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How is Sashimi Traditionally Eaten?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sashimi is a Japanese dish that consists mainly of thinly sliced raw fish and other seafood. Other than a garnish of radish or some other cruciferous vegetable, this dish is typically only accompanied by a dipping sauce. The sauce is often made of sweet ginger, spicy wasabi, and savory soy sauce. It is common in Japanese restaurants to have sashimi served with a small empty bowl and the ingredients for the dipping sauce to allows diners to create their own blend. Lemon juice is sometimes also added for acidity.

The word sashimi literally means “pierced body.” This may have to do with the fact that the fillets of fish are sliced raw. Some believe that this term comes from the traditional way of serving the fillets in which the tail or fin rests atop the dish to denote the type of fish that is being served.

In traditional Japanese dining, sashimi is often the first course. It may also be served as an entree, however, when accompanied with a bowls of rice and miso soup, a traditional Japanese soup made with a fermented soy base, cubes of tofu, and seaweed. Raw items are served as a first course because of its delicate flavors. It is believed that, if the dish follows a rather strong course, that the flavors will not be as noticeable or enjoyable. This dish is always intended to be eaten with chopsticks.

Many Japanese restaurants offer a house sashimi plate that includes an array of different fish, although it is often possible for dinerer to design their own plate. In this instance, it is important for the customer to know the Japanese names of the fish. Salmon is referred to as sake, tuna is maguro, and fatty tuna is toro. Saba refers to mackerel, while yellowtail fish is hamachi. Of course, this dish is not exclusively fish. Squid, or ika, and tako, which means octopus, can also be included. While sashimi is almost always a raw dish, shrimp is often served as a cooked addition. Cooked shrimp is known as ebi.

Restaurants that offer this dish also usually offer sushi. Sushi is also a raw fish dish, but the slices are draped atop a mound of rice. It also often incorporates ingredients other than raw fish, such as seaweed, vinegar, and other spices.

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Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By anon352743 — On Oct 25, 2013

@seag47: I can see your point, and how it could be hard for some people to try. It was for me too, for a while. I ate cooked sushi rolls for a while before becoming brave enough to try raw nigiri and sashimi. The texture isn't at all what you'd expect from eating raw chicken. Properly prepared raw tuna, salmon, etc. isn't slimy or gross in texture. The good cuts are buttery, melt-in-your-mouth delicious and have a subtle flavor that's quite different from the cooked fish.

For first-timers (as I did at first), I'd suggest taking a little nibble of a piece of the fish to get a feel for the taste and texture before putting the whole slice in your mouth. But, since wasting food is considered the height of rudeness, it would help to go with someone who likes the type of fish you're trying, and will finish it for you if you can't. (I've had some amusing incidents where I simply couldn't stand what I ordered - unagi, octopus, salmon eggs, and raw scallops among them - and had to finish it off myself because my sushi buddy wouldn't help!)

Today, my favorites are raw salmon, tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, and surf clam nigiri (slices on a cute little bed of rice) with a small amount of soy sauce. I especially love the salmon with a paper-thin slice of lemon on top. Sorry this post is so long, this article just started a huge craving and I can't shut up about it.

By giddion — On Sep 12, 2012

I've tried both sashimi and cooked varieties of sushi, and though I do prefer the cooked kind, I do occasionally enjoy sashimi as an appetizer. I never eat it with chopsticks, though.

I do feel a little conspicuous using a fork in a Japanese restaurant, but evidently, I'm not the only one. The waiters always leave both forks and chopsticks on the table, so I guess that guests request forks more often than I thought.

I like mixing the sweet ginger with the soy sauce. I avoid the wasabi, because it is way too hot for my tastebuds!

By seag47 — On Sep 11, 2012

I don't see how anyone could stand to put a piece of raw meat in their mouth. A slice of sashimi just looks like a slice of raw chicken to me, and no one would ever dream of eating raw chicken!

I know that it's been prepared by experts, but still, it just seems gross. Even if it can't kill me or make me sick, I just don't think I could tolerate the texture.

By Kristee — On Sep 10, 2012

@feasting – I have read that they have to freeze the fish to a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. It's all very specific, because it takes a certain temperature to kill any organisms in the fish that might be harmful.

This is why I would never attempt to make sashimi myself. I have no idea what I'm doing, and even if I have to pay gourmet prices to dine on sashimi, I will. I value my life too much to try to save money by making it at home!

By feasting — On Sep 10, 2012

How do Japanese chefs prepare sashimi in a way that makes it safe to eat? Surely, there is something that must be done to the raw fish before it can be served. I have no idea what that would be, but they can't just take it straight from the fish truck and slap it on a plate, can they?

By Pharoah — On Aug 30, 2012

I think one great thing about sashimi is that there aren't too many calories in sashimi. It's great if you're on a diet, or just trying to watch your calorie count. And I find that I usually feel pretty satisfied after eating a meal of sashimi.

By dautsun — On Aug 30, 2012

@Azuza - Well, don't knock it til you try it! If you've never tried sashimi, you have know way of knowing if you'll like it or not. Plus, it's not just a piece of raw fish. Usually it's served on rice and you can dip it in some kind of sauce.

Next time you go out for sushi, order a few pieces of tuna sashimi (or really any other kind of sashimi). Most places sell sashimi by the piece, so if you end up not liking it, you won't be spending that much money. And if you do like it, you'll have discovered something new to eat!

By Azuza — On Aug 29, 2012

I eat sushi all the time, but I have to admit I've never tried sashimi. When you eat sashimi, you're basically just eating raw fish. I like sushi because there's other stuff added to it. For me, when it comes to sushi vs. sashimi, I think sushi will always win!

By SZapper — On Aug 29, 2012

@goldensky - That's a good point. I also think I read somewhere that you're supposed to buy special sushi or sashimi grade fish if you're going to eat it raw. You can't just go to your grocery store, buy some fish and go home and eat it raw!

Also, I think you're supposed to keep the fish refrigerated at a certain temperature before eating it, because that kills germs too, just like heating it up does. Either way, before you go trying to make sashimi at home, do your research! You can get all kinds of food poisoning if you don't prepare raw fish the right way.

By anon256747 — On Mar 23, 2012

Sashimi is never served with sauce other than soy sauce. Putting wasabi or anything into soy sauce is not the japanese way and is against sashimi etiquette. Lemon is never used for sashimi and is treated as wasting good fish. High grade sashimi restaurants never offer sushi, but you can find both usually in middle grade restaurants.

By goldensky — On Jun 11, 2011

I would like to add to the article by stating that if you are going to prepare sashimi at home, it should always be with saltwater fish and never with freshwater fish. Freshwater fish have parasites that are killed when the fish is cooked. These parasites are not found in saltwater fish.

Sashimi made with tuna, halibut, red snapper and mackerel are all excellent choices for this dish. Salmon is also another good choice, however I would be very careful with uncooked salmon as it has been found in Alaskan lakes where it too has the potential to contain parasites.

Sashimi and sushi are always prepared with raw seafood so the safest choice is to purchase the freshest fish as possible from your local seafood market and not at the supermarket.

By babylove — On Jun 10, 2011

Well, you learn something new every day. I've eaten Japanese food only a few times in the past, but I always thought the little empty bowl was for soy sauce only. I didn't realize you were supposed to mix the ginger, soy and wasabi in them yourself.

I guess that's partly my husbands fault since he always puts a little wasabi paste on his sushi or sashimi and then drizzles a little soy sauce over that before he eats it.

I don't particularly care for the wasabi paste myself. It's a little too spicy for me, but maybe the next time we go out for Japanese, I'll mix my husband's soy and wasabi in the little bowl for him, just for kicks.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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