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Sushi Etiquette 101 With Zilla’s Sushi Master

How to eat sashimi and nigiri, according to Kate Koo

A Korean-American woman wearing a blue chef’s jacket, her hair in a ponytail, scoops rice at the counter of Zilla Sake
Zilla chef-owner Kate Koo
Zilla Sake House

Nine years ago this spring, Kate Koo opened the sushi bar at Zilla Sake House on NE Alberta, and with a zen-like adherence to traditional sushi techniques, it’s become one of the city’s top sushi restaurants. With that experience, Koo sat down with Eater to share crucial tips for what is, and what is not, a quality sushi experience. Prepare to get schooled.

But first, a little background. Koo is a rare female sushi chef. She learned to slice seafood while apprenticing under Japanese sushi chefs, who’d learned their craft in Japan. She's also a Certified Sake Professional, accredited by the Sake Education Council of Japan, and was awarded with distinction the International Wine and Spirit Education Trust's Level 3 Award in Sake.

Interestingly, Koo’s birth name is the name of a popular sushi knife, too.

10 Tips for Eating Sushi With Maximum Success

1. “Pickled ginger should be eaten between bites as a palate cleanser,” says Koo. “Adding it to a bite of sushi can overwhelm the more subtle flavors.”

2. “Sake can be served either warm or cold. Sometimes warming it can bring out more nuances and aromas. A good example of a sake that can be served either way is Taiheikai.”

3. “Eat sushi as soon as it appears. At Zilla, we course plates so you’ll get each dish delivered when you’re ready for it. The quality of the fish will never be higher than the moment it arrives.”

4. “Any one roll should only feature one type of fish, to let the flavor shine. At Zilla, we never use more than two types of seafood in any one roll.”

A plate of tuna nigiri at Zilla Sake.
Maguro nigiri
Zilla Sake House

5. “Tuna and salmon especially do not go together in a single sushi roll.”

6. “Sushi should be eaten in one bite. Beware of U.S. sushi bars that put too much rice to bulk up their sushi. Sushi is all about balance.”

7. “Eat everything on the plate. The accompaniments aid digestion.”

8. “Eat sashimi with chopsticks, but nigiri can be eaten with your hands.”

9. “Great sushi restaurants will incorporate the best local fish and seafood. Move beyond albacore to embrace diversity and seasonality.”

10. “With nigiri, the rice should melt. That means it should have just the right balance of vinegar and be served slightly above room temperature. It should only fall apart once it’s in your mouth.”

Want to flex those new sushi skills? Check out the article, 13 Essential Portland Sushi Spots.

Zilla Sake House

1806 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211 (503) 288-8372 Visit Website