Too often people walk into a sushi bar apprehensive about what they are going to eat. They worry about eating raw fish, and are unsure about whether it will suit their tastes. The interesting thing about sushi is that it is a cuisine that caters to virtually all kind food preferences. There is something for people who prefer a vegetarian fare and also for those who are passionate about their seafood!
While sushi is considered to be an integral part of traditional Japanese food, it has its roots in China. It started with farmers who wanted to preserve fish to last them through the cold winter. The fish was packed in rice and salt, and then when it was time to eat, the rice was thrown away. This is kind of ironical because sushi refers to ‘sour food’. The term is also synonymous with sushi rice.
Sushi is written in kanji or with Chinese characters. It is believed that one of the characters used represents picked fish. Over the centuries sushi was excluded from traditional Chinese cuisine but in Japan it became something of a passion. It is believed to have first arrived in Japan in the 8th century. When one traces the history of this style of food preparation it is virtually a journey through the culture and history of the country.
Breaking Some Sushi Myths
Sushi is raw fish: If you are eating only raw fish served without the sushi rice, then you have chosen sashimi, and not sushi. Sashimi means ‘pierced meat’; however sashimi doesn’t always include raw meat. The ingredients may be marinated, prepared and cooked before they are served.
Sushi cannot be prepared at home: There are many different types of sushi and can be easily prepared at home.
Sushi is not for vegetarians: There are many sushi recipes that only use vegetarian ingredients. In fact the makizushi, or the sushi roll, which is quite a hit in the Western world, was first prepared by monks in the Kyoto temples in the 13th century.
Sushi is low in calories: The traditional Japanese sushi is pretty healthy for you to eat. But, if you choose sushi that has a healthy dab of spicy mayo, cream cheese or tempura then you’ve ordered yourself a high calorie meal.
Sushi must be dipped in soy sauce or wasabi: The sushi chef prepares the food in a manner that it offers your palate a range of flavors. It is important to not over use the soy sauce or wasabi or you will miss out on the unique taste of the sushi.
Sushi is to be eaten with chopsticks: Sushi is prepared as a finger food and is conventionally eaten with the fingers.
Identifying the Sushi on Your Plate
There are many different ways of preparing and presenting sushi on a platter. While it is impossible to describe every preparation, here is a broad perspective on the same. Some of the sushi is traditional and conventional while others have become a key part of fusion cuisine and adapted to the preferences of the patrons.
Nigirizushi or the ‘hand pressed sushi’ is served as a small ball of sushi rice or it is pressed into a rectangular mould atop which fresh raw fish is placed. The topping or the neta is usually salmon, tuna or some other kind of seafood. Usually when you order for nigirizushi you will be served two portions.
The gunkanmaki is a type of nigirizushi. It is oval in shape and has a strip of seaweed around it. The seaweed keeps the filling and sushi rice from falling out. Some common ingredients used for the gunkanmaki include roe, oyster, sea urchin, corn with mayo, scallops and eggs.
Temarizushi or the ‘ball sushi’ is hand pressed into the shape of a ball. It includes the sushi rice and fish.
Oshizushi is also called ‘pressed sushi’. It gets its name from the fact that the chef uses a rectangular wooden mold to press the sushi into shape. The mold is called oshibako, and has three parts; it has a top, a bottom and a part that makes up the walls of the box. The bottom is put in place and the topping is placed on it. Thereafter, the sushi rice is laid over it and the lid is pressed down. When the sushi is removed from the mold it can be cut into rectangular or square pieces. While wooden oshibakos are still used, plastic versions of the mold are also available.
Makizushi or the ‘rolled sushi’ is cylindrical in shape. It is conventionally rolled in a sheet of noori seaweed, with the help of a bamboo mat. Inside you will find the sushi rice and filling. The filling may be vegetarian, fish or meat. The type of roll you order can be based on the filling, the thickness of the roll and the manner in which it is constructed.
The futomaki is a thick roll and will use two or three fillings. It is pretty wide and can be almost two and a half inches wide. The hosomaki is a thin roll and uses only one filling, usually vegetarian. A popular type of hosomaki is the tekkamaki. The tekkamaki gets its name from the color of the tuna, which is used for the filling for the roll. The word tekka means ‘red hot iron’ depicting the red color of the tuna.
The chumaki is a medium sized roll which has a noori sheet on the outside and sushi rice in the inside. The temaki is a conical hand roll with the noori seaweed on the outside. The roll is prepared just before it is served in order to ensure that the noori remains crisp. The ehomaki is also called the ‘lucky direction roll’. It contains seven ingredients for the filling including kanpyo, eel, egg and shiitake mushrooms.
Chirashizushi can be translated as ‘scattered sushi’. As in several other types of sushi, it gets its name from the manner in which it is presented. The sushi rice is served in a bowl along with several toppings, usually nine toppings are used. This is a popular choice in Japanese homes as it can be made with virtually any ingredient for the filling, and leftovers can be used conveniently. Often chirashizushi is eaten sans seafood.
Inarizushi is essentially a fried tofu bag which is filled with sushi rice. The tofu is sliced into thin strips that are deep fried twice and then used to make the pouch. Deep fried tofu sushi is mentioned in the Japanese recipe book of 1782. It is believed that the inarizushi was first prepared in the 1850’s. In the 1980’s this type of sushi was so popular in Japan that almost one third of the tofu that was available was used for this purpose.
Inagi is a breaded rice sushi. It has a thin, sweet bread for the outer layer, into which the sushi rice is placed and fillings include cucumber and carrots.
Tempura roll is a sushi roll that uses a lightly battered and deep fried filling. Often you will find the roll uses a shrimp tempura. The roll has a noori seaweed covering and the filling is laid out on the bed of sushi rice before the seaweed is rolled.
Sushi rolls are very popular in the western world. Fusion cuisine usually takes the best from two different styles of cooking to create something delicious and interesting. In some ways it is like a bridge between the culinary arts of two different countries.
Uramaki or the inside out roll gets its name from the fact that it has the noori sheet in the middle and the sushi rice on the outside. The uramaki is more popular in America than it is in Japan where the people like the texture of the noori seaweed and prefer the conventional makizushi.
Philadelphia roll includes raw or smoked salmon, Philadelphia cream cheese and avocado or cucumber. It may or may not also use onion.
California roll has a crab meat or imitation crab, avocado, cucumber and tobiko filling. It is often prepared as uramaki, or an inside out roll. The sushi rice is on the outside and the noori seaweed is on the inside of the roll.
Boston roll is quite similar to the California roll, except it uses poached shrimp instead of crab. This roll is usually presented as uramaki.
Rainbow roll filling includes several fish such as tuna, salmon, white fish, eel and yellowtail. It is wrapped in avocado and is uramaki. The rainbow roll may also use different types of sashimi for its outer covering.
Hawaiian roll has a filling of tuna, tamago, kanpyo, kamaboko and hana ebi or shrimp powder.
Spicy tuna roll uses shredded or chopped tuna that is combined with spicy hot peppers and a spicy mayo sauce. It is a makizushi and is one of the most popular choices in an American sushi bar.
Whatever your choice, the sushi will be served with pickled ginger, which helps clear the palate and is had before you eat a different type of sushi. Soy sauce and wasabi are presented with the sushi too. If you are making the sushi at home, it is vital that you choose the right ingredients and prepare the sushi just before you are ready to serve it.