For me, sushi is a food group. Not only is it yummy in my tummy, it’s low in fat, high in protein and chock full of Omega 3s.
Sushi bars are the preferred place for me to eat when I am alone. Unlike an airplane, where I prefer to fly in silence, sushi bars are a bastion of conversation and conviviality.
Here’s my play-by-play after dining solo at a newly discovered restaurant:
My first order of business is to bond with the sushi man. It doesn’t matter how many sushi bars I frequent, I always want to please the sushi man. Not impress him, please him, with my thoughtful and authentic order. My general strategy is to order the traditional nigiri first: hamachi, sake, hirame. Not the silly rolls. Those will have to wait until after I have earned the sushi man’s respect.
Perhaps I should never have read that book on sushi etiquette. Pity my poor pals when I was endlessly admonishing them about “the rules.” Recently I have reversed myself, although there are a few customs I can’t ignore. I never, ever, rub the wooden chopsticks together. I am careful not to make a palette-busting soup composed of wasabi and soy sauce. When sharing from a communal plate, I always turn my chopsticks upside down to take my food. That way I am not touching your pristine sashimi with the chopsticks that just left my lips. It is considered rude to leave rice from your nigiri on your plate. Always a problem for me as I don’t eat many starchy white carbs like rice. Back in the day I made a rice ball in my paper napkin with all the extra rice and disposed of it in the restroom like I used to do with my vegetables when I was a kid. Empowered now, I ask the sushi man for half rice with my nigiri (the better to eat the whole piece in one bite) and no rice with my handrolls (extra veggies instead).
When I am eating at a new sushi bar, I like to sit back, sip sake, and see what the regulars are ordering. At any other restaurant staring at other people’s fare might be considered rude – at a sushi bar it is a compliment. And forget what your mother told you about accepting food from strangers. I happily accept a taste of poki from the couple on my left.
I am getting a hankering for a silly roll now. First I order something off the specials board to ensure my good standing with the sushi man. He nods his approval when I request the Spanish Mackerel. It’s not my favorite but it is fresh. Having taken one for the team, I order a Godzilla roll, a concoction of spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, eel and avocado. For my closer I have my signature scallop roll.
I am rewarded with fresh oranges at the end of my meal. Maybe everyone gets the oranges; I prefer to see it as a sign that our sushi exchange went well.