One of the most intimidating things I have ever done was order sushi for the first time. I remember sitting at the table at my favorite Chinese restaurant and internally debating if I really wanted to attempt it or not. What if I didn’t order it correctly? What if I didn’t like it? What if I accidentally ordered some with raw fish (I know a lot of sushi is raw, but not all of it and I prefer my fish cooked)??!
Thankfully, I had a friend with me to talk me through the process. Now, several years later, sushi is one of my favorite foods and being intimidated while ordering doesn’t even cross my mind.
If you’re someone who really wants to try the deliciousness that is sushi but the prospect of ordering it makes you lose your appetite due to nerves, don’t worry! I’m here to walk you through it.
First, let’s start off with some basic sushi vocab. Most sushi menus that I’ve encountered have done an adequate job of describing what the different varieties of sushi the restaurant makes consist of, but it never hurts to know what a few words mean, just in case.
Vocab to Know
Tempura – Seafood or vegetables fried in batter. If you see the word “tempura” before a word (like “tempura shrimp”), you know that it will be cooked.
Nori – The greenish-black seaweed that creates the outside layer of many types of sushi
Sashimi – Thin slices of raw fish served without rice.
Roll – When most people think of sushi, they picture what is known as a “roll” – the ingredients of the sushi are formed into a cylindrical tube shape and then sliced into either six or eight sections.
Hand roll (Temaki) – Instead of a cylindrical roll that is sliced into sections, a hand roll is served as a large cone shape and doesn’t come sliced.
Types of Sushi
There are many types of sushi that you can order, including varieties that don’t include raw fish. The basic formula for sushi is nori and rice rolled around and either vegetables or some type of seafood (or both). You can also order rolls that are vegetable-only. There are also rolls with tempura seafood or imitation crab meat. Then there are the rolls people commonly think of when they hear the word “sushi”: rolls with slivers of raw, smoked or cooked fish.
(It’s important to note that, while raw fish sushi is a popular and often tasty selection, eating uncooked fish or meat always holds some potential for causing illness. Pregnant women especially should steer clear of raw fish.)
Some restaurants even serve deep fried sushi, which usually consists of a basic nori-rice-vegetable/seafood roll that comes battered and covered in a specialty sauce.
By paying attention to the sushi menu, you should easily be able to tell what the different varieties of sushi are made of. If you’re confused or can’t tell, feel free to ask your waiter. They will almost always be able to help clear things up for you.
What to Expect
Alright, now you know the basics about what will be in your sushi. The next step is ordering.
First of all, I would highly recommend selecting a restaurant that has a good reputation for its sushi. If your first sushi experience is eating pieces that have been sitting out at a buffet all day, you’re probably not going to want to try it again.
When you arrive at your restaurant of choice, you will probably be asked if you would like a sushi menu or there may already be a sushi menu waiting at your table. At most restaurants, the sushi menu is a piece of paper that describes the different rolls that the restaurant makes with a box next to the description for you to write the number of rolls that you would like.
Some restaurants may have you order sushi the same way you would an appetizer or other meal by just telling the server what you would like.
When your sushi makes its appearance at your table, it will probably be arranged on a long, rectangular plate. In most cases, wasabi (a super spicy green paste) and slices of pickled ginger (a tangy salmon-colored root vegetable) will be served with it. Don’t feel pressured to eat the wasabi or ginger along with your sushi. While some people use them as condiments, many simply regard them as a garnish.
Now comes the big moment: eating your sushi! It is perfectly acceptable to user your fingers to pick up your sushi and pop it in your mouth. You can also use chopsticks or a fork or spoon to deliver the bite to your mouth (especially if you’ve ordered a roll that came topped with a sauce).
Enjoy your sushi!