We all love sushi, and as with many meals you eat in a restaurant or as take away, there are always small mysteries that one never really thinks about. Some of these mysteries aren’t anything that one needs to be concerned about, but some….. Well, may be surprising. I like to know what I’m eating, and I will keep eating sushi until I die, but some of the things that are commonly believed about sushi may not be what they seem. As such, I give you….
Your Wasabi probably isn’t real
Most American sushi restaurants serve a mixture of horseradish and mustard (with green food coloring), with the main emphasis on the horseradish. Even in Japan, true Wasabi is not common. Real wasabi is a difficult to grow rhizome, and has a much more natural herbal taste. Real wasabi comes from grating the root Japonica, which is originally native to China, Taiwan, southern Korea and southern Japan, and is expensive and hard to come by outside Asia. In some restaurants you can ask for the real thing, but expect to pay an additional fee for it.
Sushi is a Chinese creation
Sushi came onto the scene in Japan during the 8th century, but its origins stem from China. The Chinese used a method to preserve food by storing fish in marinated rice. The Japanese started eating the rice along with the fish, and eventually, sushi became an important source of protein (as well as food storage) for the Japanese.
Sushi was originally considered “fast food”
Sushi was an early method of “take out” in Japan. Sushi became a vital source of nutrients for the Japanese, that could be eaten in public, or the theater, or just on the go. Once the Japanese could systematically create sushi the meal finally evolved into what we consider fast food today. Only in the past century has it become upscale and the work of art it is now seen as.
Not everything is raw (“su shi” actually means seasoned/vinegared rice)
The notion that Sushi consists of only raw ingredients is just not true. The assumption that sushi is raw, is an idea that comes from the dish being mainly cold. Modern sushi comes with many cooked additions, and is perfected to match the consistency that 21st century foodies have come to enjoy. Cooked crab, smoked salmon, grilled squid, cooked shrimp, and steamed clams are just some of the delicious ingredients used in sushi today.
You can buy sushi with Bitcoin
The growing fascination with the crypto-currency called “Bitcoin” has finally found its way into the sushi industry. Purchasing sushi with the internet tender isn’t a thing of the future anymore! Many sushi restaurants are currently accepting bitcoin and, in the process, revolutionizing the way we enjoy sushi. Restaurants in California, Massachusetts and France are among the first pioneers in accepting the currency and we are very excited about it.
Sushi is considered a work of art
As much pride as sushi chefs take in taste, the same amount of attention goes into plate presentation. The statement of sushi is expected to be understood by equal parts of the mouth as well as eyes. Chefs from different regions prepare sushi & sashimi and arrange it on the plate according to their own styles, and they spend many years learning the craft of sushi-making. The main emphasis of sushi art are simplicity and natural beauty. Some Itamae (what a sushi chef is called) believe that they capture the motion of fish using flowing plate presentations and different colors.
Sushi is finger food (many types are meant to be eaten with your fingers, like nigiri-zushi (“hand-pressed sushi”)
Despite the lure of mastering the use of chopsticks while enjoying sushi, sushi is actually meant to be eaten with your hands. Thats right, sushi is a finger food and no mean looks will be given for chowing down on sushi with your fingers. Tameki is expected to be eaten with the fingers because of its long shape. Nigiri-zushi actually translates as “hand-pressed sushi” it’s meant to be eaten with one’s fingers! Using chopsticks with some sushi may not only inappropriate, but difficult, even for the pros, and remember, sushi was originally meant to be eaten “on the go.”. Next time you’re out, test your boundaries, and use your (clean) hands! Nice restaurants offer you that steaming hot towel (oshibori) for a reason.
Rice on the outside rolls is an American invention (and not traditional)
The well-known California roll that has rice on the outside was actually invented and popularized in America. The origin of the California roll can be traced to Tokyo section in Los Angeles in the 1970‘s, when a sushi chef was running out of seasonal ingredients. The chef at Tokyo Kaikan restaurant substituted avocado for tuna for consistency and used crab to match the fish taste. The seaweed that was usually added on the outside of the roll proved to be too risky for the average Los Angeles consumer so the chef eventually toned down the difference by moving the seaweed inside, and thus, the California Roll was born.
Don’t dip the rice in soy sauce (shoyu)
Trust the chef on how to enjoy his sushi. One of the most common mistakes a sushi eater can make is not following proper etiquette, and chefs say, put down the soy sauce. The rice soaks up way too much liquid, like a sponge, and can overpower the whole roll. The sushi is actually served on a wooden plate sometimes to keep the rice just at the right consistency, so adding any liquid is defeating the purpose of sushi preparation. Sushi should be eaten as soon as it is made, because that’s the best way to enjoy the flavor (hence the sushi bar will offer the best experience, in the opinion of this author). Adding too many extra ingredients is not only a slight at the chef, but also, a way to ensure that you’re not overdoing the delicate balance of flavors. Hint: dip fish in soy sauce instead.
Eat sushi upside down, with the fish on your tongue, not the rice
According to Sushi trend setters, eating the sushi upside-down is the right way to eat. The fish should touch your tongue first, not the rice. Turning the sushi upside-down, then dipping the fish into the soy sauce ensures that the rice doesn’t soak up too much sauce, and enjoying the roll is moderated properly instead of an over emphasis on one flavor over another. Most sushi chefs have come to expect that American eaters eat the sushi the wrong way, but if you’d like to impress your sushi chef, eat the sushi upside down, particularly if you are in Japan.
BONUS THING! – Buy the itamae (sushi chef) a drink at your usual place, you may be rewarded
This rule is for professionals and should only be attempted by those versed in sushi practice, and this list! Joking of course, but if you would like to wow your chef and gain his respect for future meals with possible extra helpings and special hidden items, buy him a drink! It is honestly not as uncommon as one would think. If you’re not sure what the chef drinks, ask the waitress, and enjoy in the head nods of respect and extra helpings of additional sides! It’s a great way to break the ice, earn the itamae’s respect, and show him you appreciate his efforts.