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Sashimi and Sushi - How to Eat Sushi

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

How to Eat Sushi

To the sushi novice, nothing seems simpler than sushi—a morsel of fish, often uncooked, on top of a fat finger of rice. The sushi chef forms nigiri sushi so quickly, so effortlessly that you’d be forgiven for assuming that there is not much to the craft. But these are deliberate gestures, developed over years of practice. And preparing rice and fish that will make my customers swoon is anything but simple.

I’ve spent many years honing my technique for making vinegared rice, or sumeshi. I buy the best rice, mill it myself, and cook it so that each grain is perfect. I spread the rice in a wood basin called a hangiri, so that when I add a painstakingly proportioned mixture of high-quality rice vinegar, salt, and sugar, it will distribute evenly, coating each grain with a cloak of sweet acidity. I form each finger of rice with my hands so that it’s packed neither too densely nor too loosely, so it bursts apart in your mouth. I’ve also spent years building relationships with fish distributors and working on my technique for preparing fish. I learned how to skillfully cut tuna in order to make beautiful, jewel-like pieces of sushi, how to score squid so it’s just barely chewy, and how to lightly cure certain fish, like kohada (shad).

I don’t believe strict rules should govern how you eat every bite of food, yet I do hope customers will appreciate the efforts I’ve taken to create balanced, delicious sushi by considering the following advice:

Don’t dunk your sushi rice-first into soy sauce. This spoils the texture of the rice that I’ve worked so hard to create and overwhelms the delicately seasoned rice. At my sushi bar, I add just the right amount and type of soy sauce to the fish in each piece of sushi, so there’s no need to add more. This small blast of heady saltiness snaps your palate to attention, getting it ready for the subtle flavors of the fish and rice. If you must add more, however, please invert your sushi and let the fish graze the sauce.

And, please, don’t mix wasabi into your soy sauce. I’ve noticed that many American diners practice an identical ritual when their sushi arrives. I’ve watched them nab a wad of wasabi with their chopsticks and plunge it into their dish of soy sauce. Ideally, the sweet bite of the wasabi tucked under the fish and the rich, salty slick of soy on top should meet each other in the mouth, not before. This creates an exciting friction that’s lost when they are combined into a murky sauce. And it’s up to the skilled sushi chef to add the appropriate amount of wasabi for the strength of the fish.

Eat the pickled ginger between bites of sushi, not with bites of sushi. The pickled ginger (gari) that accompanies sushi is especially tasty when it’s homemade. Yet it does not belong draped over sushi, where it overshadows the other flavors. Instead, it’s meant to be eaten between pieces of sushi—its pleasant astringency and sweet-tart tang rejuvenates your palate, preparing you for the next exciting sensation.

Like all Japanese food, sushi is meant to be experienced with all the senses. You see the vivid red of tuna next to stark white squid and bright orange sea urchin; you smell the soy; you hear the snap of your teeth biting through crisp nori. So why shouldn’t you eat each piece of sushi with your hands, to feel the warm, sticky rice and weight of the fish? It is perfectly acceptable, though personally, since I’m usually watching, I prefer the elegance of chopsticks.

Finally, don’t nibble my sushi. I’ve carefully determined the proportions of fish, rice, and wasabi in each piece of sushi to create the perfect mouthful, so I want my customers to eat it in just one bite. Many of my customers are reluctant to do this, and ask whether I can cut each piece in half. I say, “Sure, as long as you put both pieces in your mouth at once!”

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