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Sushi Counter's Ultimate Guide to Eating Sushi for the First Time

on 07th Mar, 2018


Sushi Counter is the hippest and freshest sushi joint you can find in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Riyadh. Their mission is to consistently provide quality sushi to their patrons and to encourage (or tempt!) those who haven’t tasted one to try it right away. Sushi Counter doesn’t just serve Sushi, they live it. The philosophy and art of preparing the freshest, most wholesome ingredients and presenting them in the most modern attractive and appetising way, is what makes them different from any other sushi restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.

Ask any sushi lover what they like about it and you’re likely to get all sorts of expressive answers. While some will tell you that it’s not much about the food but more of the experience, others will express how much they love their sushi – the combination of flavours and textures. People who “hate” sushi are usually those who have had a bad first experience with it and will no longer dare to try again. Sushi can be intimidating to the novice, so we’ve put together all our sushi tips to come up with this ultimate sushi guide.

1. What is Sushi?

So, you’ve never had sushi before but now you’re ready to try the world’s most popular Japanese food? We’re going to tell you what you’ve been missing and how you should start to navigate the world of this versatile cuisine. Sushi is a way of preparing food that can go from a street-corner cart to the most exclusive establishment. Sushi is a famous Japanese method of cooking and serving food, based on rice, vegetables, egg, and seafood. Sushi is often thought of as simply raw fish and rice, but there are many varieties of sushi nowadays, some don’t even fish at all!

What do you need to know about eating sushi?

1. If you like fish (generally), you are going to love sushi.

2. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can explore more options with cool refreshing veggie based rolls.

3. If you are health conscious or closely watching your diet, sushi is a great meal choice.

2. A Brief History of Sushi

The origins of Sushi are shrouded in the mists of time. It is thought to have originated in ancient China, where people used cooked rice to start a fermentation process to preserve fish. Moving to Japan, this method of preserving and serving fish in rice became popular in the 9th century alongside the adoption of Buddhism, as Buddhists abandoned eating meat and consumed rice, vegetable and small amounts of fish instead. Through the centuries, people adapted and changed the methods of preparing and serving sushi, speeding up the process of fermentation and finally beginning to serve fresh rather than preserved fish. Sushi was also once a food reserved for the elite because of the labour and expense involved in preparing it.

Finally, in the early 19th century, a modern form of sushi was invented by street stall vendor, Hanaya Yoehi in what is now modern-day Tokyo. Rather than fermenting fish in packed salted rice, Yoehi developed a new style of tasty street food by adding vinegar and salt to just cooked rice served with slices of raw fresh fish. Soon, hundreds of other street food vendors began copying Yoehi’s innovation and this style of sushi spread throughout Japan.

In the 1960s, Japanese businessmen living in California imported their favourite food. The first restaurant serving sushi opened in 1966 in Little Tokyo area. For the first time, Americans were able to try sushi and the little Japanese cuisine became widely known. Soon, American-based chefs began to innovate - creating the first Sushi “rolls” and adding untraditional ingredients like avocado and cream cheese. From America, sushi restaurants started to pop up all around the world, eventually becoming one of the most popular and recognizable global cuisines.

3. Health Benefits of Sushi (and Warning!)

Sushi is packed with nutrients because it relies on fish and vegetables as the main ingredients. Fish provides a lean source of low-calorie, high-quality protein. It's also low in saturated fats and cholesterol, making it a heart-healthy food choice. A healthy diet should incorporate fish at least twice a week, according to the American Heart Association. This is because fish contains high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to the healthy functioning of the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful for neurological disorders and may help to fight depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, dementia and diabetes. Fish also contains other healthy vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D.

The seaweed wrapping of sushi rolls, Nori, is packed with nutrients. It is low in calories and contains vitamins A, B-6, and C. It also has a healthy serving of Iodine, which is essential for hormone function. Recent studies indicate that seaweed proteins may reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.

Sushi, however healthy it is, is not always a low-calorie option. Because the portions are small, it can be very easy to load up, taking in more calories than necessary, especially if other ingredients and condiments are added like cream cheese and mayonnaise. So, if you start to crave for more sushi after your first order, try other delicious yet lighter options such as the vegan varieties.

Eating Sushi for the First Time

1. Navigating the Menu

A sushi menu may seem complicated to the newbie, but there are basically four kinds of Sushi.
  • Nigiri Sushi – It is a small serving of cold molded rice with a slice of raw fish on top. The first type of sushi  was developed in Japan and considered the most traditional of all the sushi types.
  • Maki is a combination of rice, vegetables and fish rolled up in tightly in thin sheets of flattened dried seaweed, called “Nori”. Maki is served sliced into six or eight pieces. Sometimes, the rolls (uramaki) are served inside out with the rice on the outside, while the nori and fish or vegetables in the middle. Maki can also be served as a kind of seaweed cone (temaki) filled with rice, fish and/or veggies.
  • Chirashi is a bowl of vinegared rice with a piece of fish on top.
  • Sashimi is a thin slice of raw fish. In some cases, the rice is served on the side, though it is not really necessary.
Sushi can be a disorienting experience if you are not used to it especially when they are served and eaten cold. Many restaurants, like Sushi Counter, will also have other cooked and hot items on the menu like soups, and noodles alongside other Asian inspired hot main dishes, like curries, so there is no need to worry if you really don’t like cold food.

2. Ordering Tips

If you are having sushi for the first time, it is a good idea to be with friends who are already sushi enthusiasts. Another option is to ask the sushi chef for guidance on what and how much to order. As a beginner, it’s best to go slow and ease your way into the wonderful world of sushi. Sushi is prepared with only a handful of ingredients, but the combination of flavours, textures, and tastes is amazing. Since sushi has evolved through its long history, restaurants of today are constantly innovating and adding new combinations, which are just as authentic as traditional sushi. This is part of what makes this cuisine so interesting.

Start slowly by choosing items that are more familiar or those with ingredients that you are more comfortable with until you become accustomed to the textures and flavours unique to sushi. It’s also good to prepare yourself mentally. If you encounter something you don’t like, don’t force yourself. Sushi should be a fun learning experience. Leave it and try something else. Below are some other tips that may be helpful for your first take on sushi.

Try Cooked Sushi Dishes First

Not all Sushi are raw. Eel (unagi and anago) is always served cooked, usually with a sweet and savoury sauce. California rolls have avocado, cucumber and cooked crab meat (called kamaboko or surimi). Squid (ika) or octopus (ika) are served grilled. Many restaurants also serve items like tempura (battered and fried), noodles and soups. Opt for those for a start.

Eat Sushi with Familiar Ingredients

If you are an adventurous fish lover, do try Sashimi, one of the most popular sushi dishes served without rice. As mentioned above, sashimi is a thin slice of raw fish. Choose the fish you have already tasted before like Salmon or Tuna. Chances are, if you liked the cooked or smoked version of the fish, you will likely to enjoy its fresh form.

Start with Maki Rolls

The best sushi for beginners is Maki. California rolls don't have raw ingredients. The only thing that is raw in this sushi are the vegetables. Even if you pick a variety with raw fish, the taste will not be overpowering because of the flavour of the seaweed and vegetables. You also won’t have to stare at, perhaps, an intimidating slice of raw seafood on your plate.

Stick to Vegetarian Sushi

If you’re still not ready to order something with raw fish, you can also opt for the vegetable-based sushi. Sushi Counter has many varieties including Sun Dried Tomato Basil Roll, Hummus & Cucumber Roll and Black Veggie Roll.

How to Eat it: Sushi Do’s & Don’ts

There are certain basic rules of etiquette and customs around sushi just like there are with eating any other kinds of cuisines. Here are the main things you should keep in mind.

DO: Wash your hands. Your restaurant may provide you with a hot towel to wipe your hands before you begin to eat.

Check which items should be eaten by hand and which by chopsticks to avoid embarrassment.

Sushi was traditionally eaten by hand. Maki and nigiri both should always be eaten by hand. Only sashimi and Chirashi require chopsticks.

DON'T: Do not lift Sashimi to your mouth with your fingers, and don’t eat the rice by hand.

Don’t cut up your food. Most sushi is meant to be eaten in one bite. It will taste better.

DO: Some kinds of Sushi are eaten with chopsticks. If you don’t know how to use them, ask your restaurant if they provide “training” sticks, which are attached at the top, or you can make your own set, by winding a rubber band around the top of a pair of chopsticks. You can use these to eat by manipulating the sticks like pincers to pick up food items.

DON'T: Never rub your chopsticks together. This is considered rude. The habit originated with cheap establishments using poorly made chopsticks. Patrons rubbed the sticks together to get rid of splinters. If you copy this practice, you are implying that the restaurant you are patronising is cheap.

DO: Order a few items that you are sure to eat. If you finish what you have ordered, order again.

Share items with your dining companions. Experiment and ask your chef or server for order recommendations.

DON'T: Never ask for a doggie bag. Sushi should be eaten fresh and should not kept for long periods.

Sauces & Condiments
DO: Sushi is served with three traditional sauces:
  • Soy sauce: a staple of Asian cuisine. Just pour a little soy sauce into a dish for dipping. Dunk the fish side of the sushi.
  • Wasabi: a fiercely hot sauce traditionally made from a Japanese form of the horseradish root. It is used to soften the smell of the raw fish while bringing out the flavour in each bite. It can be quite intense so try carefully the first time. If you like the taste, use it sparingly. The chef already added a portion to your sushi, but if you still want it to be extra hot, you can add a small amount on the fish.
  • Pickled ginger is served to cleanse the palate between dishes or bites. Consume it after you’ve eaten a piece of sushi.
DON'T: It is rude to pour too much soy sauce in the dish and to leave it unused.

Only pour a fair amount and refill as necessary.

Never drown your Sushi in the Soy Sauce. It is considered a no-no to dip your rice in the soy sauce because it will cause it to fall apart.

Don’t add any condiments when eating Nigiri because it is assumed that the chef has already added the perfect amount and any more will be insulting to his skill. You can add as much soy sauce and wasabi as you like to Sashimi.

Don’t overdo the Wasabi. Don’t trust anybody who tells you it’s Japanese pistachio ice cream and offers you a big gob of it.

Don’t eat the pickled ginger with your sushi. It’s meant to be eaten by itself.

Eating your Meal
DO: Feel free to open your mouth as wide as possible to fit in the Sushi. Chew slowly and savour the flavours. To fully enjoy your sushi experience, there is a certain recommended order to eating the fish. Go from the lighter to the darker coloured pieces, starting from white fish to red fish. This means you will be moving from a lighter flavour to a fattier one. Save the fattiest and darkest fish types for last.

DON'T: Don’t bite the sushi halfway. It should be eaten in one bite to experience the balance of flavours.

Once you have finished don’t linger. It is considered rude.

Never ask for a doggie bag. If you want to eat Sushi at home then ask for specifically prepared take-away. Sushi is best eaten fresh, and takeaway orders will be packed and wrapped in a way to preserve their freshness.

What are you waiting for: Try Sushi Today

You may not be comfortable with the idea of eating “raw” fish, but sushi is much more than that. It is the perfect foodie experience even for newbies. It can be shared with friends after your hangout; it can be a new, fun & exciting addition to your catering menu; as well as a quick and filling take-away or delivery option. Its defining characteristic is its beauty, minimalism and unfussiness: High-quality fresh ingredients, perfectly prepared rice, a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. There are plenty of other options to choose from until you work your way up to Nigiri or Sashimi. Drop by Sushi Counter today and ask them to help you choose among their abundant and modern menu items, or order a delivery to your home or workplace. Sushi Counter has an extensive selection of traditional rolls, hand rolls, and sashimi. They also offer poke bowls, street food innovations, and vegan choices. You can also choose hot items like soups or noodles, or just opt to munch on their salads. There are just a lot of food menu options to choose from if you want to try other Japanese dishes. Get out of your comfort zone today and experience the fun in sushi. You owe it to yourself.

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Sushi Counter's Ultimate Guide to Eating Sushi for the First Time

A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO SUSHISushi Counter is the hippest and freshest sushi joint you can find in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Riyadh. Their mission is to consistently provide quality sushi to their patrons and to encourage (or tempt!) those who haven’t tasted one to try it right away. Sushi...