Contrary to popular belief, sushi does not mean raw seafood; instead, it refers to the vinegared rice that can be paired with raw seafood. So even vegetarians and those determined on having their meals cooked can be satisfied by sushi
Types of Sushi
- Most sushi restaurants give you two options: eat at a bar or at a table. If you're at the bar, check out the selections in the refrigerated display case. If you're at a table, the waiter will bring an a la carte menu. Sushi can be categorized into two types: nigiri and maki.
Nigiri sushi puts everything in full sight for you: It's your selected protein on rice with a touch of wasabi between the two. The raw fish on top of the rice is called sashimi and can be ordered without the rice on the bottom as an appetizer. This is not the kind of sushi wrapped in seaweed; nigiri sushi is just fish, egg or tofu on rice.
For your first sushi experience, order the tuna (maguro) or the salmon (sake; not the rice wine). These are the least "fishy" fish and the most popular among Americans. The salmon is frozen and then slightly smoked or cured to kill any parasites, which can be present in freshwater seafood. Other common sashimi are the oily mackerel (saba), which is salted and marinated before being served, and hamachi (yellowtail), another type of tuna with a distinctive, bright yellow tone.
You can replace the sashimi with fish eggs. Salmon eggs are the most common, wrapped in a bit of seaweed to hold them on top of the traditional rice base. More popular in Japan are the little eggs, or roe, harvested from the inside of sea urchins (uni), which also double as the animal's gonads. In the U.S., uni is expensive but still a delicacy.
Much of nigiri sushi is not raw. Shrimp (ebi) and crab (kani) are both cooked before they are laid to rest on the rice bed. At some point, try eel (unagi), which is grilled and then marinated in a sweet sauce for several days. Finally, a test of the chef is the tamago, an omelet of stacked, paper-thin egg slices strapped onto the rice with a band of seaweed.
Also called roll sushi, maki sushi is probably the first image of sushi that pops into your mind. Maki combines toppings and rice wrapped in sheets of seaweed, or nori, and served in six or eight slices. Typically, maki sushi has less raw fish and allows for more creativity. Some typical rolls include: tekka, or tuna; kappa, or cucumber; avocado; California, which is a combination of avocado, crab and cucumber; scallion, crab and salmon, known as a Boston roll; New York, which combines apple, avocado and salmon; Philadelphia, a combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber; and Texas, which rolls up beef and cucumber. Another type of maki is temaki, or "handroll," which is a large, single cone-shaped roll that usually contains larger items, like pieces of vegetables and smoked salmon.
Sushi can be classified as a health food, being low in fat and calories while high in protein. Seaweed is extremely high in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C and niacin. But you are eating raw fish. Sushi should never smell bad, so use your common sense and take a sniff before downing it.
After you sit down, the waiter will probably bring you a hot towel for wiping your hands and face, or oshibori, before asking what you would like to drink. Sake is a wine made from fermented rice served warm, and is drunk before eating, not during or after. The waiter will continue to fill an empty cup, so flip it over when you're done.
Green tea is served throughout the meal. It removes aftertastes and freshens the mouth for the next serving. The flavor is quite mild.
Sapporo, Kirin or Asahi are popular Japanese beers widely available in most sushi restaurants.
- Eat Sushi Correctly
The waiter will give you your order along with some green paste, some thinly sliced pink stuff and a bottle of dark mysterious liquid. The dark liquid is soy sauce, which is essential to eating sushi. However, the sushi should not be soaked in soy sauce or the rice will fall apart; the soy is meant to complement, not overwhelm, the flavor of the sushi. With your sushi will be a small dish where you can pour the soy sauce and use it for dipping. Pour as much as you think you will need, keeping in mind that you can always add more. It is poor form to fill the dish like a wading pool.
The green paste is wasabi, or Japanese horseradish. Grown only in Japan, finely grated wasabi is pungent and guaranteed to clear your sinuses. Because fresh wasabi is expensive, cheaper powder and paste alternatives are often used. Many people mix some wasabi into their soy sauce, but this is only proper with sashimi and maki sushi. Even though wasabi is given for nigiri sushi, it is not traditionally used. If you aren't sitting at the bar, feel free to use wasabi to suit your own tastes--out of the chef's view. The most important thing to know about wasabi is that it is very hot and very spicy.Try a tiny dab to feel it out.
Gari, or pickled ginger root, is the thinly sliced pink stuff. Used to freshen the mouth between bites of sushi, pickled ginger root comes in numerous small and incredibly thin slices. It is eaten with chopsticks, or hashi, and is for cleansing your palate between different types of sushi.
The standard protocol in America is to start a meal with miso soup, a clear broth with floating kelp and tofu. From there, your taste buds will enjoy some assorted sashimi (the fish pieces without the rice). But first, place some wasabi in the soy dish, but be moderate; you are paying for the taste of the fish or topping, not the taste of the wasabi. Then it's time to move on to the sushi: While there is no specific order for eating the various kinds of sushi, you might want to eat maki first, since the crispness of the seaweed does not last long after touching the damp rice. Before the nigiri sushi is eaten, the soy dish should be changed.
While maki sushi and sashimi require chopsticks, nigiri sushi should be eaten with your hands. Grip the sushi from the top, then flip it so that the rice is on top. Dip only the topping into the soy sauce, and always place the sushi in your mouth so the topping meets the tongue first. You're not eating hot dogs at the ballgame; sushi is far more expensive, and should be savored as a delicacy.
Some restaurants may have you finish the meal with a bowl of miso soup, rather than serving it at the beginning of your dining experience.
Many people like to eat off one another's plates when having sushi. When you pick something up from a friend's dish, make sure to turn the chopsticks around and use the back end, not the end you ate from. Even if you are uncoordinated, you should try to use chopsticks when eating sushi. A fork and knife will seldom be found at a sushi bar, and even if they are, using them is akin to saying the meat is tough. You don't want to insult the chef, so go with your hands if you have to.
- Pick a Location
The sushi bar is the Japanese equivalent of the English pub, and the best way to experience the food is along with the atmosphere that traditionally accompanies it. It shouldn't be too hard to find a local establishment.
Given the choice, sit on a stool at a sushi bar. From that vantage point, you can watch the sushi chef, or itamae-san, prepare a selection chosen from the refrigerated display in front of him. Furthermore, from the bar, a newbie sushi addict can ask the chef for advice and recommendations. Even for experienced eaters, the common practice is to ask the chef for recommendations. This demonstrates respect for the chef, and he will thus give you the best pieces. The bar is best place to make small orders continuously rather than one large order at the beginning. This will ensure continued interaction with the chef. And it is never bad to throw in a few Japanese phrases, such as: konichiwa (koh NEECH ee wah), or "How are you?"; dozo (DOH zoh), or "please"; domo (DOH moh) for "thank you"; or domo arigato (ah ri GAH toh) if "Thank you very much" is more appropriate.
The only thing you should order from the chef is sushi and sashimi. For everything else, from your beverage to the check, ask the waiter.
If you are eating at a table instead of a bar, you probably will order all your sushi at once. Order a combination plate rather than individual sushi to get an interesting sample of all kinds of sushi.
You don't have to go to a sushi bar to enjoy sushi. Sushi can be found at supermarkets and convenience stores. A portion of maki sushi serves as a good meal for many people on their lunch breaks. But if it's your first time, do not eat supermarket sushi; it's not as fresh as restaurant sushi, so you might not like it as much.
You can enjoy sushi at home if you get hooked but aren't willing to shell out the cash for a restaurant meal every evening. You need a few basic tools to make sushi--mainly a bamboo mat, or makisu, and an extremely sharp knife. You also must obtain quality ingredients from Japanese grocers and trustworthy fish stores (see Resources).
In Japan, eating blowfish sashimi, or fugu, is the ultimate dining experience--and a culinary variation of Russian roulette. The fish contains a toxin that is 1,250 times deadlier than cyanide. But fugu consumption is a status symbol, so many people try it just to say that they have. Fugu is one of the most expensive foods in Japan; you can pay up to $400 for one meal, which must by law be prepared by specially trained and licensed chefs.