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Yesterday I was at a banquet that was serving sushi rolls. Some had rice on the outside and others had seaweed on the outside. I wasn't able to find chopsticks. In terms of etiquette is it alright to eat sushi by hand? If relevant I'm in North America.

Also, I heard it's a North American thing to mix the wasabi with the soy sauce before dipping the sushi in. How is the soy sauce and wasabi intended to be used?

It's my understanding the ginger is to reset the taste pallet so you should eat a little before switching to a different roll.

EDIT: but if you're provided with chopsticks, you should use them, right?

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Obligatory funny video – Mel Feb 22 at 16:35
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The funniest thing about that video is that it is mostly absolutely correct :) – Jolenealaska Feb 22 at 17:21
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"I heard it's a North American thing to mix the wasabi with the soy sauce before dipping the sushi in" - for what it's worth, Chinese people in Germany seem to consider this the natural way to use the wasabi and soy sauce in all of the many Chinese-run sushi restaurants over here. It might not be the Japanese way, but it certainly is not specifically the American way. – O. R. Mapper Feb 22 at 19:36
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@O.R.Mapper it's an interesting point, I guess one's probably best off following the etiquette for where they're at: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. – Celeritas Feb 22 at 23:03

Clean your hands before you eat. Often, you will be given a hot towel for the purpose. Return the towel to the server neatly folded.

It is fine to eat sushi with your hand, as long as there is rice with each piece of fish. Sashimi (sliced fish not prepared with rice) should only be eaten with chopsticks.

If you sit at the sushi bar, feel free to converse with the itamae (sushi chef) if he's not too busy, and to order sushi from him. Do not order anything but sushi from him, order non-sushi items from your server. It is classy to ask the itamae to recommend a sushi item or even to ask him to surprise you. If there is something you know you don't like (uni is mine), let him know because it is very rude to not clean your plate. By that I mean don't even leave a grain of rice.

Mixing wasabi with the soy sauce is so common in North America that you can get away with it, but it is considered kind of tacky. So is eating ginger with a bite of sushi. You're correct that it is intended as a palate cleanser between sushi 'courses'. Again, if you want to, you're not going to get kicked out for it. In fine sushi restaurants, sushi is often not served with wasabi on the side. After all, the chef is an expert, he knows more about sushi than you! And presumably he knows how much wasabi should go on each piece of sushi. If you really want more, go ahead and add it if it's there, or let the itamae know your preferences in the matter.

Regarding dipping into the soy, try not to soak the rice of nigiri-zushi (shaped rice with a slice of fish on top). Just lightly dip the fish. Ideally, place the bite into your mouth fish down. Try to eat the whole piece in one bite. If you must, bite it in half but don't put the second half back on the plate. It's funny, but the video in @Mel's comment to the question shows tossing a big piece of sushi down pretty well :) Just know that the dunking it in soy sauce is a joke!

If you are in a part of the word where tipping is expected, tip the server and itamae separately. Often there will be a jar on the bar for tipping the chef. He would rather not touch money while he is working.

You can offer the itamae a sake if you're so inclined.

Finally, leave your chopsticks laying across the soya bowl between uses, or on the holder if there is one. Never leave them on your plate or (heaven forbid) sticking out of your rice.

Regarding your edit, not necessarily. It is completely optional to use chopsticks to eat rolls or nigiri. It is entirely up to you. It's like using the provided spoon to eat the usually provided miso soup. Drinking it from the bowl is totally acceptable.

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In the US, so many people mix wasabi into the soy sauce that I wouldn't worry about it if that's the way you prefer it. After all, in the US, the wasabi is usually there to do with what you want. If you want to mix it into soy sauce, do it. I'd only worry about that if you're worried about appearances like if you're interviewing for a job (or maybe on a first date with a sushi expert :) If you want to look like an expert, ignore the wasabi. Otherwise, eat it the way you want to. – Jolenealaska Feb 22 at 13:04
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BTW, very few sushi places in the US use 'real' wasabi, but it can often be found in grocery stores and you might find it in sushi bars if you call around and ask. I actually prefer the usual colored horseradish to the real stuff, probably because I got used to it first. It's worth checking out just to learn the difference. – Jolenealaska Feb 22 at 13:24
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@Jolenealaska - I'm imagining the conversation the next day "yes, the date went well, mostly. I have a tough time thinking about this guy, long term. He mixed wasabi into the soy sauce at dinner. What a clod." – JoeTaxpayer Feb 22 at 14:33
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If you want more (or less) wasabi in traditional Japanese sushi, just ask the chef. Then he'll put more (or less) on. (If I'm given wasabi on the side and not in the nigiri, I'll usually just insert the amount I want on my own, rather than mixing it in the soy sauce.) – Kimball Feb 22 at 15:00
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I am living in Japan now and I am surprised that I have already internalized all of this advice without even realizing of it. – Francisco Presencia Feb 22 at 15:22

It sounds like you were served sushi rolls as finger food, and if chopsticks are not provided, then you are expected to eat it like the other finger food, with your fingers. There isn't really etiquette involved as this isn't a restaurant setting. If you are having a sit-down meal, and there are no chopsticks provided, you could always ask for a pair.

Typically in Japan's fine dining sushi restaurants, sushi maki (the rolls) are not served, only sushi nigiri (individual portions,) and neither wasabi nor soy sauce is provided to its patrons. The chef will add the wasabi he/she believes is the correct amount for the piece of sushi, usually placing it between the bed of rice and the piece of fish/squid/scallop/etc. The chef will also brush down the fish/squid/scallop/etc. with the appropriate soy sauce mixture (it's a blend of soy sauce and other stuff) he/she believes is the correct amount. So all you really have to do is pop it in your mouth. Chopsticks or hands are actually fine, just make sure you pop the entire thing in your mouth, don't bite it in half.

Wasabi is also only good when grated fresh. The chef will use a special wasabi grater as he/she is serving your sushi. Most likely, you are thinking of green-dyed horseradish. My recommendation isn't to eat it, but feel free to try it however you like.

The pickled ginger is used as a palate cleanser, yes, it's between fish. Your sushi should be served in a particular order, but failing that, it should still be eaten in a particular order. You start from the lightest, and work your way to the heaviest items, in terms of flavour. This order is something like: scallop -> squid -> white fish (e.g. ヒラマサ, hiramasa, kingfish) -> red fish (e.g. マグロ, maguro, tuna) -> fatty red fish (e.g. マグロ大トロ, maguro ootoro, the fatty belly of the tuna.)

If you are in a restaurant that provides soy sauce, dip your chopsticks into the soy sauce and brush it onto the fish/squid/scallop side (don't dip the rice side into the sauce, it soaks up way too much and it just tastes like soy sauce.) If you are eating sushi maki, brush it onto the cut side of the piece.

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While you're welcome to your opinion about the product used in the US as "wasabi"... but the fact is that millions of people in the US use and enjoy it. Saying "you should not eat it" as if it's a fact rather than your personal opinion is not really appropriate. – Catija Feb 22 at 4:09
    
@Catija okay fine I'll remove that part. – setek Feb 22 at 4:11
    
If you're provided with chopsticks, would it be considered bad manors not to use them? – Celeritas Feb 22 at 5:37
    
No it isn't, and you can see that in @Jolenealaska's answer too :) – setek Feb 22 at 5:42
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Hi @Celeritas sorry I should've been more clear, they grate it as the sushi is ready, which I can see as I dine at the counter, however if you're at a table, you probably won't see it happening? – setek Jun 3 at 2:06

An info-graphic I found on the topic a little while ago that I believe answers your question quite well: How To Eat Sushi Like A Pro (INFOGRAPHIC) Source: iLoveCoffee.JP

In terms of etiquette is it alright to eat sushi by hand? If relevant I'm in North America.

According to the info-graphic there is no wrong way to eat sushi as long as it makes it into your belly. I would agree with this however I would recommend at least attempting to use the chopsticks.

It's my understanding the ginger is to reset the taste pallet so you should eat a little before switching to a different roll.

That's it!

but if you're provided with chopsticks, you should use them, right?

Again you should at least attempt to. It's not a bad thing to learn :)

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This is a fun graphic and it does answer the question well. To make it a better answer consider adding a link to the original site and also adding some text in your own words. – Jolenealaska Feb 22 at 14:17
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Do you have permission to reproduce this image? The page it's from has a copyright notice and I see no indication that it's okay to reproduce in its entirety, even with attribution, so for now I'm going to remove it. If I'm mistaken and this is permissible, feel free to roll back the edit (but Jolene's point still stands). – Jefromi Feb 22 at 14:38
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From the site on the contact page **Using my images** Please credit and link my site when featuring my images, then it's all yours! (Please don't steal.) – James Flattery Feb 22 at 14:45
    
Works for me as far as the permission, and the graphic is really fun. I still recommend adding some of yourself to the answer. – Jolenealaska Feb 22 at 14:52
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How would you feel about including a cropped version of the infographic, and linking to the full one? It's kind of huge, so people have to scroll an awful lot to see any other answers, and a lot of the information in it isn't directly answering the question. – Jefromi Feb 24 at 20:58

I have never seen anyone eat sushi with their hands in the U.S., and I basically live on a sushi diet. That said, if everyone else were doing it and if the sushi tasted good enough, I would totally eat sushi with my hands.

Re: wasabi. Put it in the soy sauce. Eat ginger between pieces if you want to.

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