This is Why Sushi Comes with Ginger and Wasabi

Anyone who has ever eaten at a restaurant that serves proper sushi will know that each plate will come with pickled ginger and wasabi, but not everyone knows what they are for.

Why does sushi come with pickled ginger and wasabi? These two accompaniments to sushi perform different purposes. While the ginger is meant to be a palate cleanser, the wasabi is meant to be a flavor enhancer that basically forces your senses to wake up so that you can enjoy the dish more. Together, they make the experience more satisfying.

With that said, eating sushi with pickled ginger and wasabi can go very right or very wrong depending on how you do it, so it’s best to learn a little more about them first.

How to Eat Sushi with Wasabi and Pickled Ginger?

Depending on where you are, eating sushi can either be simple or it can be less so. There are a lot of etiquettes that come with consuming this dish, most of which is about adhering to traditions and respecting the chef. This applies to how you will eat pickled ginger and wasabi.

When you are eating sushi that you got from a convenience store or a similar place, you don’t need to follow any rules. At a restaurant, you need to follow some rules. At a traditional sushi bar, there are a lot of rules to follow.

To help you better understand this topic, the table below provides you with a generalized set of scenarios in which you will be eating sushi. The details will cover the way to eat sushi itself, along with the pickled ginger and the wasabi. For the sake of simplicity, we will divide them between simple and complicated.

SushiEat however you wantEat on a specific order, use hands or chopsticks, dip carefully, don’t leave leftovers
WasabiYou can have it or don’tWasabi is included in the sushi itself unless the chef is instructed otherwise
Pickled GingerEat in any order or not at allEat in-between bites

So, there you have it, some of the rules that you might need to keep in mind with regards to sushi depending on where you eat. Those are not all of the etiquette points involved in the dining experience, though, since there are quite a few more. However, for today’s topic, they will do.

Coming to the point of the sushi first, buying from convenience stores and kiosks will basically free you from any obligation to follow any rules. You can even eat each piece with a spoon if you want. Just don’t do it in front of a sushi enthusiast.

However, when eating at a restaurant, you will have to follow certain rules. There are times when each piece is organized in a certain way where you will have to eat them in order. Using your fingers or chopsticks is also advised. Most importantly, there must never be leftovers on your plate, not even the wasabi.

If you don’t want wasabi, to begin with, you must tell the staff or the chef ahead of time. Otherwise, you would be projecting a sign of disrespect whether you mean to or not. Now that we have touched on the subject, though, let’s go ahead and talk about this spicy green paste.

When it comes to eating wasabi, this can be done in a few ways, which depends on the situation once again. Most cheap sushi does not contain wasabi inside them but is actually served on the side. This means that you can eat it or not depending on your preference.

If you are going to eat it, though, you can take a small piece of the paste and then smear than on the sushi. You then dip the sushi in the soy sauce – taking care not to dip too hard – and then eating the piece whole.

In the case of sushi bars or restaurants, however, sushi chefs will include some portion of wasabi in the nigiri or maki just to enhance its flavor right away. Then, if the wasabi is still not enough for you, you can use the paste provided on your plate to add some more.

Assuming you don’t want the chef to add the wasabi automatically, you can tell this to the staff as you make your order or the chef if you are sitting on the counter. This will help you control just how much wasabi you are going to have.

The same practice of informing the staff or the chef applies for when you don’t want any wasabi at all. This way, they won’t put a small mound of wasabi on the plate and you won’t have to leave leftovers or have your enjoyment affected by the wasabi. It should be noted, though, that eating sushi without wasabi means that you are missing out.

Moving on to pickled ginger, the same method of exclusion can apply, but it would be better if you have it. This neat little side item is basically a palate cleanser, which really helps when you are eating something as fresh as sushi.

You see, every time you put a piece of the dish in your mouth, you are creating a coating of flavorings and other substances that can dull your sense of taste. As a result, the second piece might not register as clearly as the first did.

When you eat a slice of pickled ginger with every bite, you can have a cleansed mouth and tongue every time. This is why you will want to repeat this process for each piece of sushi that you eat so that you can maximize your level of enjoyment.

Most people who eat sushi are basically wasting their money by getting less and less in return for what they paid. With pickled ginger, this does not have to be the case.

Why Have Pickled Ginger with Sushi?

As already briefly covered before, pickled ginger is a palate cleanser when eating sushi, but this is not the only reason why you want to have it alongside the dish. To start with, this delectable item is actually delicious all on its own.

It tastes both sweet and sour as you would expect from anything pickled, but it also has that nice kick from the ginger. Some foodies have taken such a liking to it that they even made it into a snack, much like how nori is often consumed. Along with citrus fruits like oranges, pickled ginger can actually be consumed during tea time.

Aside from that, there are also other culinary benefits to eating pickled ginger. It basically gives you a refreshing sensation when you have it, which can be a huge advantage for when you are eating sushi that has fatty fish for the filling or toppings.

When dealing with ingredients with particularly strong flavors and odors, you are going to want to have pickled ginger because it can get rid of those. It does so by clearing out the build-up of coating on your tongue, mouth, and throat, as well as your nasal cavity.

As if all of that is not enough, eating pickled ginger is also incredibly healthy for your digestive system. This wonderful product helps your stomach by getting rid of bacteria since ginger has antibacterial properties. You will also appreciate its effects if you are someone who can’t really control their appetite.

Ginger is incredibly helpful in treating stomach aches of any kind by soothing inflammation and promoting better digestion. Yes, these benefits also extend to when you need to expel the food that you digested through your colon. It even helps in the absorption of nutrients that you get from eating food, which sushi has a lot of.

Why Wasabi is Served with Sushi

Wasabi is served with sushi for a few reasons, the main one being the fact that it can enhance the flavor of the dish. You are dealing with a lot of different tastes and textures, after all, including the aroma. You want to make sure that all of your senses are available when you finally dig into that long-awaited sushi dinner.

To start with, wasabi basically encourages you to salivate and activates your sense of smell by target certain receptors via your mucous membrane. With that being the case, your mouth and nose will be more prepared to enjoy the varied sensations that the sushi will offer.

For every piece that comes with wasabi, the ingredients are given a shower of attention. Of course, a lot of this depends on just how much wasabi you actually use. Most chefs only include a small amount in the sushi that they make, allowing you to add later with the wasabi mound included on the plate.

This will make sure that for every bite, you are getting only the right amount of wasabi that will help you appreciate the dish even more. On top of that particular feature, though, eating sushi with wasabi also conveys other awesome benefits.

To start with, wasabi helps settle your stomach after eating fresh food like raw fish. If you are not used to doing that yet, then this green paste can make the aftermath much easier to deal with. Of course, this would require you to have some in the first place, so don’t turn your nose up to wasabi.

Other than that, there are also antimicrobial benefits to wasabi, which can help improve your digestive system, fight off infections, and facilitate better bowel movement. There is literally no downside to eating wasabi other than having to get used to the taste and smell.

Speaking of which, it’s undeniable that wasabi is indeed an acquired taste. However, once you get used to it, you might find yourself actually craving it any time you eat sushi. Those who have understood the wonders of wasabi will begin to want to have it with every plate of the fresh dish and the experience will feel incomplete without it.

There have even been those who got so attached to wasabi that they began adding the green paste to practically anything. You can even make a wasabi sandwich, if you want, provided there are other layers like meat, cheese, and vegetable in the mix.

Related Questions

What is Wasabi Made of?

Genuine wasabi is made of the grated stem of the wasabi rhizome, which is a plant that is native to Japan and can hardly be found anywhere else. Commercial wasabi can be made with some of this stem, but most are made with substitutes using horseradish, mustard, and food coloring.

How is Pickled Ginger Made?

Pickled ginger is made by simply slicing the ginger thinly after peeling it and then submerging the slices in a solution usually made of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Sometimes, specialty shops add more ingredients, but those are about the normal components to pickling ginger.

Substitutes to Pickled Ginger

If you don’t like eating pickled ginger for some reason or you don’t have it on hand after making homemade sushi, there are substitutes that you can use. The most obvious of them would be pickle options, which are made from pickled cucumber. For those who are interested, this is called a gherkin in other parts of the world.

You can go with the pickle relish if you want, but for the sake of convenience, you can choose the sliced pickles. You can treat it the way you would eat pickled ginger, which is by taking a piece for each piece of sushi that you eat.

This is the most accessible option for you, which involves the least amount of work. On that note, if you are feeling a bit more adventurous, there are other options, including a South Asian pickled mix called Atsara.

You can find these in specialty Filipino shops in jarred form. You can easily tell that you have the right item thanks to the yellow and red strips of pickled material inside. These are made of shredded papaya, carrots, and sometimes, cucumber. The taste is reminiscent of that of pickled ginger, but without the kick that you expect from the item.

If you re up to experimenting a bit and getting creative, you can actually make this yourself. All you need to do is buy raw papaya, carrots, and cucumber. For the sake of making the experience as authentic as possible, you are going to slice those ingredients as thinly as possible instead of shredding them.

If you have no confidence in your slicing skills, you can use a mandolin slicer, instead. You need to make sure that the pieces are as thin as possible to make the pickling process go faster. There’s no need to worry about the time either since you can actually get good results from pickling these ingredients for only a few minutes.

Assuming you have sliced the cucumber, raw papaya, and carrots as thinly as you could, it’s time to put them in a solution. Now, pickled ginger typically uses vinegar as the acidic component of the mixture. However, since you are working with different ingredients, you can go with other sour fluids if you want.

You can turn to lemon juice, for example, if you are looking for an extra zesty kick. Whatever you choose, just make sure that you add sugar and salt to the mix. Make sure to add just a little bit, though, just enough to add some sweetness to the mix. Remember that the main star here is still the sourness.

Using a bowl as a container is enough for this particular substitute to pickled ginger. Just cover it with clear film, place it in the fridge, and wait 30 minutes to an hour. You should have an excellent Atsara for your sushi by then.

Substitutes to Wasabi

Ideally, you should not use a substitute to wasabi if you can help it. This is an integral partner to sushi and plays an important role in the whole experience. However, if you are just at home and making the dish yourself from scratch, it would be understandable if you want to cut some corners. As such, you can try a few alternatives that can work.

We can start with grated horseradish mixed in with mustard. You can use yellow mustard if you want and then add blue food coloring to get that green color. From there, you can throw in some cornstarch to give the mixture some structure and there you have it. You now have a paste that is similar to that of wasabi.

The taste is not going to be the same, for sure, but it will elicit many of the same sensations. This is due to the fact that horseradish is similar to the wasabi rhizome, which is what authentic wasabi is made out of. It just has a much weaker impact, which is actually what many people prefer, anyway.

If you want to weaken that even further, we can forget about the mustard and go with mushed peas, instead. Basically, you take your grated horseradish and then mix it with cooked peas that you already mushed into a paste. If the resulting substance is still too wet for you, you can try adding some cornstarch for structure.

Just like the option with the mustard, this will be nowhere near as good as real wasabi. In fact, you will only be getting the minimal effects that you would even get with the previous option. Even so, it looks like wasabi and can even smell like wasabi. It just won’t sting as much.

For those who are just getting used to eating sushi, though, this might be a good start. Wasabi can be a bit overwhelming at first, so you can begin building a tolerance through these substitutes. 

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