Eating sushi with one's fingers -- OK, verboten, or depends?

I greatly enjoy sushi, but have alway eaten it with a fork in the past. FWIW, I keep the sushi intact – the fork only serves as a scooping/dipping tool since I have no grip strength with chopsticks.

Anyhow, recently while at a favorite sushi joint, I was told by the waiter that in Japan it’s OK to eat sushi rolls without utensils – like eating cherry tomatoes. This guy always gets me a fork … we were just making conversation.

The kind of rolls I have in mind are the rolls with rice on the outside, and those with seaweed on the outside.

Moving right along …

Two days ago, I ate sushi in another restaurant. No forks in sight. I didn’t want to ask for a fork, so I decided to try the no-utensils approach.

My findings:

  • The seaweed-wrapped sushi seem to be made for eating by hand. Very clean and easy.

  • Eating the rice-wrapped rolls by hand was OK, but a little messy. Not horrendously messy – a bit too “finger-licking”, though. Some rice predictably stuck to my fingers.

  • Eating the kind of sushi where a crab-stick or a shrimp is laid on top of rice & wrapped with a band of seaweed is reasonable easy by hand.

Now, the messiness of the rice-wrapped rolls made me think – is it REALLY common, or even acceptable, for native Japanese folks to forego the chopsticks and eat sushi by hand? My source on this was not Japanese, FWIW.

BTW, rolls are called maki and the flat whole pieces on rice are called nigiri.

Do they even have inside-out maki in Japan? I thought it was a strictly American invention (hence, California rolls). If they don’t (or if they only do because it’s been imported back from the States), then the messiness wouldn’t seem to have any bearing.

–Cliffy, who uses chopsticks

Thanks for the reminder – I always forget, despite the fact that these names are written on handy-dandy placards at the sushi bar. Keppa maki … OK, now I recall.

That could be a very salient point. Hopefully, a resident of Nihon will drop by to shed some light.

A few answers.

I finally made friends with chopsticks this last year, but still can drop bits on my lap.


Thanks, Lady Dragon!

I found some more info through Googling around:

This site gives instructions on eating sushi with the fingers … complete with pics!

Looks like going with the finger is OK! However, is it COMMON in Japan?

Using your hands to eat sushi is not only kosher, but apparently the “correct” way to consume it while in Japan, provided that you hold the piece with your middle three fingers (eg, middle finger on top, index finger on one side, ring finger on the other side) and only dip the FISH portion of the sushi in your soy sauce.

By correct I mean ceremonial - not unlke the Japanese Tea Ceremony. However, the average Japanese person will consume sushi using either their hands or chopsticks when just dining casually.


Incidentally, I gleaned this info from my Sister-in-Law, who spent her first 26 years as a real live Japanese person. :smiley: (Actually, her subsequent 5 years have also been spent as a Japanese person, however now she lives in Canada.)

With a fork!? :eek:
Good thing our resident otaku has been banned, or he’d be all over you for disrespecting sacred Japanese traditions.

As I understand it, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat sushi with bare hands, and some purists still insist on it. But it’s an outdated tradition. Most people nowadays use chopsticks, and all sushi restaurants I’ve been to supplied chopsticks.

I read somewhere that sushi used to be eaten after going to public baths, so eating with bare hands was perfectly sanitary. I can’t find any cites to back it up though.

Hands…definitely with the hands…just turn it over as Alice said, and try not to totally saturate/immerse it in soy sauce. A little dab’ll do ya. And don’t you ever let me see you eating it with a fork.

I once ate a little morsel called “odori ebi,” or “dancing shrimp.” definitely an acquired taste…

Maybe OsakaDave or some of the other Japan based dopers can chime in here. Temaki (the cone shaped rolls wrapped in seaweed) are made to be eaten by hand. The other form of maki (roll shaped wrapped in seaweed) are made to be eaten with chopsticks. Ditto for the reverse rolls with the rice on the outside (btw, I’m guessing these were made in Japan and not “invented” in the US).

I lived in Japan for a few years, and the vast majority of Japanese ate sushi with chopsticks. If I saw a gaijin using their hands, I would automatically assume they didn’t know how to use chopsticks. It seems pretty uncouth to me, but then again I’m an American and not Japanese.

I was taught that the proper was to eat nigiri is to pick it up with your chopsticks, flip it over and dip the fish side in the soy sauce, then turn it right side up and pop into mouth. It’s a bit tricky until you get the hang of chopsticks and flipping it over.

Finally, a fork??? For Sushi??? :eek:

Okay to eat with hands or chopsticks.

Pick up by preferred method, dip fish side into soy/wasabi mix, and then insert into mouth, fish side toward tongue. I have been so informed by Japanese sushi chefs.

This has already been said plenty on this thread, but I appear to be the first Japanese resident to show up, so I will humbly take the role of “local expert.”


It’s totally okay to eat sushi with your hands. Some Japanese will tell you that it is in fact the “proper” way, and then about half of them will immediately proceed to eat it with chopsticks. This kind of thing is typical of Japanese, and it used to drive me crazy, but I now find it quite charming. Kind of like how my mother likes it when my father snores.

Big platters of sushi are often featured at stand-and-eat banquets, and many will eat it with their hands then. Although little paper plates and diposable chopsticks are often provided.

Eat it all with your fingers. Rolled, caked, it doesn’t matter.

As noted elsewhere, you’re supposed to dip the FISH, NOT the rice into the soy sauce. Eating with your fingers can make this easier. If you dip the rice, it gets wet and falls apart. However, flipping the whole operation over to dip the fish often leaves me with rice on my hands and fish in my dish. At least it used to.

And if you can’t use chopsticks and don’t want to get your fingers fishy, eat with a fork. What difference does it make? And if people look at you like a sinner, raise your fish-free middle finger in the classic salute. I confess that I would be the first to give you a dirty look (as I would if you pour soy sauce all over your rice…words cannot express the anger that rages within me when people do this), but I will also be the first to admit such behavior classifies me as an elitist asshole.

Bon Appetit!

I also live in Japan, and somewhat along the lines of what Kyomara has said, while I’ve heard a lot of Japanese say that it’s okay to eat sushi with your hands I’ve seen very few of them actually do so.

Re: the inside-out maki: I’ve never seen it for sale in any grocery store I’ve been to or available in any sushi restaraunt I’ve visited. I can’t say for sure that it’s an American invention, but if it’s a Japanese one, it sure doesn’t seem to be very popular.

As long as you don’t stick your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice. (my old Japanese teacher told me this). It resembles burning incense, and symbolizes you wishing death upon the hosts. (Go ahead and prove me wrong… My Japanese teacher had a habit of teaching us stuff that had no credibility, but it sounds like a feasible custom)

I always heard that you weren’t supposed to stand your chopsticks up in your rice because that’s the way that rice was offered to the dead. But your explanation sounds more plausible, somehow.

Also, you should never pick anything up by impaling it on your chopstick. Apparently. This doesn’t stop a lot of my Japanese friends from doing so, though.

FWIW, this is also the explanation that I’ve always heard.

:smiley: :cool: I was paged! Cool! scr4 (2 post above yours) is (IIRC) Japanese. I usually eat sushi with my fingers, but sometimes with chopsticks. I’ve bee complimented (by “purists”, no doubt) for eating it with my fingers.


Ha ha! Thanks for the support … I guess?

Terminus Est, China Guy: yup – with a fork. Hey, I knew a Chinese guy in college who would eat potato chips with chopsticks right out the bag. It never crossed my mind to give this guy a hard time.

Life is too short to suffer the trivial, inconsequential peeves of total strangers. Kyomara has the right attitude.

Fair enough, but perhaps you should try to have a bit of cultural sensitivity. Many cultures it is polite nay expected to produce a nice big belch after a meal to show appreciation to the host. Some cultures also find it perfectly acceptable to break wind loudly and at any time. Just guessing but you would probably point out that such behavior is generally considered a shade of impolite, rude, gauche or downright socially unacceptable at a fancy dinner party in the US.

Watching someone eat potatoe chips or french fries with chopsticks might be considered wierd (and it’s not all that common of a practice from my 15 years in Asia), but not rude.

In Japan, I certainly have seen cases of appalled Japanese watching Westerners trying to each sushi. Using a fork, attempting to grill the raw fish with a lighter, making a mess, etc. I’m not saying you should be a chopstick pro before attempting to eat sushi for the first time or anything like that. But if you like sushi and eat it on a regular basis, just maybe you should make an effort to learn the names of your favorites and not to eat in an embarrasing fashion.

Good God, man, I can’t condone that.

You’d probably be willing to concede, though, that there is a difference between quietly eating sushi with a fork and making a major spectacle of yourself at the dinner table with a lighter. Besides which the guy you saw doing that must have thought himself something of a cross-cultural comedian. Kind of like the guy I met in Nagoya once who loved to “impress” all his new Japanese friends by performing exaggerated Sumo wrestling warm-ups whenever the mood struck him.

You want to talk about cultural insensitivity, check out the link someone provided earlier in this thread on how to eat sushi. The fish is flash-freezed and lightly smoked?? You can have mine. Funny how the cultural opposite of this is the complete impossibility of getting a medium-rare hamburger in Japan these days.

For the record, my first post was not an attempt to include anyone else here as members of the asshole elite. It was an entirely self-deprecating remark.