How to Order at Sushi Bar
Sushi is a great way to satisfy your need for both a quick snack or a large, filling meal. Even single rolls or a few slices of nigiri offer more nourishment per bite than most American cuisine, so a platter is not needed for a pit stop.
The sticky rice used for sushi is what provides the quick boost. It's lightly coated in simple carbohydratres (read: sugar), but its naturally rich content means your gut needs some time to break it down before it provides the complex carbs that provide long-term energy. This is why stopping at a sushi bar, or even one of those conveyer-belt restaurants, near work or school for two or three plates will keep you running strong throughout the day.
It's also why having a large sushi meal will put you to sleep. Having seven to nine plates will lead to a pleasurable rush, followed by a rush of blood to your stomach to help with digestion. Sushi naps aren't uncommon if you eat it as a full meal, and you will wake up with some of that energy still on reserve, making a sushi happy hour a good choice before a late night out.
As for the fish, the tuna family is most commonly used in the States. There are the common maguro and shiro maguro (tuna and albacore, respectively), two cuts that have subtle flavor and a consistent, though usually not tough, quality to them. Then there are escolar (super white tuna) and blue fin tuna, two cuts that will melt in your mouth and take almost no effort to bite through. Blue fin tuna is the filet mignon of sushi, meaning you will only find it at true-blue sushi houses and not the conveyer belt places or a grocery store with prepackaged sushi.
There are also delectable choices such as sake (salmon) and hamachi (yellowtail) that go great atop rice alone or in a specialty roll. Rolls are where you commonly find crab offerings, and the best place to order eel. Eel is tasty on its own, but it's much better with a medley of rice, seaweed wrap, cucumber and any mix of shrimp, crab, fish and sauce. If you do order nigiri eel, be sure to know if you prefer unagi (sweet eel out of freshwater) or anago (less oily eel out of saltwater).
The use of wasabi is important for the sushi eater who likes some kick. It goes well in little dabs atop a sushi piece, diluted with soy sauce for dipping or even layered into a roll for instant flavor boosting. Known for being spicy, it’s not too bad unless you take it straight onto the back of your tongue—it mostly reacts with your sinuses to take effect, hence its reputation as a nosebleed spice.
Those pink petals on your plate are pickled ginger, and they’re meant to cleanse your palate between types of sushi. Some people assume the stuff is there just for the oddball eater, but the informed sushi fan knows that a clean palate is the key to enjoying each bite to the fullest. Be sure to use the ginger to avoid inviting a lot of flavor crossover. If it’s too strong, dip it in soy sauce before nibbling.
Finally, it helps to know your sushi chef. Find a place to make your regular sushi stop and the rapport established will lead to many a roll made to your liking. Tipping well will never steer you wrong, either. After making yourself known as a customer, the friendly chef will treat you to some specialty items not on the menu that he/she thinks you will like, and if you are really lucky, you will become the go-to customer for trying new dishes before they get added to the menu. Enjoy!