Sushi involves taking some hot sticky white rice that is mixed with sugar, vinegar and salt, pressing it into a cylindrical shape, adding a dab of green wasabi mustard (a tasty but hot form of Japanese horseradish), and then having it topped with a strip of thinly sliced (freshness of the meat and the adroitness of the sushi chef with his knife is key to having good versus great sushi) fresh uncooked fish, roe, shrimp, squid or octopus. Of course, you can also use an egg in a light omelet form. You can pick it up with o-hashi (chopsticks) or your fingers and dip it into soyu (soy) sauce before eating it.
I'm sure many of you have seen sushi with a thin strip of dark green nori (seaweed) surrounding the whole roll of rice that is wrapped around one of the toppings. This is called makizushi, and people often eat it with any of the above-mentioned ingredients tucked in the middle, or with salmon roe, eel (Conger is good) or sea urchin (yuck, says me). You may have seen something called a California sushi roll, with is the makizushi with carrots or other veggies contained within with a dab of mayonnaise. I'm guessing it was created for people too afraid to try the seafood, or those with severe allergies or pregnant.
Other types of sushi (o-zushi, if we wish to be more honourific), include: chirashizushi--thin slices of raw fish placed atop a bowl of rice (let's call it sushi rice, because it's got the other ingredients mixed in); inarizushi--envelopes of bean curd flavoured with sugar and soy sauce hold sushi rice; norimaki--sushi rice and other ingredients wrapped in nori. There are probably many other more local ways to make o-zushi, but I'm not privy to them all. Pity.
Hey... do you know when I first had my first taste of sushi? In Toronto, two days before leaving for Japan - just so I wouldn't be a complete virgin... though there was that whole never-got-laid thing I harboured until my first three weeks in Japan (yay!).
So what about the raw fish thing? For that, you need to try (or not) sashimi, which is literally slices of raw fish. The fish must be fresh and not frozen to get the best flavour.
Thinly sliced fish is dipped into a bowl of soy flavoured with wasabi (you add the potency), and you eat it. I'm pretty sure you always had to use chopsticks, though. Typical fish you would eat as sashimi include: tuna (red meat only - the Japanese used to consider the white meat the garbage, throw away meat, until they learned to like it because Americans liked it - hell, I like it, too.); yellow-tail; bream; flounder; squid; octopus; shrimp.
I've eaten them all - and lots of other things too as sashimi - and it's all freaking fantastic! The squid and octopus... when you think of them you'd expect them to be a spineless lump when taken out of the water. However, they maintain their consistency when fresh.
Want to hear one that makes me question the sanity of the Japanese? Ikizukuri. This is when a thin slice of sashimi is cut from a still living and breathing fish... the slice is placed back onto the fish - as if to taunt it that it still has a chance to survive - and then served and eaten. That poor critter is still opening and closing its mouth, gasping for breath. Why so cruel, Japan? I was told that the fish gets a special flavour from the terror. As well, you can't argue about the freshness of the food you are eating.
Despite my comic book fish tales (Read a story HERE and HERE), I'm not really into torturing fish - in fact, the last time I went fishing was with my friend Michael Hutchison in Nikko, Japan back in 1993? I would tell you that I feel really sad every time one of my tropical fish dies - but I wouldn't want you to think I'm a big baby.
And then there are other types of raw food to eat (or not) while in Japan. Personally, I enjoyed eating basashi (raw horse meat). I wouldn't purchase it myself, but the old grey mare, she still had a lot of tastiness left in her. To quote my old pal Rodney Dangerfield (people keep telling me I look like him - yes, I look like a dead 72-year-old, white Jewish comedian) (Not) (Do I?)--"It still has marks from where the jockey was whipping it."
Another delicacy is gyu reba (gyu means cow, and I do believe that reba is the phonetic transformation via the Katakana alphabet of 'liver'). I swear to kami (god) people of Japan - sometimes you just shouldn't tell people what they are eating until after they have swallowed it. I don't care for liver at the best of times, but will eat it if offered - I know it's good for me, but I'd rather have a lobster or some other animal - rather than parts of an animal.
Of course, again I think that's part of the Japanese sense of humour mixed with immense pride in being Japanese. They really don't expect gaijin (foreigners) to be able to eat the same foods they eat - and when people like me show up, it really throws them for a loop. I'll eat anything.
Of course, I may not like it, but they'll never know. Just smile, swallow it, and tell them it's oishii (delicious). Chances are they'll call your bluff and order another helping for you - but it's well worth it to help break down the stereotypical walls that cultures have about each other.
Somewhere needing a biryu (beer) to wash the reba out of my mouth,
Andrew "I don't get no respect" Joseph
Today's blog title was spun by Bryan Adams - CUTS LIKE A KNIFE
PS: My reason for this song? You need a very good knife to make sashimi (and sushi) et al. I would have used The Tubes Sushi Girl, but I did that a year ago.
PPS: If there are any topics you'd like to be better informed upon, let me know. I do requests. And If I don't know the music, I will hum along.