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I recently watched the movie "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," and noticed that Jiro was always brushing some sort of liquid onto the sushi, but I can't figure it out.

My hypothesis is that it's either some sort of oil (sesame, olive, etc.) or maybe a vinegar of sorts, but I have no idea.

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He brushes soy sauce on it, because he knows how much is sufficient to season each nigiri. Actually not just any soy sauce, but nikiri:

A good sushi chef adds all the flavors the sushi needs before he hands it to the customer. He mixes his own sauce and uses it behind the sushi bar. This sauce is called nikiri.

you can see him brushing it here:

enter image description here

According to this other site,

Nikiri is typically made using a mixture of soy sauce, dashi, mirin and sake. The sauce has a subtle complimentary umami sweetness that is designed to enliven and enhance the flavour of the fish with which it is being served.

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    I lived in Japan for 17 years; I ate a lot of sushi, and much of it was at high-end restaurants (my students would treat me). I have never seen an “itamae, a sushi chef, brush any behind-the-counter sauce on the nigiri before serving it, unless the nigiri begs for a different flavor than soy. Some chefs serve the whiter, sweeter fish with ponzu and green onions. But I’ve never sat down at a sushi bar where there wasn’t a dipping bowl in the place setting and soy sauce on the counter or table. – Just Joel Mar 25 '18 at 16:47
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    I will have to look into “nikiri” though. Sounds interesting! – Just Joel Mar 25 '18 at 16:48
  • @JustJoel actually I also assumed it was just soy sauce until I did some research for this answer. I've never heard of nikiri before. – Luciano Mar 26 '18 at 8:27

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