Unless you live in a cave somewhere in Saskatchewan, you’ve probably noticed the recent trend of sushi restaurants popping up all over the major cities of the world (no offense to anyone living in Saskatchewan, of course). The raw fish craze has become the subject of countless restaurant reviews and uber-trendy “it” spots giving the Japanese staple food quite a bit of attention. These eateries with chic décor, dim lighting and intricately designed, square-shaped plates charge a pretty penny for all things raw.
So what’s the big deal about sushi? If you live in the Far East, sushi is nothing special. Their cultural staples of rice and fish make sushi a very unremarkable phenomenon. In fact, the concept of sushi dates back to a very practical purpose in 7th Century China when fish needed to be preserved for long periods of time. Previously, the fish had been packed in salt, which helped ferment the fish over a few months. But who wants to wait for months just to have a piece of salty fish?
In time, it was discovered that fish could be preserved just as well by rolling the fish in rice that had been soaked in vinegar. Not only was this tastier, but it allowed the fish to ferment in a matter of days rather than months. Once the fish was ready, the rice was usually discarded, but with drought and food shortage, people began eating the rice and the fish together for the nutrients.
Chef Yohei is credited with originating the first types of sushi in the 1800s when he served fish wrapped in rice to his friends at a dinner party. He created two styles of sushi named after two cities in Japan: Edo (present day Tokyo) and Osaka. The sushi that came from Osaka is most akin to what you’d be served at a sushi restaurant today, as they were known for blending rice with many different ingredients, especially fish, to form a decorative presentation. They also took advantage of the rich variety of seafood and fish in the area by placing a small piece of fish on a pad of seasoned rice to create nigirizushi. Today’s sushi chefs have come a long way since Yohei’s time, but they still use the same techniques and principles when constructing their rolls.
Even if you’ve heard about sushi and you think it sounds interesting, it can be intimidating to visit a sushi restaurant without knowing how to order. Let’s start with the menu:
You have some choices as to how you’d like your sushi to look:
– Nigri – a small piece of fish placed on a mound of rice, often secured with a small band of nori or seaweed. Some restaurants place a bit of wasabi in between the rice and the fish for added flavor.
– Maki – probably the most recognizable form of sushi, the ingredients are rolled inside rice and nori and cut into bite-size pieces.
– Temaki – cone-shaped hand rolls that include a great deal of fish and other ingredients wrapped in a large piece of nori. Because they are so large, they are eaten with hands rather than chopsticks.
Once you’ve decided what form your sushi should take, it’s simply a matter of choosing ingredients. Modern sushi restaurants in the United States pride themselves on creative rolls with interesting ingredients, so it pays to be adventurous. Below are some of the most popular types of nigri that will help you translate the menu from Japanese to English:
Magura = Tuna
Tai = Red Snapper
Awabi = Abolone
Hirame = Halibut
Saba = Mackerel
Ikura = Salmon Roe
Toro = Fatty Tuna
Ika = Squid
Mirugai = Giant Clam
Hamachi = Yellow Tail
Ebi = Shrimp
Uni = Sea Urchin
Tako = Octopus
Sake = Smoked Salmon
Unagi = Eel
Anago = Sea Eel
Kani = Crab
Tomago = Egg
Not a fish fan? There are plenty of vegetarian rolls and other dishes. A very popular vegetarian dish is inari, which consists of a thin piece of fried tofu stuffed with sushi rice. It’s quite tasty and a great choice for anyone.
While waiting for the meal, you can prepare your chopsticks. Some restaurants may have reusable chopsticks, which don’t require any preparation, but most places will have wooden chopsticks that need to be broken apart. You may want to rub the sticks together after they have been broken to remove any splinters. When you are not using your chopsticks, lean them on the provided rest or on the soy sauce dish. Still asking for the kiddy chopsticks with the rubber band attaching them at the top? Check out the instructions at eHow.com and make yourself learn once and for all.
The sushi will arrive at the table on some sort of wooden plank or long dish. You may want to pour some soy sauce into your small dish (low-sodium is usually available upon request) to serve as a dipping sauce for the sushi. Accompanying the sushi will be two small mounds of Japanese condiments:
– Wasabi – known as Japanese horseradish, the green pasty lump is quite spicy and made from the root of the wasabi plant. Many people mix it in with their soy sauce to add a spicy kick to their sushi when they dip. A very small amount, usually one chopstick-full provides more than enough spice for a small dish of soy sauce.
– Ginger – this sweet, pickled condiment is used as a digestive aid or to cleanse the palate after the meal or in between rolls.
There’s no end to the types of sushi that can be created, so take your time ordering and try new things. Ask for any specials or what the sushi chef recommends and you’ll get the best of the best.
I Want to be a Sushi Chef
Sushi-making is undoubtedly an art, but crudely formed rice rolls are supposed to be relatively simple to make. Impress dinner guests with your new talent, but do a few practice rounds before you get to the real thing. It takes a while to get the knack.
The process itself is not hard, but it is difficult to explain without a visual aid. The best step-by-step instructions with pictures that I could find were at IMakeSushi.com. Their basic sushi-making directions are simple and easy to follow, which include a standard roll, inside-out roll and nigri. The site also has instructions on how to make more complicated rolls if you get really adventurous.
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