Chopsticks Etiquette: “Much Ado about Sushi!”

by Karee Carlucci

Let’s face it – Sushi bars are here to stay, especially in Hawai‘i, where some of Japan’s master sushi chefs choose to live. But after more than a decade of sushi’s mass-popularity, many diners are still unsure of how to eat it properly and what to do with those chopsticks. Here’s an informal guide to good chopsticks etiquette and sushi bar do’s-and-don’ts:

While it’s not expected that all Westerners learn and remember all the rules to sushi dining etiquette, you should at least try.
At most establishments, wooden chopsticks (hashi) are presented. They come in one piece, and will need to be split in two. Once they have been broken, please do not start sharpening or rubbing them together – this implies that they are cheap and may insult the host. It’s best to lay them with their narrow, rounded tips in the hashi oki, a small ceramic block made for holding chopsticks, or put them in front of you on the placemat or dish with the tips pointing to the left.

Chopsticks should not be used to draw a plate to you – they are used for picking up food and carrying it from the plate to the mouth. Lift plates with your hands and take food for yourself with the chopsticks, then set down or pass the plate. If you take food from a shared plate, use the reverse ends of your chopsticks to pick up food, rather than the ends which go in your mouth. Don’t bite into a piece of food and then replace the other half on your plate.

Once you have picked up a piece of sushi, you should eat all of it. But here’s the catch, in Japan where the sushi is generally smaller in size, it is expected to be eaten in one bite. Here in America we tend to stuff sushi into super-size rolls, making it difficult to eat in one bite, so it’s acceptable to take more bites. Even though it’s tough for a novice to pick up some foods with chopsticks, it’s a no-no to stab your food with them, and an even bigger faux-pas to shovel rice in your mouth with the chopsticks attached to the edge of the bowl. And, don’t leave any rice after a meal, it’s considered especially rude. So what about “disintegrating” sushi? Why does it start falling apart when you dip the rice-side into the shoyu (soy sauce), and on its way to your mouth you find dark flecks of rice littering the table and your clothing? It’s because of the rice dipping.
The Japanese understand that the purpose of soy is not to flavor the rice, but the fish. Therefore, nigiri sushi should be dipped fish-side into the shoyu. As you may have guessed, using chopsticks as drumsticks to beat a tempo or tap them against the dish ware to call attention to yourself is totally uncool. Good sushi should be savored slowly. It can be seductive in eye-appeal with its texture and colors, and should dissolve in your mouth in a sublime explosion of flavor. Sushi-making is an art, continually evolving, so sit back and enjoy! Practice your skills at Maui’s many sushi restaurants!