I've Never Eaten Sushi

I’ve never eaten sushi. I noticed a couple of days ago that there is a new restaurant opening in town soon (they put up the new sign). A new sushi and steak restaurant. If I go to this restaurant and eat the sushi, how will I know whether it is good sushi? It may be good or it may be bad. But I wouldn’t know.

What are the characteristics of good sushi that I should be looking for? Firmness of fish. Clumpage of rice? Distinct flavors?

Help, please.

I’ve been eating sushi for years, but I still can’t really answer your question. If I like it, it’s good sushi.

I suppose a particularly bad-fishy flavor, like if the fish isn’t fresh enough, would be the universal bad-sushi experience

I’d look for softness rather than firmness of fish. Though not runny, because that would be gross, and probably hospitalize you. A moderate smear of wasabe to stick the fish on the top of the rice and a nice little bowl of shoyu to dip the mofo in, and you’re laughing. The better places have the sushi chef making it in front of you, so you can assess their skill (from within your non-existent frame of reference).

If it tastes good to you then it is good sushi.

Are you worried about the fish being unfit to eat? Or the sushi just not holding up to some high snobby standard? Like “Oh, you ate there. Well that isn’t really good sushi.”

From my totally subjective opinions:

-The fish should not have a strong fishy flavor: it should be slightly sweet, and taste almost like a fresh succulent vegetable.
-The rice should be clean-tasting, a tiny bit sweet, a tiny bit tart.
-The best things to start with, I think, are tuna and salmon: both are tasty and not terribly strong.
-Experiment with Wasabi. You’re “supposed” to mix a little of it in with your tamari, but it’s fun to put a pea-sized glob on your sushi and top that with a piece of pickled ginger and then eat it. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a wasabi experience that’ll leave you in tears of pain and your dining companion in tears of laughter.


When I was in Japan, I was told that the pickled ginger was to be eaten in between pieces of sushi “to freshen the palate”, though how something that strong-tasting doesn’t mangle one’s palate instead, I don’t know. Still, they invented it.

jjimm, I’ve heard that, too. But I like eating sushi as a sandwich: sushi on bottom, a splat of wasabi in the middle, a curl of ginger on top, shoved into my mouth as a whole bite. Totally uncouth; totally yummy.


Yup, Jimm’s right - the ginger is indeed a palate cleanser, and youre supposed to put the wasabi directly on the sushi rather than stir it in the tamari (like I do).
I am a sushi whore.

Dammit, y’all are making me hungry.

Daniel’s description of good sushi is pretty much the ideal. A strong, fishy flavor is bad. Other than that, it really does come down to whether you like it.

You owe it to yourself to try unagi, by the way.

We all know sushi is not dinner it’s what you use to catch dinner.


Do try it. Sushi is (imho) the food of the gods. I eat it not to be filled, or to satisfy hunger, but to feel happy.

Do not judge sushi as a whole based on one experience. There is a wide variety of experiences available. Shop around and find the chef that suits you, each chefs recipe for sushi (which is just the rice btw) differs slightly. You can eat sushi without ever having a piece of fish pass your lips, but you will be missing out on some of the great pieces. Start off with some vegetable rolls to get into the swing of it if you like, follow it with some that have shrimp (not sweet raw shrimp, but cooked), and move on from there to salmon slices is my sushi-for-beginners program.

If you have “icky” thoughts around the idea of the texture involved in the fish pieces, then consider whether or not you like, for example, smoked salmon. The consistancy is not dissimilar (for the salmon ones anyhow), and might be a good pointer.

Enjoy, a good sushi is hard to beat.

One way of telling is that it doesn’t smell like fish. If there’s much of a fishy smell, then it isn’t fresh.

The other key to enjoying sushi is to start out with those that are usually liked by just about everyone like Iteki says. Ebi (cooked shrimp), unagi (grilled eel), maguro (raw tuna). Sushi hand rolls may be even easier like the california roll (avocado, cooked crab), cucumber roll, etc. yep, the salmon is another good for beginners.

I would save the natto (fermented beans), uni (sea urchin) and the like for another time.

One of my faves is hotate (scallops) for beginners. It’s raw but neither too chewy or overly slimey but very oishi (tasty).

Long before I learned Japanese, I knew the 20 basic sushi items and happily ordered away in Japan.

I love sushi and I hope you will too. If you are worried about “bad” sushi in the sense that the fish isn’t fresh and you’ll spend the next three days “catching up on your reading” I wouldn’t worry too much. Sure, give the fish a smell. If you smell anything fishy or “off” then leave. But I doubt you will. Today’s food distribution system is such that you can get just about anything just about anywhere and be ok. Plus, it would only take one call to your board of health or local newspaper to shut the place down. Its just not a risk the restaurant owner would be willing to take over 2 dollars worth of fish.

Now, for the good part. First, approach sushi as an adventure. Are you up to it? Do you really have an open mind? Sushi is afterall simply fish and lightly vinegared rice. It WON’T kill you. Every person that I’ve taken to “sushi” who claimed they didn’t like it, ended up admitting that the only thing that bothered them was the THOUGHT of eating raw fish. Once they had a few pieces though they were off and running. No pun intended.

My suggestions:
Start with Kappa Maki; this is just sushi rice and cucumber wrapped in seaweed (“nori”, which is the flat dark green “paper” that sushi is rolled in; rolls are called “Maki” by the way). Its not even fish, but will allow you to taste the rice. The word “sushi” itself actually refers to the rice, not the fish (thats “sashimi”). For your first piece, poke out the cucumber and just taste the rice. It shouldn’t be plain, but lightly vinagerred, maybe a little sweet, but not sugary. Time and again I’ve found that it was the rice that made the difference between good sushi and great sushi.

Next, try the California Roll. This is “sea legs” (fake crab), cucumber, and avacado rolled in rice and wrapped in nori. The Cali roll is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, its “inside out”. The Kappa Maki (most likely) had cucumber surrounded by rice which was surrounded by the nori. The Cali Roll will be crab-cuc-'cado wrapped by nori, then surrounded by rice. If you see orange “sprinkles” on the outside these are flying fish row (eggs). Delicious!! Still one of my favorites. And don’t get thrown by the “sea legs” thing. Cali Rolls are very popular and if the restaurant used real crab they would be prohibitively expensive. Some do. And they are…

The next piece I would suggest is “Spicy Tuna Roll”. This will be your first raw fish, but its in the familar roll form and also contains a little mix of mayo and tabasco. If you REALLY don’t like hot food get a normal tuna roll. But in either case, you’ve just eaten raw fish and it didn’t kill you.

Now, its time for your first “nigiri”. Nigiri is not rolled. It is a small block of sushi rice with a slab of raw fish on top. There may also be a small “swipe” of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) smeared on the fish before its put on the rice. For your first nigiri I would suggest yellowtail or tuna. Both are mellow fishes. Salmon would be good too, but not quite as mellow. And when I say “mellow” remember its a question of scale. Let’s put it this way: tuna in a can is a Boeing 747, grilled tuna is a garbage truck at 4 am, sushi tuna is a babbling brook in the rain forest. Once you’ve made it past your first, or maybe second, piece of nigiri the sushi world is yours.


I hope I haven’t bored you. I love sushi and as a consultant by trade who spends his life on the road I’ve eaten alot of it in alot of different places. Some was better than others, but none have ever been “bad”.

Besides the above I offer the following:

Wasabi: wasabi is Japanese horseradish. Its green. It will probably be a very thick, almost hard paste. The reason is that most wasabi that you’ll get in the US is made from dried wasabi powder. The restaurant then makes its batch by mixing in some water. Its hot, but hot like horseradish is hot. A little provides a nice tingle and greatly enhances the experience. Too much and it’ll “blow out” your sinuses and make your eyes water. But, also like our horseradish, a quick drink of water or two will quell the fire for good.

And NEVER EVER EVER mix wasabi into your soy sauce. Dan might disagree with me, but I have it from a very respected sushi chef that mixing the two is the surest sign of a “outsider”. It ranks right up there with ordering a corned beef sandwich with mayo at the Carnegie Deli.

Also, I would avoid soy sauce. Taste the rice, the fish, and the other things. For me even the slightest dab of soy sauce just makes the whole thing taste like soy sauce. Its like ketchup on filet mignon. But then I hate ketchup.

Remember that fresh fish is expensive and that you’ll spend a pretty penny eating yourself stupid on the stuff. Do NOT enter the restaurant if you are concerned with the price. Sushi is expensive for any number of reasons. If you walk in and the first thing you think when you see the menu is how expensive it is you won’t enjoy it no matter how “good” it is. Leave that shit at home.

So GO!! Be happy, confident, and open minded. Throw your cares, your fears, and your wallet to the wind. I’m willing to bet that once you do you’ll love it.

The fact that at least 5 other Dopers responded before I could even finish my diatribe should give you hope.

One last thought… if at the end of your sushi evening you’re feeling cocky ask for “Uni with a Quail egg, yolk only”.

Definately a “dessert” piece.

Oh, other posts have reminded me…

Yep, it is “frowned upon” to add wasabi to your dipping soy. The implication is that the chef has not added the perfect amount to the piece you are eating. However, it’s your mouth, you really can do what you like. If you prefer it then do it that way.

As for dipping, you don’t dip the rice.
It bears repeating, you don’t dip the rice.

You want to slightly dip the topping, not the bed of rice. This is because 1) rice is sacred in itsself, it should not be sullied, and 2) if you dip rice in soy, you are drinking soy, not eating rice.

Unless you are a pro with your sticks, you might prefer to eat with your hands, which is completely legit. I can handle sticks without a problem (I use korean flat metal chopsticks on glassnoodles, so I think that counts as pro :wink: ) but I still prefer to eat sushi by hand, for me it adds to the full-sense-smackdown.

Grip your nigiri (pillow-piece) on either side between your thumb and middle finger. Your pointing finger is laid gently on the top, keeping the topping in place. With me so far? Flip your hand so your palm is face-up, this turns the topping to the underside. Gently dip the topping in the soy. Flip the hand over again, and pop into your mouth. Whether you choose to eat your piece in one or two bites is up to you. Both are accepted. With this manouver, you have gently applied a touch of soy to the topping, while keeping your ricebed pristine(ish).

The number of times I have watched people dissolving their sushi in the little dipping bowl and then fishing out the grains of rice one by one is depressing.

Sushi is definitely something I’d recommend everyone trying. I’m not a pro at the sushi thing, and I personally prefer to keep the sushi out of any sorts of sauces unless it already has something drizzled on top of it. (I’ve seen it done only in premade sushi platters.) I think I first encountered sushi through a specialized type called a “bagel” roll: it’s salmon and cream cheese and avocado, IIRC. It’s delicious. I’m going to second any of the other sushi suggestions, excepting California rolls… they drive me nuts with how bland they are on my palate. It’s probably just the fake crab that I don’t like, but they’re alright when I’m on a budget or it’s not “all you can eat for $15.”
I’m still trying to convince my mother to try it. She eats gravlax and loves it, and the only real difference between the taste of it and salmon nigiri is the rice and the gravlaxsossa. They’re both delicious. I’ll get her to try it someday when I have some cash and she’s in a good mood for trying new things.

Ignore the rulemakers up there: we’re in the States, not Japan, and you can put wasabi in the soy sauce, on the sushi, on the rice, or wherever you please. I have no patience with these faux etiquette makers. You wanna know what the authentic Japanese sushi experience for me is? It’s getting hammered on Asahi lager at 2 in the afternoon in a Y100-a-plate (or more, depending if you get anything fancy) kaiten-zusshi joint in Shinjuku ni-chome in Tokyo. Sushi joints in Japan aren’t these fancy, la-di-da, “you musn’t dip the rice, oh the horror” places you find in the States. Kaitten-zusshi places are small, cheap places where the zusshi-chef puts plates of sushi on a conveyer belt. Customers just pick the sushi they want off the belt, and they can order beer or get a bag of green tea and a mug of hot water from the tap in front of them. After they’re done, the cashier charges them according to the number and color of plates left.

In addition, you can get another kind of sushi called o-nigiri, triangular rice cakes stuffed with different kinds of fish, meat, or vegetables with a square piece of seaweed to hold it together, at any convenience store in Japan. Two of those and a can of Suntory coffee from a vending machine make an excellent breakfast.

So, enjoy your new sushi restaurant and ignore the self-appointed manners mavens, but for God’s sake, stay away from natto. It’s most definitely an acquired taste–although why anyone would want to acquire a taste for gooey, sticky, smelly, fermented soybeans is beyond me

I, for one, love natto, but I’ve only seen it served for breakfast. I’ve never seen it with sushi.

Japanese friends of mine were shocked that I liked natto. I have some in my freezer.

Mmmm. Sticky. Smelly. Mmmm…

First of all, let me say, as a resident of Japan, that I find the whole snobish attitude towards sushi highly amusing. There was an episode in a manga where a restaurant owner got mad at an employee who had just been rude to a custommer and told him: “this ain’t a sushi joint! Act up!”

Sushi restaurants, even the most expensive ones, should be boisterous places where you leave your social hang-ups at the door. People go to sushi places to have fun, and for the love of Fish.

I agree that it’s a good idea to start with the easy stuff: cooked shrimps and eel, veggies, fusion-style rolls. I must say that it took me a while to really get used to salmon - even now it has to be perfectly fresh or I’m not eating it.

Regarding proper eating technique, Japanese culture is full of do’s and dont’s and it seems that foreigners worry a lot more about them than the locals. For what it’s worth, the overwhelming majority people I know mix their wasabi in the soy sauce. The reason that you’re not supposed to mix is that if you have high-quality wasabi, you’re killing the taste with the soy sauce. Really good wasabi isn’t just hot but has a subtle delicate fragrance hidden within all that power. However, since even here, real, fresh wasabi is only for the expensive places, I say, do like we do here: don’t be a snob, mix away!

However, it is true that you should AVOID AT ALL COSTS dipping your rice in the sauce. It’ll soak up a whole bunch of it and spoil the taste. For sure, though, you haven’t mastered chopsticks until you can properly dip a nigirizushi without making a fool of yourself.

But like I said, the only thing you should seek to impress are your tastebuds (and your sinuses too…)

While I agree with the whole “do as you like” thang, and I do when I am at home with my take-out, for me a part of the peasure is the whole set of little rituals involved. This is whether they be authentic or Western UL, or just plain made up by me. I long, LONG, for the day when I too will belly up to the conveyor belt. In the meantime I will comfort myself with my little rituals and ceremonys surrounding my plate of sushi, I know exactly which pieces I am getting, and in what order I will eat them, and when there is only one piece left I will contemplate it with a mix of sorrow and joy, and then eat it with my eyes closed…

Gawd it’s been a long time since I had sushi… The place I go to is out in the suburbs in Stockholm, the most unlikely location, and the sushi there is of such a grade that I don’t eat anywhere else really… It’s just not as good, and it feels like “why settle for less”. However I am going to an all-you-can-eat christmas buffet at a cross-kitchen asian restaurant next week, my usual place is closed while Miki goes home to flash her golf club card at her relatives, and I intend to make do as best I can.