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wasabi in soy

mr mouther Sep 26, 2006 06:09 PM

I swear I read this in the post about "enough is enough" best sushi, etc. but I can't find it now.
In any case, what I remember is that someone said something to the equivalent of "if you put your wasabi in soy sauce, you're an idiot and that's not what you're supposed to do."

It's likely i've been surrounded by idiots all my life and everyone I know does this. I actually don't put wasabi or soy sauce on my fish because i just like tasting the fish, but could someone tell me what the deal is with wasabi in soy sauce?
not right to put it in there?
the wasabi goes on by itself?

thank you

  1. c
    chow_gal Sep 26, 2006 06:42 PM

    There are many past posts about sushi etiquette here on the site. To summariez: mixing wasabi into your soya is def. incorrect. You put a bit on the sushi and then if you want soya you pick up the piece (yes, with your hands) and briefly/lightly dip it fish side down into the liquid. Never rice. Then pop the whole piece into your mouth.

    3 Replies
    1. re: chow_gal
      c
      cbauer Sep 26, 2006 06:52 PM

      Thanks chow_gal. Seems we were posting at the same time and you beat me to it. Could you expand on WHY it's incorrect?

      1. re: cbauer
        e
        ESNY Sep 26, 2006 06:58 PM

        I think its because you can't control the amount of wasabi for each type of fish. Some fish are so mildly flavored they shouldn't have any wasabi on it or you won't taste the fish. Personally, I don't put anything on my pieces of nigiri and rely on the sushi chef to season it. But then again, on the rare occasions when I actually eat sushi (maybe 4-5 times a year), I sit at the sushi bar and leave my ordering up to the chef.

        1. re: ESNY
          c
          cbauer Sep 26, 2006 07:03 PM

          Interesting thought. Thanks.

    2. c
      cbauer Sep 26, 2006 06:45 PM

      gotta agree with you mr mouther. I don't understand what's wrong with wasabi in soy sauce and would appreciate an explanation with why it is wrong. I will add extra wasabi between the fish layer and rice layer because there usually isn't enough for me.

      On the other hand, I kind of feel like, it's my food, I paid for it and I should enjoy it anyway that I see fit and get the most joy from. Would certainly like the explanation though.

      1. a
        auberginegal Sep 26, 2006 08:36 PM

        i've heard that for sushi (i guess mainly nigiri) you shouldn't put wasabi in the soy sauce because the chef would have put the 'appropriate' amount of wasabi already into the sushi.

        it may be different with sashimi though, because this is just slices of fish, and therefore not such a no-no.

        i haven't read much more on this topic, so am interested to see what others say.

        1. d
          dijon Sep 26, 2006 08:45 PM

          I've always put the wasabi in the soy sauce and was shown that way by the japanese sushi staff who could speak little english, maybe that is just the american way and they were accomodating me. I use the chopsticks and give the sushi a quick dunk in the mix, fish side down, and enjoy. No one has mentioned the pickled ginger slices, I slap a piece of that on top of the sushi before i dunk, but someone said it is a palate cleanser.

          Doug

          1 Reply
          1. re: dijon
            danna Sep 28, 2006 03:23 PM

            Do you actually EAT the ginger with the piece of nigiri? Doesn't that completely overwhelm the fish taste ?

            Don't get me wrong, I'm in the laissez faire camp...but I'm amazed. I find the ginger to be almost to strong for a palate cleanser, let alone to eat with the sushi.

            BTW, i thought the deal on wasasbi was that a little in the soy was fine. Making a slurry out of it was not fine.

          2. wowimadog Sep 26, 2006 09:11 PM

            here's an article about sushi etiquette featuring responses from "james hamamori, chef-owner of wasa in irvine and newport beach; takashi abe, chef-owner of abe in newport beach and bluefin in newport coast; lorin watada, corporate sushi chef for 11 roy's (including one in newport beach); and d.k. kodama, chef-owner of six restaurants in hawaii, including three sansei seafood restaurants & sushi bars, and co-author of "d.k.'s sushi chronicles from hawai'i:"

            http://tinyurl.com/jwxaz

            2 Replies
            1. re: wowimadog
              mr mouther Sep 26, 2006 09:35 PM

              very nice article. thank you.
              the only thing that surprises me is the no rubbing of chopsticks thing. what are you supposed to do with the splinters? pick them off with your fingers?
              why does it piss the chefs off so much? does it represent something i'm not picking up on?
              how do chefs feel when they see customers rub two ceramic chopsticks together, just out of habit?

              1. re: mr mouther
                r
                ricepad Sep 27, 2006 05:33 PM

                Unless you're making fire, you don't need to rub your chopsticks together, even with cheap disposable ones. All you need to do is to dip the 'business ends' of the hashi into your water to moisten them.

            2. Debbie M Sep 26, 2006 10:16 PM

              Unless you were using disposable chopsticks that you split lengthwise down the middle, I don't think there's generally any danger of splinters.

              8 Replies
              1. re: Debbie M
                mr mouther Sep 27, 2006 05:10 PM

                I think you're right; i tend to eat in lots of places w/ disposable chopsticks.

                Is it "rude" or a taboo to do this in ramen places as well or japanes places that aren't serving sushi, like an izakaya place?

                1. re: mr mouther
                  h
                  Humbucker Sep 27, 2006 05:45 PM

                  It's just a sort of crude thing to do in general in asian restaurants. I never rub my chopsticks together and I have never gotten a splinter, nor have a seen or heard of anyone I know get a splinter. Actually, I think rubbing chopsticks together tends to raise any loose fibers up like mussing your hair with your hand.

                  1. re: Humbucker
                    mr mouther Sep 27, 2006 08:29 PM

                    I'm not trying to beat a dead horse, but why is it crude? does it represent something?
                    i understand you're not supposed to stick chopticks up in a bowl of rice because it has something to do with funerals and incense and death, so what is the offense taken with rubbing chopticks? is it just offensive because white people do it?

                    1. re: mr mouther
                      Das Ubergeek Sep 27, 2006 08:38 PM

                      It's ostensibly that you are correcting the restaurant and causing them to lose face. That said, it's incumbent upon restaurants to give you utensils that don't require being rubbed, like plastic or even the separate wooden ones. If you get crappy splintery chopsticks, it's just like getting a dirty fork -- send it back and ask for better.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek
                        mr mouther Sep 27, 2006 11:42 PM

                        that makes sense - thanks!

                      2. re: mr mouther
                        c
                        chow_gal Sep 27, 2006 08:46 PM

                        It's just crass and unnecessary. And yes, insulting. It says to the owners 'you have given me unacceptable and possibly dangerous eating utensils.'

                        Maybe think of it this way: Tucking your napkin into your collar, grasping your knife in a fisted left hand and fork in fisted right hand as if to say, 'let me at it!' It's just vulgar.

                        1. re: chow_gal
                          Debbie M Sep 27, 2006 10:07 PM

                          The equivalent would be filing down the tines of your fork before any meal at a western restaurant because they're made of pointy metal that may puncture your mouth.

                          1. re: Debbie M
                            mr mouther Sep 27, 2006 11:43 PM

                            that doesn't make sense (if you can visually recognize splinters, you shouldn't have to put them them in your mouth) - but thanks!

                2. g
                  Grubbjunkie Sep 27, 2006 08:40 PM

                  Good article, I like this quote the best:

                  Kodama: "But who's to say? Hey, sushi is pleasure; enjoy it any way you want, is my philosophy."

                  Being aware of the traditional way is important, but I have no tolerance for uppity chefs. I try to follow the rules as much as possible, and I certainly don't want to insult a chef, but within a certain realm I think the diner should be able to eat sushi pretty much however they want. There is a point where following the rules interferes with a diner's preference and enjoyment.

                  The sushi chef who is insulted by me putting a little wasabi in my soy is no better or worse than the chef who gets insulted if I want a little more salt in my french soup or hot sauce in my mexican food or...well you get the idea.

                  1. jfood Sep 27, 2006 11:52 PM

                    Finally, an article that believes in the laissez faire approach to sushi. My feeling has always been that the chef placed the wasabi and ginger on my wooden board for a reason and I enjoy the wasabi-soy combo. I also place a slice or two of ginger in the soy and try to squeeze the ginger flavor from the root. As the chef says "Heh, sushi is pleasure, enjoy it any way you want".

                    Pick it up with your fingers, use chop sticks, use two bites instead of one, rub the cheap wooden ones together, place them in water to soften, everyone has some indiosyncracy. If there was not individuality then every sushi bar would be the same, all the rice would be flavored the same, everyone would like uni and unagi, on and on. It's a wonderful world.

                    More important is to enjoy the sushi. Sit at the bar, start a dialouge with the chef, he will guide you through different tastes. Tell him your likes and dislike, IT'S NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT!!

                    1. r
                      ricepad Sep 28, 2006 02:42 PM

                      I've posted this before, but I'll post it again. I used to be a work in a Japanese restaurant, the last three as a sushi chef. I wouldn't get offended when customers would make a shoyu/wasabi slurry or mix their shoga (pickled ginger) with shoyu and/or wasabi, or even slather their sushi with the wasabi and/or shoga as if they were building a shari-based Dagwood sandwich. I mean, they were paying for it, right?

                      On the other hand, when I saw a customer 'amending' his sushi that way, I'd know not to bother giving him the absolute top shelf stuff, because there'd be no way he'd be able to appreciate the often subtle difference in quality and taste. I would have a finite quantity of, say, chu-toro on any particular evening. Why waste it on a guy who is only going to mask the delicate flavor with his fire-paste? If you were a sommelier and a customer asked for your best wine because he really wanted a wine cooler, would you reach for the $1000 bottle?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ricepad
                        applehome Sep 28, 2006 03:06 PM

                        Excellent response.

                        More than any other factor, it's us, the diners, that set the standards. If we want crappy burb sushi at American-Chinese restaurants to be the US standard for sushi, then we should pay no attention to the culture or the demands of quality that is part of it. If we want authentic sushi and sashimi, served with a great deal of care for the quality, the variety, and the creativity behind a truly great food experience, then we own some of the responsibility - we need to do our part - which is to learn, to try new things, and to understand what the authentic food is all about.

                        I'm ranting (and something else, I'm sure) into the wind. We're headed for McSushi, just like we went to McRedSauce (ie, Olive Garden), McSteak (everything from Capital Grille to Outback)... And it's all driven by the attitude of, hey, I paid for it, I can eat it anyway I like - and if it tastes good, it's good! Have it your way, bubba!

                        1. re: ricepad
                          hatless Sep 28, 2006 03:31 PM

                          All right. I'm mostly on board. Soak displosable chopsticks to make the splinters harmlessly soggy. Shoga's a palate-cleanser. No wasabi in the shoyu because it hinders the ability to calbrate flavors precisely for each piece of fish. Dip fish-dide down and don't use chopsticks in order to keep the sushi in once piece and the rice pristine. All clear and sensible or culturally respectable.

                          But what, then, is the lump of wasabi on the plate for if it's considered gauche even to put it on the fish? Is it put there as a test in which only the customers who make a show of discarding it, avoiding it completely or throwing it in disgust at the chef or a passing busboy adequately demonstrate that they will appreciate the good stuff?

                          I'm all for learning and respecting the ettiquette and tradtional ways of eating food from around the world, but sometimes I get the feeling I'm hearing the sushi equivalent of an oenophile who only (and showily) drinks out of the Riedel stemware they tote everywhere in a velvet-lined traveling case. Even when the wine in question is a $9 Shiraz from Costco.

                        2. Yukari Sep 28, 2006 03:26 PM

                          I was just out for sushi this evening and a colleague of mine said that some Japanese take a bit of wasabi and put it on the fish and then dip it lightly in the soy sauce...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Yukari
                            Sam Fujisaka Oct 3, 2006 04:24 PM

                            That we do. But, aren't you Japanese?

                          2. pinstripeprincess Sep 28, 2006 03:48 PM

                            i don't know why but i love the sushi etiquette discussions. i sort of see it as you paid for it so enjoy it whichever way you want... but etiquette is sometimes also based of personal enjoyment and i've seen few people use wasabi and soy separately so they might not know the other side.

                            but really this is how i see it. if someone gave you salt and pepper in huge containers and gave you a shaker to mix the two together, would you use it? each piece of food on your plate will require different amounts of salt and pepper to get your optimal flavour out of it... how's this different from soy sauce and wasabi?

                            i personally am a wasabi saltherer, no soy sauce dipper, anti ginger sushi fan.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: pinstripeprincess
                              Das Ubergeek Sep 28, 2006 04:04 PM

                              What's funny is that in many places, they do exactly that -- you get a big container of pepper salt. The Islands chain do it in every restaurant, for example.

                              In general I agree with you, though it could be seen as "one item" in the way that Russian dressing is one item made of ketchup and mayonnaise.

                            2. Silverjay Sep 28, 2006 04:34 PM

                              The most accurate part of the article posted above was the comment about Americans just doing what they want. As a culture, I know Japanese are much more referential to custom, etiquette, etc. Americans are less so. That's pretty much the way it is and there's no point in arguing or debating that. I think American palates are less refined, less senstive to texture, less cognizant of the subtlities of seafood. And maybe this is something that can be argued. Inevitably these discussions on sushi ettiquette boil down to people doing what they want- which always takes precedence over the intended serving. That's fine. Different tastes for different tongues.

                              For what it's worth, I lived in Japan a long time and ate sushi many, many times. And I also watched many hours of food programming. I never once ecountered or saw any of the following:

                              -People put pickled ginger on fish or rice or anything resembling a piece of sushi
                              -People add wasabi between the fish and rice after the chef served it
                              -People say "I like my fish straight" and not put soy sauce on undressed fish
                              -People say I like my sushi "spicy"

                              My experience is that pickled ginger is a mild palate cleanser that you take can take a pinch of between sushi items. The ginger is not a condiment or meant as a topping or some kind of flavor enhancer. It's function is purely utilitarian.

                              Regarding wasabi- The sushi chef will prepare some items with wasabi and determine the amount to place on the bed of rice. I never encountered having wasabi placed on the sushi geta in Japan. Maybe it happens, but I've never seen it.

                              Wasabi is usually served in a small mound when you are served sashimi. The traditional way of eating is to dab wasabi on the fish and then dip the fish in soy sauce. HOWEVER, the most common way, that even my older in-law relatives do, is to put some into the soy bowl and stir it around. I rarely saw anyone doing it the traditional method.

                              Wasabi is not meant as a condiment. It's meant as a flavor enhancer. Very fresh wasabi can actually taste kind of sweet. There are some sushi and sashimi fish that are actually not prepared with wasabi, but often times, freshly grated ginger. Two that come to mind are katsuo (bonita) and aji (mackeral).

                              Soy sauce. I posted on this previously. I understand now that there are people in the U.S. who like their sushi "straight". Good and fine. It's a free country. Never heard of that in Japan. Not saying it doesn't happen, not saying there isn't some wierdo cult in Yamanashi Prefecture eating sushi without soy sauce. But I've never encountered it. All sushi is dressed, even if ever so lightly, in some kind of seasoning. Whether it is the chef dousing it with his own brand of soy sauce, some other type of sauce, lemon, salt, or the diner is left to do the dipping, the fish and seafood is administered with some type of seasoning. Saltiness brings out a natural sweetness in many raw fishes.

                              But people will do what they want to do and you really can't argue with that. And you know what, tastes are changing in Japan and spicy and "exotic" foods are becoming more popular. So who knows, maybe things will change.

                              1. MVNYC Sep 28, 2006 05:35 PM

                                The thing is many people here is America are easily offended by customs and traditional practices dictating how they should eat the food they pay for. "You can't tell me hwo to eat my food, I know what i like" is a common theme. What these people fail to realize is that there is a reason why these customs exist. The traditional way of eating sushi exists because it is the best way to draw out the natural flavours of each particular fish. As Silverjay said, the point of slightly salting a fish is to draw out the natural sweetness. This means slighlty dipping fish side down. You do not want the subtleties of the fish to be overwhelmed by strong flavours.

                                I would venture to guess that most of the people who slather their fish in wasabi, gari or soy slurry are probably not eating at the best places. They are probably eating at Americanized joints where they are ordering rolls with 15 ingredients drowned in eel sauce. The quality of fish at these places generally does not demand the traditional approach. The fish lacks in subtlety shall we say. In my experience as a Gaijin, there are stages of sushi appreciation. I started out with various rolls, moved on to the crazy stuff and nigiri at the americanized places before i started going to traditional japanese spots. I learned on my own while eating nigiri that too much wasabi or soy masked the expensive piece of raw fish i was eating. I knew not to drown out the nuances of each fish. When i tell other people not to do the things that are mentioned in this thread i do it out of a genuine desire to have them appreciate what they are eating. It is not to be a food cop.

                                Sushi can be expensive, expensive things generally are that way because there is a rarety in the quality you are purchasing. The same way you should not mix a great single malt with coke, or put catsup on a great steak, you shouldnt drown your sushi in soy and wasabi. Why go to the trouble of paying for something if you are going to miss out on its value.

                                Some people will never get what makes a piece of aji or sawara so unbelievably good and to them i say do what makes you happy, overwhelm your taste buds with condiments. however i would like to give the people who come to this site a little more credit than that. If you are a "chowhound" and truly appreciate food i have a suggestion. Ask on your local board for reccomendations to a traditional Sushi place in your area that has fantastic fish. Go there and sit at the sushi bar. Start talking with the Sushi Chef(Itamae), develop a little raport. Let him suggest the best way to eat each individual piece of fish. In a lot of good places the chef will dress the different fish accordingly and you will not have to dip into soy sauce. Order new things and try it out the traditional way. As someone who loves food i have to say the best eating experience to me is sitting down at the sushi bar where you have that rapport with the Itamae and he knows what you like. When i tell people to eat the traditional way i want them to have the same experience I have. If you dont like it, please by all means go back to your old ways of dowsing with wasabi and soy. But please give the traditional way a chance, there are reasons to listen to those who have come before you.

                                Just an aside, i cannot take first dates out for Sushi. My enjoyment of the food tends to A. stop conversation and B. make me look like a freak.

                                1. Pablo Sep 29, 2006 09:06 PM

                                  The fresh wasabi I had last night was so good, I ate half it plain just to savor the sweetness! No slurry here!

                                  1. choctastic Sep 30, 2006 02:39 AM

                                    I feel that when the chef tells me the "correct" way to eat something he (usually it's a he) is helping me to enjoy it better, not trying to be a jackass. and invariably in my experience, he is right. it does end up tasting better.

                                    i like fresh wasabi. I usually just ignore the lump of regular wasabi even for strong flavored fish.

                                    1. TexasToast Oct 2, 2006 03:02 PM

                                      I make the offending wasabi "soup" and I aint apologizing for it! It's my sushi and my wasabi, and I'll eat it how I like!

                                      Now, I don't eat ALL my Japanese seafood like that . . . just some.

                                      TT

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: TexasToast
                                        MVNYC Oct 3, 2006 03:47 PM

                                        No one asked you to apologize for it. We asked you to possibly consider for a second trying the other way. Of course it is your sushi and your wasabi and you can definitely do whatever you want. However you should realize that there are other ways, ways in which people have been doing it for a couple of hundred years that actually enhance the flavours of the fish so you can appreciate the nuances of each cut.

                                        I will give an analogy with something from Texas. Think of the most wonderful bbq brisket, cooked low and slow over hardwood for hours, perfectly spiced with a glorious rub. Now picture a foreigner who comes down and douses said brisket with catsup. Now he would be perfectly in his right to do this. Catsup was available and this is the way he likes it, so by god let him eat it this way. But wouldnt you, if you were a bbq afficianado try to show him the best way to enjoy this succulent piece of meat? I would imagine you wouldn't do it to be miss manners, but rather out of the simple desire to maximize someone elses enjoyment. This is what the sushi ettiquette is tryin to do./

                                        1. re: MVNYC
                                          TexasToast Oct 4, 2006 10:20 AM

                                          Well I did say that I don't do that ALL the time. It's just "a" way of eating it. Of course I put a little of the green stuff on the fish and dip it fish side down into the sauce. I guess the tone of my post was lost on CH.

                                          TT

                                          1. re: MVNYC
                                            c
                                            chow_gal Oct 4, 2006 02:28 PM

                                            What a great, well-written post. Beautifully stated (and by the follow-up post by TexasToast very effective!)

                                        2. d
                                          dave_p_1 Oct 27, 2006 05:22 PM

                                          As a slurry maker, I am willing to learn. My question would be, why is wasabi so commonly served with sushi? If the goal of the chef is to create a piece of properly seasoned sushi and the chef can be instructed to make the sushi spicier or less spicy, then the serving of wasabi would seem to be inappropriate. I would draw the analogy of a good French restaurant. I would be shocked to see salt on the table because the chef has already used the proper amount of salt.

                                          So my question is, why is the mound of wasabi so pervasive (in Japan as well as the States)?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: dave_p_1
                                            Silverjay Oct 28, 2006 04:23 PM

                                            Dave, as I mentioned above- they do not serve you a "mound of wasabi" with sushi in Japan. The chef will place a dab in between the fish and rice for SOME, not all items. The concept of customizing your spiciness is not in play there. No one asks for more and only children request no wasabi. If did you ask him, he will do whatever you want with it. But Japanese just accept is as it is prepared. Your analogy of the French restaurant is exactly as it is in Japan.

                                            The States is completely different. I have no idea why people like wasabi so much as to make a slurry or to necessitate the chef giving you pile of it for sushi. I'm sure the restaurants are simply catering to local tastes. Most Japanese would find American sushi habits in regards to wasabi roughly the equivalent of dipping filet minon in ketchup.

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