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Jun 19, 2008 07:21 AM

Newbie question about rolled sushi

I have only had sushi a few times. I am finding the rolls challenging to navigate - whether using chopsticks, a fork, or fingers, when I bite into a piece the whole thing comes apart and I get the entire piece of fish in the first bite. Is one supposed to put the entire piece into the mouth in one bite? I'm a large person but that's an uncomfortably big mouthful.
If the piece is supposed to be bitten in two, should that be crosswise (as though the roll had been sliced into more, narrower pieces, or lengthwise (like halving a vanilla bean)?

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  1. Most sushi should be eaten in a single bite, if possible. The biggest exception would be for temaki (hand rolls - they're kind of cone-shaped). Eat those from the big end...two, three, or four bites should do it.

    1. you're probably getting poorly prepared sushi. basically, you're getting americanized, bigger-is-better(-and-probably-better-than-quality) type stuff.

      as the food is so structured, nuanced and often delicate, part of the chef's job is to provide it in mouth-sized pieces so that it's not demolished while getting it into your mouth. if it's too big to do so, then i would question everything else about the place, especially the chef's training.

      if you determine their quality is up to par, you might want to stick to simpler rolls as they tend to be smaller in diameter.

      as ricepad notes, temaki can/should be eaten in multiple bites. it's also not unacceptable, though probably not desirable, to eat nigiri in two bites (the etiquette as i understand it is to place the partially eaten piece on your plate with the bitten end facing you). if made properly, it will hold together for a bite.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mark

        I learned that if you absolutely must bite nigiri in two, you should eat the second bite as quickly as possible, without placing the bitten piece back on your plate.

        1. re: Aimi

          Agreed. if you put it down and try to pick it back up again, it all falls to pieces, especially if you're trying to do that with chopsticks. For rolls, if you have to bite it in half, bite it like a sandwich (flat sides on top and bottom), and again don't put it down. I was so relieved when I heard fingers were OK for sushi, they are really the best way to maintain control of all the bits.

        2. re: mark

          You know I did a 15-page "research" paper on sushi (yeah, that's what we're up to in college these days) and true sushi, back in the days in Japan before World War II, was actually three times its current size, at least in the case of nigiri. (Rolls weren't actually around back then.) In any case, if true sushi was three times its current size, then it must have been eaten in several bites!

          Also another interesting tidbit is that Americans are responsible for the smaller sushi because post-World War II American occupational forces (under Douglas MacArthur) decreed that rice be rationed, and therefore one cup of rice had to make ten pieces of sushi.

          Probably more than you'll ever need to know, but...technically, small sushi is our fault =)

          1. re: nakedzombieforce

            What I read in research recently was that the Tokyo Sushi Chef Association determined this ratio and that it was then adopted by chefs in Osaka as well. So the rationing was more of an indirect influence.on sushi size perhaps and not a mandate.. That said, it seems to be generally an American misconception that large sized nigiri sushi is inauthentic. There are many places in Japan that serve multi-bite nigiri. Particularly value places near the seaside, which often serve large flopping pieces of tuna. While there are many very formal sushi restaurants, there is also a populist trending slant to sushi in Japan these days. In the end, everyone is interested in bang for buck.

        3. First sushi is finger food. Rolls unless a large "special" roll should be eaten in one bite A roll should be cut into eight pieces and each piece should be small enough to be eaten that way. Nigiri is usally eaten in two bites.

          7 Replies
          1. re: scubadoo97

            Nigiri is ALWAYS to be eaten in one bite.

            1. re: uptown jimmy

              Maybe in theory, but I've been served some that I couldn't possibly stuff into my mouth in one bite. OK, that's probably the chef's mistake, but still, I'm the one who has to eat it.

              1. re: BobB

                Yes, I have that problem too. Not in the "best" places - but the places where we go for cheaper sushi, there's no way I could eat the nigiri in one piece.

                1. re: BobB

                  Fair enough. But in this world of endless fuzziness and relativity of opinion, I would say that this a great objective indicator of the quality and authenticity of any given sushi restaurant: whether a piece of their nigiri can be eaten in ine bite.

                  There's an awful lot of folks eating an awful lot of mediocre-to-bad sushi in the country. I once ate at an Atlanta sushi place with a friend and his wife. She dined exclusively on some sort of Frankenstein plate of a maki roll with all the pieces laid out flat and literally covered, like gravy and biscuits, with some sort of mayo-based sauce that almost glowed with a pinkish color. I tried a bite when offered one, and almost gagged. Of course, she turned her nose up at my plate of nigiri, saying she doesn't eat raw fish. Absolutely surreal experience. The current sushi craze is so odd for several reasons, and we're depleting the ocean of fish as well, I just don't know how much longer the whole weird thing can go on...

                2. re: uptown jimmy

                  I find that in some of the more Americanized Japanese restaurants tend to serve sushi that you could not possibly eat in one bite (eg. Yama in NYC).

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    Another related problem is the proliferation of inside-out rolls. I don't really have anything against them but they are a pain to eat with your fingers, and they are usually much bigger than rolls with the nori on the outside, so they really beg to be ingested in more than one bite. Structural integrity is nearly always breached :-).

                    1. re: grayelf

                      Hi, Graygarious, you are probably getting "monster sushi" rolls rather than the slimmer kind served in Japan and better sushi places in the States. (When I lived in Japan, they called the big rolls "Americano-maki.") If you have a roll with something draped over it -- say eel or a slice of sushi fish -- by all means, feel free to eat that as sashimi, and then when you can navigate better, eat the rest of the roll.

                      You also can gently push out the insides and eat them separately from the rice. Just use your chopsticks. Oh, and never, ever pour soy sauce directly into a bowl of rice. Other than that, you'll be fine.

              2. My family's makizushi--made since well before WWII--is about an inch and a half in diameter, with each piece eaten in two to three bites. It never contains sashimi and never falls apart if properly rolled.