Why Restaurants Pair Sushi With Ginger And The Proper Way To Eat It

No sushi meal is complete without a generous side of crisp, thin slices of sweetened ginger. Also known as gari, these traditional pickles are either served in delicate containers with wasabi and soy sauce, or alongside whatever type of sushi you might have ordered — whether it is nigiri (raw fish served on vinegared rice), maki (roll made with rice and seaweed), or temaki (cone-shaped hand roll). 

Gari belongs to a larger family of pickles, or tsukemono, which are commonly offered at Japanese meals. These pieces of ginger can come in white or pink, the latter of which is the result of a dying process. Regardless, there is no doubt that these mouthwatering, spicy sides are a delightful way to amp up the flavor of your sushi. They probably taste great when used to top your sushi too — but that's not how the pickles are meant to be consumed. 

Up there with overpowering this Japanese delicacy by dipping it in soy sauce, or slathering on wasabi until a bite literally brings you to tears, making ginger slices a part of every piece of sushi is just not the way to go. The proper way to eat gari is in between sushi bites — it's a palate cleanser.

There is a right way to enjoy ginger with sushi

Pickled ginger slices are an important part of any sushi meal not because they go with what's being served, but because they prepare you for what comes next. Like a sorbet served in between courses at a fine-dining French restaurant, these slices of ginger are meant to help your palate forget the last bite you had, and to prime it for the one to come. As celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa tells The Independent: "After you have eaten a piece of sushi with tuna, for example, and you want to eat sushi with salmon, you eat the ginger because it cleans the mouth. Then you can try the next piece without confusing the flavors."

He adds: "Ginger is not meant to be eaten with sushi in the same mouthful."

You could argue that there are many reasons to enjoy pickled ginger with your sushi meal — in addition to being packed with flavor, ginger also helps with digestion,which will come in handy if your tummy isn't used to digesting raw fish. And while we agree that there is no downside to enjoying pickled ginger, it's best to enjoy this beneficial side the proper, intended way.