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Good table etiquette that most people don't know about

It is considered by the etiquette mavens perfectly good manners to eat asparagus with your fingers (as long as it's not covered in drippy sauces, of course), but I often get surprised glances from other diners. Same when I go out for sushi and pick up the nigiri with my fingers.

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  1. In fact, the proper etiquette for eating nigiri sushi is to eat it with chopsticks. But I agree about the asparagus.

    Another thing many people apparently do not know is to wipe one's mouth with the napkin before drinking from a glass.

    3 Replies
    1. re: browniebaker

      I agree with the others that eating sushi with your hands is acceptable.

      1. re: JMF

        Picking up nigiry with your fingers is perfectly acceptable in Japan, and I've seen Japanese friends do it time and time again. However, nigiri in Japan tends to also be much smaller, and it's easy to pick one up and put the whole thing in your mouth.

        What mildly grosses me out is when people dunk the whole piece of nigiry in their soy sauce, rice side down. But hey, it's their food, they can do whatever they want to it.

      2. re: browniebaker

        And when wiping one's mouth with a napkin, only at the corners is necessary.

      3. I beg to differ on the nigiri sushi issue. Google sushi etiquette and you will find that plenty of people with years of experience say it is fine to eat it with your hands. Sashimi must be eaten with chopsticks, however. I first learned this in a book about sushi that included an extensive sushi bar etiquette section.

        It seems that it is more important to eat a piece of nigiri in one bite to be polite; I always find this quite difficult. If you must take two bites, it is impolite to return the uneaten half down on your plate. I was relieved to learn that I could ask the sushi chef to cut the nigiri into two pieces.

        8 Replies
        1. re: vanillagrrl

          It's a problem for me to eat most sushi in one bite. I didn't think to ask the sushi chef to cut it in half--good idea (though if it's busy...). There's still the problem of the rolls. I can't put a whole piece and try to chew with a bulging mouth.

          1. re: vanillagrrl

            While it may be all right to eat with the hands at a sushi bar, the most proper form, i.e. at formal dinners, is to eat sushi with chopsticks. The distinction is akin to the distinction between eating chicken out of hand and eating it with knife and fork; context is the key. As I eat sushi at dinners at friends' houses and at formal occasions, I haven't much experience with bar etiquette. But I never view bar manners as the most proper form.

            1. re: browniebaker

              To clarify, my understanding is that the issue isn't so much "bar manners" as Japanese manners. In the Japanese culture, it is considered not only acceptable, but more appropriate to eat nigiri sushi with the hands. Many people feel that you should eat nigiri the "proper" Japanese way even when in an American setting. Others want to do things the American way, and that's totally fine too, in my opinion. But your comparison to eating chicken with the hands is inaccurate, because traditional Japanese would eat nigiri with their hands even in a formal setting, whereas there is no formal setting in which you could eat chicken with the hands, to my knowledge. Anyway, these are fine distinctions. I think "good table etiquette that most people don't know about" is kind of an odd concept, because if people don't know about it what good is the etiquette anyway? I think we should just all do whatever makes us feel comfortable.

              1. re: browniebaker

                I'm not sure what you mean by a formal dinner or a formal occasion.
                I've been served sushi, which we ate with fingers, during cocktails at the Japanese Embassy but not at the dinner table.
                It is considered a faux pas for a hostess to serve foods such as fried chicken, ribs or corn on the cob, which require very informal eating with the hands, at formal dinners. So a hostess wouldn't serve sushi. Especially as it requires condiments.
                Americans have come to consider sushi as much more "elegant" than the Japanese do. Even though the best can be very expensive, it is still not a food for a formal meal.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  Times have changed, and sushi is in fact served at formal occasions. As I said, context is key. It is not always correct to eat sushi out of hand. I say this not as an American (although I was brought up in the U.S. and am American in citizenship), but as a person with a Japanese heritage.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Eating sushi with your hands is the "correct" way to eat it. That is why they give you the wet towel to wash your hands when you sit down. That is why Yasuda's has the tiny wet towel in the bowl for us to wipe our fingers...

                    And eating non-saucy Asparagus with your hands is much much easier and more fun. :-)

                    1. re: asm305

                      In Japan those little damp terry towels are offered everywhere, even where no finger-food is about to be, or has been, offered, indeed even where no food is being offered! I would not base manners on the presence of terry towels. Eating nigiri sushi with the hands is not the best form in some situations.

                      1. re: browniebaker

                        That is true...they do offer them everywhere I wasn't saying that it was the only reason they give the towels but in the years I lived in Japan, it was never a bad thing to eat nigiri with your hands.

              2. Not only is it acceptable to eat asparagus with the fingers, it is the proper correct way to eat it. Whole asparagus spears should never ever be eaten with a knife and fork.

                3 Replies
                1. re: hrhboo

                  Are you saying it's BAD manners to eat asparagus with a knife and fork? It's almost always coated with butter or oil of some sort--there's usually a (sometomes forgotten) reason for these "rules", I wonder where this came from.

                  1. re: BangorDin

                    I think it's correct to eat the asparagus with fingers if one then dips it in a sauce on the side, but to use a knife and fork if it already has sauce/something else on it.

                  2. re: hrhboo

                    Must be a "when in Rome" thing. When I was is Suisse during asparagas season, no one ate asparagus w/their fingers; they were eaten w/fork & knife.

                  3. I will gladly violate any etiquette book or maven who tells me to eat asparagus with my fingers, with or without sauce. I think that's not good manners and will add the "The Jfood Guide to Etiquette in the 21st Century". It is so easy to cut with a knife and spear a bitesize morsel with the fork and is soooo much better.

                    On sushi, I agree that fingers or chop-sticks work and the single bite is preferred etiquette-wise. Have been to sushi bars in Tokyo and some do not even give you chopsticks if you order sushi but give you sticks if the order is sashimi.

                    1. For the definative answer, may I suggest that you purchase, borrow or rent the most excellent "Dubretts Etiquette and Modern Manners updated by the wonderful John Morgan a few years back. He used to write for the UK Times on etiquette (he sadly passed away a few years ago)It is the finest resource on how to eat, dress, behave etc. It even has a section on being entertained by the Queen! You may not agree with what it sais but I guarrantee you will find it an amusing read.