A Whopper from McDonald’s, Modern Sushi Etiquette #1
We all know that we’re not supposed to mix our soy sauce and wasabi. We all know that chopsticks used improperly can be taken as a sign of serious disrespect. With so many books and Internet resources available, it is quite simple to discover the do’s and don’t’ of sushi etiquette. These rules have been around for a very long time and though they are still valid in today’s rapidly changing world, sushi has evolved. New situations have emerged in our modern times creating a need for additional sushi etiquette. In this series, I will address some of today’s emerging sushi issues.
What’s wrong with this picture? A woman pulls up to the order booth at a McDonald’s drive thru and orders the following: a Filet O Fish meal, a 6 piece McNuggets box with honey mustard and a Whopper.
If you’ve ever been to either or both of these fast food chains, you immediately recognize that McDonald’s doesn’t serve Whoppers. Whoppers come from Burger King. So now what?
The drive thru employee reminds the customer that she is presently at McDonald’s. Whoppers come from Burger King, she gently reminds her and our savvy employee suggests one of McDonald’s burgers instead. The customer drives away with a Big Mac instead. Now, when our customer arrives at home and samples her Big Mac, perhaps she is satisfied because all she really wanted was a hamburger. She may enjoy the taste of the Big Mac more so than that of the Whopper. Or she may still prefer the taste of the Whopper, in which case she will be sure to go to Burger King in the future.
In this situation, it may seem silly to think that someone would ask for a competitor’s dish. And even if you’ve never been to a McDonald’s or a Burger King, most of us can understand that though both places have very similar items-hamburger, fries, milkshakes- that these items are going to be prepared quite differently.
Now, what’s wrong with this picture? A happy couple enters a place called Little Tokyo and has a seat at the sushi bar. While surveying the menu, one of them looks up at the sushi chef with a frown.
“Sakura has a Tokyo Sizzler Roll with the sweet stuff on it, but I don’t see it on your menu. Do you know how to make it?”
Our sushi chef answers politely, “I can probably make it for you. What’s in it?”
The couple seems surprised. The woman speaks up. “You know, a Tokyo Sizzler, it has the sweet stuff on it.” And she looks expectantly at the sushi chef, hoping her vague description has jogged his memory.
Very politely, our sushi chef tries to guess what ingredients Sakura places in a sushi roll they have invented. Does the sizzler mean that it is supposed to be hot? Grilled? Is there fish on top? With a name like Tokyo, does it mean that there is tuna inside? Finally, he admits that he cannot make this roll and instead suggests some of his sushi bar’s specialties and signature dishes made with a sweet sauce. The couple order and are happy with their meal, though it is evident that they are a little disappointed. They were really looking forward to enjoying a Tokyo Sizzler.
In America, Japanese restaurants and sushi bars are often viewed as being completely authentic. It has been a slow transition of diners recognizing that dishes are not standard from restaurant to restaurant. The idea that restaurants serving sushi and Japanese food create new items and have unique signature is still a relatively new thought. This is particularly problematic when it comes to fusion style sushi bars. So how exactly do we bridge this gap?
Modern Sushi Etiquette Tip #1: Don’t Recreate the Sushi Menu
Be aware that sushi bars, like other restaurants, have a style of their own that is often driven by the creative chefs behind the sushi bar. Give each individual restaurant a chance as is without automatically expecting the sushi chef to recreate his or her entire menu based on another restaurant’s dishes.
To discover the individual style of the sushi bar, make phone calls or visit restaurant websites. Ask the questions, “What style of sushi do you serve? Is it contemporary/fusion or is it more classic?” Contemporary and fusion style sushi bars often serve items that they have created and use a variety of ingredients and cuisines not commonly found in Japanese cuisine. A sushi bar that serves a more classic menu focuses on items that have become mainstream sushi items and have common names such as dragon rolls, spider rolls, Philadelphia rolls, etc. Beware of asking if a sushi bar serves authentic style sushi. Authentic style sushi has a strict definition and is very rarely served in the United States.
If you absolutely must have a certain combination of items, sushi chefs are usually happy to oblige. But rather than asking if they can make a competitor’s sushi, simply ask if they can make a roll that contains the preferred. In this situation, you will have to be flexible and allow the chef to interpret the item you’ve requested. It is never polite in any type of restaurant to insist that a requested item not found on the menu is prepared exactly as another restaurant prepares it.
Have a sushi situation or question? Email questions to email@example.com