Sushi & Sashimi: The Basics 2: Questions & Answers

Vegan Sushi at Sushi Ko in Shizuoka City

I already have wrtitten a lot in bits and pieces on Sushi and Sashimi, including in my other blog, Shizuoka Sushi, but I felt it was time to post an article that could be used as general reference by my blogging friends.
The Basic 1: Definitions

Many questions are asked about sushi as there are many misconceptions, which is absolutely normal if you do not live in Japan.
I hope the following will clear up the skies for everyone.
Naturally, if you have other questions, I’ll be glad to answer them!

Sushi set consisting only of seafood caught in Shizuoka Prefecture. Served at Ginta in Yui, Shizuoka City

Q: Are there “special seats” at a sushi restaurant?

A: The usual misconception is that sitting at the counter automatically proves more costly than sitting at a table or on a tatami floor. The price will vary accordingly to what you have ordered wherever you sit. The fact that customers sitting at tables usually order “sushi sets” will tend to demonstrate that it is cheaper, but you can order the same at the counter. On the other hand, sitting at the counter will entice you to order sushi piece by piece and venture into some exotic requests, hence a higher price. I myself always sit at the counter, especially around the “corner”, because I can enjoy the vital opportunity to converse with the chef, watch his technique and have a good look at the available ingredients of the day.

Sakura Ebi Gunkan/Cherry Shrimps (caught in Shizuoka Prefecture only) served at Sushi Ko in Shizuoka City

Q:”Nigiri Zushi” should be eaten at once?

A:Yes, for two reasons:
First, the carefully-made “nigiri zushi/握り寿司” will somehow collapse on itself after some time and will not look so appetizing.
Second, the “neta” will dry up and will lose some flavour, tenderness and freshness. That is why I have always strongly felt gainst the very popular “kaiten sushi/回転寿司” (conveyor belt) restaurants!
The trick is to order one “nigiri zushi” after the other and savour them individually, one more reason to choose a counter seat.

Mini Ikura Donburi served at Sushi Ko in Shizuoka City

Q: What are the prerequisites for a good “shari” (rice ball part of the sushi)?

A: As rice is actually the most important part, only high-quality rice such as “Akita Komachi” should be used.
I’m sorry to say so, but sushi made with Thai or Basmati rice abroad is not sushi. Full stop.
Next, the balance between the rice vinegar, sugar and salt is very important. Too much of any ingredient will leave an overwhelming taste inside the mouth to the detriment of the other ingredients. Not enough salt will also be detrimental. Only experience will dictate the right amounts!

Local sashimi served at Kansawagawa Sake Brewery in Yui, Shizuoka City

Q: Should you dip the “neta” or “shari” first into the soy sauce?

A: Do as you like!
I myself very often ask the chef to add soy sauce directly onto the sushi!
Actually some sushi don’t need any soy sauce.
One can enjoy sole/hirame/平目with a tiny pinch of salt and some lemon juice on top of the neta, or sakura/raw horsemeat is served with tare, grated ginger and chopped leeks, and so forth.

Vegetarian sushi in Kyoto

Q: Is there a definite order in ordering and eating various kinds of sushi?

A: That is widely subject to personal taste. The best way is to finish with your special favourites.
I myself start with tuna sashimi (“akami” variety, my preferred part of the tuna) and finish with “natto/ume/shiso (fermented beans+pickled plum meat+green beefsteak leaf. Mind you, I would not order that in Osaka!) maki” with soup, preferably “kanijiru/蟹汁” (miso and crab soup).
In between I shall order all kinds of “nigiri zushi” according to availability. I also make a point to order “chyawan mushi/茶碗蒸し” (Japanese steamed custard) whenever possible.


Q: Is sea urchin (“uni/海栗”) nice to eat as “nigiri”?

A: It should be. If the “gunkan/軍艦” (literally “mother ship”, term taken from the Navy) is properly made! A “gunkan”-style “nigiri zushi” is made with a strip of dry seaweed wrapping the rice ball leaving the top free and securing the topping (“neta”). Moreover I would ask the chef to season it with soy sauce to avoid dropping it into my soy saucer (sorry for the pun!)

Aburi Sanma Nigiri/Slightly grilled Pike mackerel served at Sushi Ko in Shizuoka City

Q: Should all “neta” toppings be made from absolutely fresh fish only?

A: That is another misconception.
Long ago, sushi “neta” were exclusively made of boiled, pickled or salted fish.
As hygiene, refrigeration and preservation have greatly improved, we have access to better and better fresh fish. But in some cases, such as for “maguro” (tuna), it is best to leave the fish rest in a secure place for a while before eating it.
“Maguro” is at its best after a week left in a cold (not frozen) place.
Actually, Mr. Hara, the chef at Ginta in Yui, explained that he gets his fish (of the day only) from the boat the harbour, gut and dress it within a minute before leaving the fish fillets mature on a piece of cloth in the refrigerator for at least half a day!

Kohada Nigiri

Q:Especially in the case of “kohada” (gizzard shard fish or small sweet sardine) we can see at least 5 ways of cutting and presenting the fish: which is the best one?

A: Well. that probably depends both on the chef’s and the customer’s preferences. With a different cut or presentation, various parts of the fish will offer a different exposure to the eater’s palate with consequent different tastes and flavours.

Kanpyo Maki

Q: “Kanpyo (dried gourd shavings) maki” is usually cut into 3 pieces and “tekka (tuna) maki” cut in 6. Is there a definite reason for that?

A: No. This is being dictated by two factors:
a) Easy-to-hold or to-eat portions.
b) Sometimes when the “maki” is shared so smaller portions (6) will be more practical and pleasing to the eye.

Unusual round nigiri topped with ika/cuttlefish in the shape of a tsuru/crane served at Sushi Ko in Shizuoka City

Q: Which is better, a male fish or a female fish?

A: A male fish, because a female loses part of its own nutrients for egg (roe) production, especially in the case of salmon and white-fleshed fish.

The next article will be about Ingredients!

Warren Bobrow
Bread + Butter
5 Star Foodie
Frank Fariello
Tokyo Foodcast
Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass
Urban sake
Elinluv Tidbit Corner

Please check the new postings at:
sake, shochu and sushi


6 thoughts on “Sushi & Sashimi: The Basics 2: Questions & Answers”

  1. Thank you for recommending “Akita Komachi” as a high-quality rice. This is what I use for meals pretty much everyday and it’s available in Portland where I live. It is also grown in my home town.


  2. Thanks for this lesson. I learned a lot! Many years ago, when I was working in NY, I used to go often to a sushi bar called Hatsuhana. There I befriended one of the sushi chefs. I always sat at the bar and let him serve me whatever he thought I should have, since I was a complete novice. I remember he used to serve me various kinds of sushi to begin, with cold beer, then at some point switch over to sashimi, served with cold sake ‘on the rocks’. Now I see that you begin with sashimi and then move on to sushi! All very mysterious… But one thing, I usually got a hand roll with plum paste and shiso leaf towards the end of the meal, followed by oshinko as a kind of ‘dessert’. Loved those meals.. !


    1. Dear Frank!
      Thank you so much for your comments!
      Actually the Japanese always start with sashimi and finish with more more “heavy” food consisting of sushi and rolls.
      My impression is that in the States, chefs tend to satisfy their clients’ hunger first and fish up with the real tidbits!
      I also usually finish with shiso, plum meat and natto roll!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s