What should you never do when eating sushi?
Sitting at the sushi bar is a unique experience. Only a few other types of cuisine offer a chance to sit in front of your Chef, interact and ask questions. I think it is like having your own personal Chef. There is a casual/ease aspect of engaging in conversation, yet the information exchanged can be insightfully rich, educational, unavailable anywhere else.
For this reason, any customer at the sushi bar should always pay attention to the question he/she asks to the Sushi Chef.
Here is my list of what behavior and questions to avoid at the sushi bar.
Pretending to know a lot about the cuisine ( it only reveals how little you know)
At a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles, where I was working, this famous Hollywood actor was a regular customer. Every time he visited, he brought an attractive young date. Every time, he ordered the same dish, green beans asparagus salad. Every time, he told his date how great the salad was. Every time, he talked about the fish, sushi chefs and how legendary the restaurant was. Every time I listened to him, it was apparent to me how little he knew about the cuisine, which led me to believe his attempt to impress his date was unsuccessful, which explained one of the reasons why he brought a different date every time.
Avoid asking "What's fresh today?"
This was, by far, the most frequently asked question at the sushi bar and in my opinion, yet it is the most inappropriate one to ask. Maybe you've heard another customer asking the same question before. But, just because many customers use it, doesn't automatically make it the right question to ask.
For one, the fish is supposed to be fresh to begin with. Asking "what's fresh today?" would be an equivalent of asking, "how fast can you run?" to an Olympic track-and-field athlete.
Second, fresh fish does not always taste the best. Salmon tastes the best five days after it's caught. Tuna needs several days, up to one to two weeks of "aging" to reach a matured taste. (here is my answer about the fish aging.)
A good alternative question would be, "What would you recommend?" Or," What can you tell me about today's fish?"
Instead of asking "Where do you get your fish from?", ask “Where can I get the same fish?”
Maybe the second most asked question. I usually ask back, "So, are you asking where can YOU get the same fish as we do?" Then, over half of them told me that was what they wanted to ask. Sushi chefs and restaurants get their fish from the wholesale supplier, most of which is directly unavailable to the consumers (some of the retailers do carry the same or similar fish sourced from those wholesalers). So telling them the name of our fish supplier is not exactly useful information. If you want to know where to get the fish, I recommend, "Where I can get the same or similar fish as you do?" Also, you can always ask the chef/restaurant if they are willing to sell some of the fish. (I would recommend getting to know the Chef before doing so.)
Avoid offering a drink to the Chef, whom you just met for the first time
In the US (or Los Angeles and San Francisco, where I worked), it seems that it is believed offering a drink to the chefs is customary. In Japan, only regular customers will offer a drink to the chefs. It's almost similar to buying a drink to your friend. So, just because you are feeling good at the restaurant you never been before, there is no need to offer a drink. Knowing this, if you are outside of Japan, it may be perfectly fine to offer a drink to the sushi chefs at the sushi bar, as long as that is a common practice there (remember there is always Time, Place and Occasion - the Japanese call it TPO).
In conclusion, I’d like to share the following.
At the sushi bar, I consider the sushi chef’s role as a tour guide. Ask and you shall receive and at least, that is what I do to my guests, and that is what I do if I were a guest at a sushi bar.
So, my recommendation is to sit down, relax and enjoy your meal, one nigiri, roll or sashimi at a time, as you engage in a great, intellectual, informative, educational and fun conversation.