When your sushi (or sashimi) is served it never arrives alone. Two obvious counterparts accompany your meal which are both complimentary in presentation as well as in taste. Ginger (gari) and Wasabi. Both are intended for consumption in moderation, however they are both capable of enhancing the subtle flavour of the fish while dining. This is no simple feat, but a marriage of flavours that serves to further develop an already incredible dish.
Traditionally, ginger is served with sushi as it will cleanse the palate when eaten between different types of sushi. Taken with your fish it can easily overpower the delicate nature of the food, however in small doses in between pieces it can essentially ‘recharge’ your palate as you reach for the next item. I’ve certainly seen some people eat ginger with the sushi. While not the original intent of the item, it’s really all about personal preference, so feel free (IMHO). Ginger also has minor anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties and it is thought that eating it with raw food can assist in the prevention of sickness if there is any minor contamination of the product.
Wasabi, often called “Japanese Horseradish.” The actual rhizome is not related to American Horseradish except by name, and is somewhat difficult to find outside Asia. The ‘wasabi’ most often served in North America is not real wasabi, but powdered and reconstituted American Horseradish (and or mustard) with food colouring added to resemble real wasabi. Real wasabi is sometimes available upon request (and worth it, even with a surcharge, in my opinion). The real deal looks obviously like a grated root, and not a putty so should be easy to discern. Real wasabi also has a hotness that does not linger, and compliments and enhances the flavour of sushi rather well. Many people don’t realize that the sushi chef (itamae) already places some wasabi on each piece of nigiri sushi before he serves it. He knows. Wasabi also exibits anti-microbial properties and for this reason has been used medicinally since the 10th century.
Wasabi and Ginger are not merely sushi addendums. While measurably different beasts, both wasabi and ginger share a complex spicy/fruitiness that pairs exceptionally well with sushi. They are more than just companions, they bring out sushi’s hidden qualities and strive to tell you more. Integral components both, they are not served by chance. Not everyone loves wasabi or ginger, and a little can go a long way. If you like them, then I don’t need to convince you of anything. If not, I suggest give them another chance. While not a prerequisite for enjoying your sushi, they nevertheless can enhance your experience and highlight the nuances of each piece of sushi. When I was young I was told that if I didn’t like a particular food, try it three times before writing it off. It worked for me with olives. If you are not a fan of these items, try it. Perhaps it will work for you.
The sushi guy.