You know the drill: you sit down at your favorite sushi restaurant, pull apart the chopsticks, and rub them together to get the splinters out. You pour your soy sauce into your tray, sprinkle a pinch of wasabi in the mix, and stir it. Then you delicately grab your roll, dipping it in the soy/wasabi mixture, top it with ginger, and voila! You’re a real foodie.
“The fish is so fresh,” you say, taking your second bite of the single roll, feeling authentic and cultural. “It’s the best part.”
Well, maybe not. It appears that our relationship with sushi, the fresh and fishy delight beloved by many, is wrong, and according to Tokyo’s sushi chef Naomichi Yasuda, we’ve been eating it wrong all along.
First, forget the chopsticks–all cut rolls are supposed to be eaten with your hands. If you ignore that advice, just don’t rub your chopsticks together. It means you do not trust the restaurant (and chef) for the quality of their wood.
Secondly, although you probably won’t catch flack for it, it is decidedly improper to mix your wasabi with soy. Never, ever, eat the ginger on your roll, as it’s a palate cleanser to be enjoyed in between rolls, not on top of them.
And last of all: Don’t dip your rice in the soy sauce, but instead, the fish. (You know how little pieces of rice become floaters in your soy about halfway through the meal? Yeah, well, you’re doing it wrong.)
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith from Creative Commons Flickr
Sushi is not the only realm of Japanese food that Americans get wrong. Ever had Kobe beef? Well, actually, you probably haven’t. Liam Dempsey, 21, who grew up in a half Japanese household, says that “the cows [that make Kobe beef] are raised a very certain way in [the Hyogo] prefecture similarly to how champagne and bourbon are only from certain places in France and the U.S.” That’s a single region in Japan, no doubt incapable of providing all of these restaurants with Kobe. Not to mention, it has only recently become legal to import the coveted Japanese beef.
Having enjoyed Japanese food in his home and at many high-end restaurants in both New York and Los Angeles, he says that Kobe beef in Japan is one of the highest quality cuts possible. The way that the cow is raised– with hand massages, a certain diet, in a certain atmosphere–is not emulated in the U.S. In fact, the lineage of the cow is even important–if a cow’s father becomes Kobe, so will the son. So you’ve likely never had Kobe.
Our food faux-pas aren’t restricted to sushi and Kobe beef either. It turns out Americans butcher food etiquette all over the world. Take Italian food, for example. Granted, on our side of the pond, we often eat Italian-American instead of classic Italian, but many customs we take for granted as “authentic Italian” would be laughed out of the restaurants in Italy.
For example, many Italian restaurants in the United States offer the staple pre-dinner fill-up: a delicious loaf of bread with a plate of olive oil and vinegar. This is a hard no-no in Italy. Not only do they not dip their bread in olive oil (instead using it for soaking up the extra sauce after an entrée of pasta), but they generally look down upon those who feast on their bread before their meal has begun. In other words, the bread is meant to be eaten after the meal, not serve as the antecedent.
Additionally, during my own time spent in Italy, I found that salad was served after the pasta and not before. Once again, the vegetables aren’t something to get out of the way in lieu of the delicious, salty carbs, but instead just another part of the meal to be enjoyed.
Photo courtesy of Jshj from Creative Commons Flickr
Okay, now here’s the real kicker. In America, Parmesan is king. We put it on pizza, pasta, sandwiches, etc. Why not? It’s freaking good. But in Italy, Parmesan is not the cheese to beat. Not only is Parmesan not the traditional cheese–in Rome, they use Pecorino–but to ask for it on anything where it’s not explicitly offered is yet another faux pas.
Indian food is spicy and filling, but most of all it’s messy. That’s why it may come as a surprise that Indian food is traditionally (and correctly) eaten with just one lucky tool: your right hand. To use the left hand is considered unclean.
The nitty-gritty of the etiquette changes based on what Indian cuisine is more popular there. For example, in North India, using just the two foremost fingers is proper, and possible, as they largely enjoy roti and dry curry. This is unlike Southern India, which enjoys the use of the entire hand for meals.
While some like to pick up their curried meat and grab some rice, using the thumb to push the food into the mouth neatly, others use naan as the food delivery system, which seems neater but may be more difficult. The one-hand thing gets tricky, and to tear naan, you still should only use your right hand–those who use both are considered kids or novices.
These new rules may seem like a lot to handle. And, of course, no one is forcing you to follow them. Go ahead and dump all that ginger on your sushi and drown out the delicate notes of perfectly cooked rice if you want. Eat that Faux-be. Dunk that bread in your olive oil! Use a fork and knife for your Indian meal!
Just don’t get upset if you receive dirty looks.
Feature photo courtesy of Orin Zebest form Creative Commons Flickr.