
Photo courtesy Mconnors / MorgueFile

Eating at a sushi bar is a little different from eating at a regular restaurant. Newcomers don't have to worry, though -- sushi bar staff are known for being helpful.

The bar itself surrounds the area where the sushi chefs operate. When you sit at the bar, you will get to talk to the chefs and see them in action. Your chef might have suggestions regarding what is in season or what he thinks you might enjoy, so don't be afraid to ask. You can also let him know if you don't want fish. Sushi is ordered directly from the chef, while drinks and other foods, like soup, are ordered from servers. The wait staff can also answer any questions you might have about the sushi bar.

Sake is a traditional sushi bar drink, but sake and sushi are not consumed at the same time -- they are both rice-based, so the flavors are not considered complimentary. Light beer (Japanese or domestic) or green tea are considered good drinks to have with sushi. Water or sparkling water works too. If you choose to drink sake, don't forget to pour for the person you are eating with, and allow them to pour sake for you. It's considered impolite to pour for yourself.

When you order a type of sushi, you may not receive just one piece. Nigiri-zushi, for example, usually arrives in pairs. Sashimi, which is often served at sushi bars, is always eaten with chopsticks. Sushi can be eaten with chopsticks, but it is also acceptable to eat it as a finger food. Soy sauce should be used sparingly, and only the edge of the topping should be dipped, never the rice. Soaking the sushi in soy sauce is an insult to the chef.

Next, we'll explain how to make sushi at home.