Sushi! Love it or hate it, but at some time in your life you will be asked, “Hey, do you want to go get sushi?” It’s becoming more acceptable these days to eat sushi as much as once or twice a week, so for all those newbies out there the best way to introduce yourself to sushi is by eating a California Roll.
Credit generally goes to Chef Manashita Ichiro and his assistant, Mashita Ichiro, of the Tokyo Kaikan restaurant in Los Angeles for “inventing” the California roll in the 1970s. The chef, realizing that most Americans didn’t like the idea of eating raw fish, created the California Roll made with crab, avocado, and cucumbers.
“Since then American sushi chefs have created many variations with unique names such as Spider Roll, Philadelphia Roll, and Rainbow roll,” according to What’s Cooking America. Most people in Japan have never heard of the California Roll so when visiting Japan it’s probably best not to try to order it.
According to Sushi Master, the origin of sushi in Japan is as a preserved food and traces back to the 4th century BC, the salted fish, fermented with rice, was an important source of protein. The site explains, “The cleaned and gutted fish were kept in rice so that the natural fermentation of the rice helped preserve the fish. This type of sushi is called nare-zushi, and was taken out of storage after a couple of months of fermentation, and then only the fish was consumed while the rice was discarded.”
While this type of what we call sushi spread through Asia, in Japan they preferred to eat rice with the fish and called it seisei-zushi. The Sushi Master website says, “This type of sushi was consumed while the fish was still partly raw and the rice had not lost its flavor.”
In this way, sushi eventually became more of a cuisine rather than a way to preserve food. While it is true that eating sushi is a bit intimidating for the newbie there is a “proper” way to eat it. First, unless it’s impossible, sit at the sushi bar. This will give you a chance to make conversation and interact with the sushi chef (and inspect the quality of the fish, which should always be on display).
Clean your hands before eating sushi. Sushi bars often provide hot towels prior to serving food for this purpose. Although many people choose to use chopsticks, it is entirely acceptable to eat sushi with your hands. While you can eat sushi with your fingers, do take note that when eating sashimi, chopsticks are preferred.
You will want to pick up the sushi from the backside by reaching over the piece and turning your hand upside down. Grasp the sushi between your thumb and middle finger, laying your middle finger alongside the sushi and not pinching too hard. Pick up the sushi so that the fish is now on the underside. You can use your thumb, middle finger, and fourth finger to hold it together. Your index finger lies atop the rice. Dip the end of the sushi into the soy sauce - but only the fish part. Try not to get soy on the rice it will fall apart. Then bring the sushi to your mouth, placing the fish side on your tongue. Eat your sushi in just one bite, but if the piece is too big, you can eat it in two. Afterward, refresh your mouth with a slice of ginger – this is especially important when eating different types of sushi. Finally, be sure and eat everything on your plate.
As for dipping, be careful when dipping Nigiri into the soy sauce. Take the entire piece in your hand and dip it end down into the sauce. If the sushi already has sauce on it, you don’t need to dip it into soy sauce – enjoy it the way it was prepared. You will find ginger on your plate as well. If you want to dip the ginger into the soy sauce use your chop sticks to do that then brush the sauce onto the fish lightly, this way the ginger does not overpower.
With your sushi, you will have a small dish for soy sauce dipping, do not use too much soy sauce, a small amount will do since you don’t want to overpower the food. The small green-like paste on the plate called wasabi or horseradish is also important. You can mix this into your soy sauce, but only if you are having sashimi. It is impolite to use it if you are eating sushi since the chef will have already added wasabi between the rice and fish of your sushi.
What’s Cooking America also explains how easy it is to make sushi at home. Japanese and Asian food stores carry the proper ingredients and equipment, and making sushi roles offers an excellent way to learn since it takes some practice.
Miso soup, another must when eating sushi, is a delicately flavored broth typically served as the first course of a Japanese meal. The website Wasabi Mom notes that there are many variations on miso soup both regional and individual. The most common type is made from a stock called dashi, to which you add the miso (fermented soybean paste) and other ingredients, such as tofu, seaweed, and scallions.
Though it’s easier than you think to make at home, take some time to enjoy visiting a local sushi restaurant and ask questions, usually the chefs are happy to help you place your order.
Miso Soup Recipe:
1 6×6-inch piece of kombu, soaked 30-minutes to overnight in 5 cups of water
3 tablespoons bonito flakes
1/2 pound silken tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons white miso paste
1 spring onion, sliced, for garnish
Preparation: After the kombu has soaked overnight, bring the seaweed and its soak water into a medium-sized pot. Bring to a boil over a medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add bonito flakes and remove from heat. Allow soup too steep for another 10 minutes, and then strain the broth into another pot. Bring to boil over a medium-low heat. Add tofu and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Ladle out about 1/2 cup of broth into a small bowl and mix in miso paste until completely dissolved with no lumps. Pour the miso into the rest of the broth and stir well.
Place over medium heat just until the soup begins to simmer, then remove from heat and ladle into bowls. Top with sliced onion for garnish.