This story originally appeared on Foodandwine.com.
“You think you know how to eat sushi? You don’t know anything about eating sushi,” said Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, carving into a slab of tuna for a tasting at his soon-to-open outpost at the new Renaissance Downtown Hotel Dubai.
Though the Hiroshima-born chef, who trained in traditional sushi-making and kaiseki – a hyper-precise style of Japanese fine dining that’s equal parts cuisine and art form – is known for sometimes bending culinary conventions, he has a much less tolerant vision of how sushi is meant to be eaten. His hot take? Even before you pick up the chopsticks, you’re probably already doing it wrong.
First things first: If you think sushi is synonymous with "roll," you’re missing out on this classic Japanese street food – yes, sushi in Tokyo was once mostly sold by street vendors – in its purest form: nigiri, simple fresh fish on a base of seasoned rice. The chef does, of course, offer spicy tuna – a sushi standard, though the spicy mayo renders this classic technically unorthodox – and select other non-traditional maki at his 12 eponymous restaurants, including his forthcoming Dubai opening. But, rest assured, you won’t find anything with cream cheese.
Now that we’ve established the category, here are Morimoto’s rules for eating sushi right. (Remember, we're just the messengers.)
Rule 1: Don’t even think about mixing wasabi into your soy sauce
That’s right – if the first thing you do when your sushi arrives at the table is to mix a lump of wasabi into your soy sauce, you’ve broken one of Morimoto’s cardinal rules before even tasting a bite of fish. That’s because the perfect-sized dollop of spicy green paste is already tucked into your sushi. “Trust me, don’t put,” Morimoto says. “I already put wasabi between the fish and the rice. The right amount.”
Each bite of sushi is designed to be a perfect balance of flavors: salt (naturally occurring in the fish, and from the rice seasoning), acid (vinegar in the rice), sweet (sugar in the rice) and fish. To complete the equation, a knowledgeable sushi chef will adjust the amount of wasabi to the type of fish you’re eating. “More fat, more wasabi,” Morimoto says, explaining that the horseradish cuts the richness of the fish. Too much wasabi, meanwhile, will overpower the delicate flavors of leaner cuts, such as tuna loin. Furthermore, the soy sauce fills the savory role in each perfect bite, and mixing in wasabi obscures that flavor, too.
Rule 2: Dunk carefully
“You dip the rice in the soy sauce,” says Morimoto, and laughs. “That’s wrong!” Yep, dipping your sushi into the soy sauce rice side down is another no-no. While the rice in poorly made sushi (or at least stuff that’s been sitting at the grocery store all day) may have a spackle-like consistently that’ll stand up to a dunking, professionally-trained sushi chefs spend years learning how to gently fold the seasoning into the rice without mangling the grains and releasing too much starch. The rice should be just sticky enough to hold together, but it’ll fall apart the second it touches liquid.
Of course, considering that sushi is generally plated rice down, dipping fish-side down does require dexterity with the chopsticks. If that’s not your skill set, Morimoto says there’s no shame in eating sushi with your hands.
Rule 3: Eating sushi is a one-bite deal
See rule number 1: Each piece of sushi is designed to be a balance of flavors and ingredients, so if you eat one part at a time, you’re sacrificing the perfect bite. “Some people say I can’t eat this in one bite, too big,” Morimoto says. “Tell me which one is bigger: a hot dog, a hamburger or sushi? Not the sushi.”
And now you know.