Perhaps because of its sometimes magical, mysterious aura—the knife artistry, the uncooked fish, the ceremonial style—sushi seems to have brought with it a host of misconceptions about its character and etiquette. Here are a few that need to be dispelled:
Myth No. 1: Sushi and sake go together. No. In Japan, eating rice-based sushi and drinking rice-based sake is considered too much of a good thing. Order a nice green tea or, better yet, a cold beer.
Myth No. 2: The proper procedure is to always mix wasabi paste with soy, then dunk the sushi. Purists caution against universally dousing every piece in this mix, warning that it could mask the pure flavor of choice fish. At a good restaurant, the chef will season your piece beforehand. Add wasabi or soy only if the need is dire. If you are eating sashimi, apply the wasabi and soy separately, then let them mingle in your mouth.
Myth No. 3: Sushi is a purely Japanese dish. Its origins are in Asia, yes, but most likely began in Thailand, experts say.
Myth No. 4: Sushi and sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks. As anyone who has tried to chopstick a fat hand-roll can tell you, fingers are frequently the best (and actually a socially acceptable) way to eat your sushi, especially in a high-end sushi restaurant where the chef leaves the rice relatively loosely packed to preserve texture.
Myth No. 5: Those thin slices of ginger go on the sushi. Actually, they are meant to be eaten between servings of a particular style of fish, to cleanse the palate and refresh your mouth for the next round of flavors.
Slowly, happily, more diners are discovering a world beyond sushi, a place where brothy, meaty flavors are so adored that the Japanese invented a word to describe the taste: umami. Many dishes find their umami in the ubiquitous fish stock called dashi. Others rely on soy sauce to emphasize the deep taste. Umami rules in such under-the-radar Japanese dishes as ramen, grilled yakitori and the much-beloved Japanese-style curry. Try katsudon (a fried cutlet of chicken or pork with fried egg) or negimaki (grilled beef-wrapped scallions) for a delightful non-sushi moment.
Many a moonlit beach romance has been nurtured on the rooftop dining area amid the shimmering koi ponds of this Rehoboth stalwart, the beach area’s sushi pioneer, where the sense of fun is heightened by such non-sushi raw dishes as ceviche and poke, and a variety of Japanese curries.
301 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8493 • website
For those who tire of the same-old spider rolls and the like, tiny Flying Fish fortifies things nicely with such maki as The Bangkok Dangerous (flash-fried tuna and salmon with jumbo lump crab, spicy mayo and sweet and spicy Bangkok sauce, $14), as well as adventurous entrées such as fish carpaccio with shaved daikon radish and sesame-ginger ponzu ($16), or fish tostadas with lump crab ($16).
300 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 581-0217 • website
A fairly priced menu is elevated by a sleek, slick interior. It gives diners the option of a standard sushi selection or the still-enthralling antics of Hibachi-style showmanship at the teppanyaki grill. Diners’ consensus: A much-needed addition to Middletown’s scene.
417 S. Ridge Ave., Middletown, 378-8868 • website
This urbane hipster refuge has led Wilmington’s sushi scene for years, and in spite of the occasional fall from Yelpsters’ grace. The vibe at the sushi bar helps mitigate any misses, and intriguing starters help keep a sense of sophisticated fun, from Kobe beef sliders with mushroom and bacon ($16) to a duck confit quesadilla with Monterey Jack ($15).
1212 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 656-8638 • website
One of the few Japanese restaurants that dares to reach beyond sushi-teriyaki territory, Okura’s entrées are worth exploring, if only for such surprises as grilled pork shogayaki ($14.95), broiled eel with sticky-sweet sauce ($13.95) or fried pork cutlet tonkatsu. The buzz: Hand roll with Kennett Sauce (tuna, crab, caviar, scallions and spicy mayo). Keep an eye out for Thai specialties.
703 Ace Memorial Drive, Hockessin, 239-8486 • website
Okura//Photo by Steve Legato
Head chef Hideyuki Okubo has a penchant for pan-Asian exploration that rewards diners who venture beyond the standard sushi-sashimi-maki menu to find his Chinese favorites, which range from the classics (kung pao chicken, sweet-and-sour chicken) to such surprises as chicken with eggplant in casserole ($19.95) and smoked duck ($20.95).
1601 Concord Pike (Independence Mall), Wilmington, 658-8887 • website
This is the real deal when it comes to the labor-intensive, deeply flavored ramen soups of Japan, a dish that’s light years away from dried ramen, and is typically fortified with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, lovely roast pork slices and a soft-boiled egg. The buzz: Don’t miss the perfectly fried pork cutlet curry ($10).
165 E. Main St., Newark, 733-0888 • website
A devotion to freshness and an elegant touch with presentation elevate Sakura far beyond its unassuming location and hit-or-miss parking. It’s a menu that surprises and intrigues, giving the sushi-shy diner such options as tempura and fired katsu cutlets and teasing adventurous palates with a startlingly daring Korean section.
1203 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington, 588-2323 • Facebook
Some hiccups in service never seem to spoil diners’ love for “Middletown’s Best Sushi Restaurant,” which doesn’t stray too far from familiar territory, but consistently inspires its devotees with freshness.
572 W. Main St., Middletown, 376-8680 • website