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How to Eat Sushi with Toshi and Tommy
Do you consider yourself a sushi connoisseur? Have you graduated from deep-fried California rolls to spicy mentaiko? Then why are you still dunking your mackerel in soy sauce, rice-side down?
To help you stop embarrassing yourself at Fresno sushi bars, we enlisted the help of two experts. Toshi and Tommy Yoshioka have owned and operated downtown bar and restaurant Tokyo Garden for over 25 years, and have seen every gaffe in the book. They answer all the questions you didn't think to ask.
Should I sit at the sushi bar?
Yes. If you're looking for a true sushi experience, sit at the sushi bar where you can look at the fish and talk to the sushi chef. That's the only way to know what's good that day. "Go to the bar and look at it," instructed Tommy. "I sit at the sushi bar and I look, I eat some of the unusual stuff." The Yoshioka brothers wouldn't go to a sushi bar for regular tuna or yellowtail- that stuff you can have anytime. The sushi bar is a place to try something special if you're adventurous.
Should I rub my chopsticks together before eating?
Unless you're a Boy Scout trying to start a fire, there is no reason to rub your chopsticks together. More than anything else, this behavior perplexes Toshi and Tommy. They first noticed the trend 15 years ago, and now sometimes see an entire restaurant full of people doing it. But it can be insulting to the proprietors, suggesting the chopsticks they provide are of poor quality.
"Where'd these guys get the idea from?" asked Toshi. "Where've they been hanging out? People only do that in the cheapest restaurants you can find. It's kind of discouraging sometimes. For us its like, what kind of place is this?'"
Unless you notice a splinter (very rare, but it can happen), there is no need to rub chopsticks together. "It's like going to a fancy restaurant and polishing a utensil," said Toshi.
Can I eat with my hands?
Yes. In Japan it's common to eat sushi with one's hands. That's why many restaurants will provide a warm hand towel at the beginning of the meal. "A lot of people use their hands [in Japan]," said Tommy.
Should I eat the sushi in any specific order?
"Some people say to eat a certain kind of fish and then go on. But I believe everybody has likes and dislikes. You gonna eat it, you gonna order it, however you want," said Toshi.
What about soy sauce?
"I see a lot of people use a lot of soy sauce," said Toshi, shaking his head. "They just soak it in there. I think, Wow, they're just eating the soy sauce.' If they like the wasabi so much, then why they gotta eat the sushi?"
Sushi is about a balance of flavors and textures; a pile of rice in the soy sauce dish is a signal the balance has been disrupted.
"Soy sauce is actually salt, so just put a little soy sauce, a little salty taste and then you eat," continued Toshi. "All you need is just a tiny bit and dab on there. Some people its just overflow. The rice just falls apart."
In Japan, the proper way to eat sushi is to flavor the fish side with soy sauce, not the rice. "They usually put the soy sauce on the fish side. The whole idea is the rice has the seasoning in it. It has the vinegar and sugar, and all that stuff to mix up the rice, so you don't have to add the soy sauce to the rice. But add it on the other side, because the fish itself has kind of a plain taste," explained Tommy.
When eating rolls, dab the cut side of the roll in soy sauce, not the rice side. Use soy sauce as you would use salt- just to taste.
What's the right way to use wasabi?
The hot green mustard served with sushi can be dissolved in a tasteful amount of soy sauce. "Wasabi to your taste, but don't kill it," reassured Toshi. "Bottom line, however you want to enjoy it."
But he wants people to understand what the sushi chef is trying to accomplish with each piece. "What the food supposed to be made for, how its supposed to taste, they need to understand that too." There's a perfect proportion of fish and rice.
"Just like a cocktail, you put too much liquor in, watch out," added Tommy.
Ginger is eaten to cleanse the palate between pieces. "That ginger kills the smell too [on your hands]. Clears your mouth too," said Toshi.
What beverages pair well with sushi?
"That's individual," allowed Toshi. "Sake, beer, or tea. Some people prefer a cocktail and there's nothing wrong with that to me."
Tokyo Garden is located at 1711 Fulton Street in downtown Fresno. Visit them online at www.tgbrand.com.