Food is an inherent part of culture and tradition. It reveals a lot about the people who prepare it and those who relish it. Over the last few decades, people have become more aware of foreign cuisines and show more interest in gaining knowledge about them. Sushi is largely considered to be a Japanese dish, but its origins lie in China.
If one were to follow the culinary journey of this food, it is in many ways a journey through the history and lives of the people who created and ate sushi. In the beginning the sushi rice was salted and used to preserve fish, so that it could be eaten during the cold winter months. When the fish had fermented enough it was removed from the rice, which was then thrown away. Over time fermentation techniques changed and people began to use sushi vinegar and placed a heavy stone over the bucket in which the rice and fish were stored. Thereafter, the sushi rice became a crucial part of the dish and was no longer thrown away.
Many different forms of sushi are available in restaurants and can also be prepared at home. The Maki Sushi or the rolled sushi can be traced back to the vegetarian cooking in the 13th Century Kyoto temples. The monks in the temples led simple and pious lives. They created and ate sushi that was wrapped in dry noori seaweed sheets. There are several types of maki sushi and they are essentially categorized on the basis of their structure and how they are created.
Types of Maki Sushi
Thin rolls are made with sushi rice and ingredients like carrot, cucumber and tuna, which are rolled along the edge of a noori seaweed sheet. The roll is cut into small pieces before it is served. Usually the hoso maki uses only one ingredient for its filling.
Futo Maki quite literally means ‘fat roll’. Usually sushi is a finger food meant to be savored and consumed in a single bite. This is not always true of the futo maki. The roll can be as big as about 1.5 inches. It usually uses sushi rice and vegetarian ingredients such as daikon radish and sprouts. It may also use fried eggs. The futo maki may be sliced into bite sized portions. If you are in Tokyo, you will find that the futo maki is also referred to as the O-maki or ‘big roll’ and chu maki. Chu means ‘in the middle’.
The easiest way to describe an Ura maki is as an inside out roll. It is popular mostly outside of Japan. The noori sheet is layered with sushi rice and then flipped over. Next the sushi filling is added and then it is rolled up. Sometimes the ura maki is dipped in a garnish, or it is placed on top of the roll. The garnish may include sesame seeds or Japanese roe.
The ura maki is also called the naruto maki. The name naruto comes from the tidal whirlpool in the Southern Japanese town of Naruto. The roll with its dark noori sheet against the white of the sushi rice makes it look like whirlpools. The traditional name for this kind of sushi is kawari sushi which literally means ‘change’.
The Temaki or the ‘hand roll’ is wrapped in a conical shape. One end of the roll is closed off with the seaweed, while on the other end the filling is clearly visible and almost spilling out.
The Making of Maki Sushi
The process of making maki sushi, irrespective of its thickness is basically the same. A makisu or a flexible bamboo mat is used to make maki sushi. On top of the mat, a square piece of noori seaweed is placed. Then the sushi rice is placed on it, taking care to create space or a furrow for the other ingredients. Once all the ingredients are place the makisu is rolled tightly so as to create the perfect shape for the roll. The roll may then be cut into bite sized portions by the itaemae or the shushi chef.
If you are at a restaurant you may want to pay attention to the itaemae’s knife. If the knife is sharp tipped then it is a yanagiba bocho which is used mainly in the city of Osaka and in Western parts of Japan. On the other hand, if the tip is blunt it is a takobiki bocho, commonly used in Tokyo and the Eastern parts of the country.
Sometimes the maki sushi may be created with shiraita konbu, which is a type of kelp. The pale, yellowish-whitish kelp is boiled with water, rice vinegar and sugar, and then dried into thin sheets. These sheets are used to wrap the sushi filling instead of the noori seaweed sheets.
Specialist Maki Sushi
Some special types of maki sushi that you may like to try at a sushi restaurant include the following:
- The anakyu maki is a hoso maki that includes eel and cucumber as its key ingredients.
- Himokyu maki is a hoso maki which is considered to be something of a delicacy. It uses cucumber and clams. The latter creates a delicious fringe for the sushi.
- Kanpyo maki uses kanpyo or gourd as a key ingredient. Strips of cooked gourd are placed in the center of the roll. The roll is also called teppo maki which means gun barrel maki as it resembles the end of a rifle.
- Kappa maki is made with kyuri or cucumber as the key filling or This type of sushi gets its name from the legend of kappa, or water sprites that attacked their victims and sucked out their entrails. The kappa also love cucumbers and hence the name for the cucumber centered roll.
- If you have chosen to eat oshinko maki you will be eating a sushi roll with a takuan or pickled radish center. In rural parts of Japan vegetables were preserved or pickled in miso or soybean paste. The word shin means new, the oskinko means new food made from the old.
- Tekka maki is made from left over tuna, which is wrapped in sushi rice and dried noori seaweed sheet. It’s a wonderful sushi to eat, and prepare at home too.
- If you want to end your meal on a high note you may want to try the umekyu. This type of sushi roll is made with cucumber and pickled Japanese apricots. The sushi has a tart flavor which comes from the apricots.
- World cuisine is affecting the kind of food that is being developed around the world. This is true of sushi too. In the United States patrons can enjoy many different types of maki sushi that have been created keeping in mind the taste and preferences of the customers. For instance, the Philadelphia Roll uses smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber as its key ingredients. When you choose to eat the California Roll you will enjoy maki sushi that uses crab meat, cucumber and avocado for its filling. This fusion sushi roll can be created in the ura maki as well as the futo maki styles.
Trying Your Hand at Maki Sushi
Creating sushi is in many ways an art, and you’ll find that the more practice you get, the better you get at it. It is possible to make maki sushi at home and you’ll have fun doing so. It’s a good idea to try your hand at the sushi rolls before you are ready to serve them to guests. You may like to try making maki sushi with your partner or with a friend.
You can choose to use a wide range of ingredients when it comes to the sushi filling. These may be vegetarian or may include your choice of fish or meat. Some common choices for the ingredients include cucumber, avocado, salmon, tuna and shrimp. It is important that you first learn to make the sushi rice, as it is an integral part of the dish. Not only does it ensure that the roll holds together because of its moisture and stickiness but also offers a wonderful flavor to your dish.
Do make certain that you only use sushi rice, as it has just the right amount of starch and amylase, or the sugar in the rice grains. The natural sugar from the rice is what gives it its stickiness, making it perfect for sushi.
Here are some practical tips on making maki sushi:
- Keeping your fingers wet will help ensure that the sushi rice doesn’t stick to your fingers.
- You can apply cling film to your sushi mat before you roll your sushi. This will keep the sushi rice from sticking to the mat and make it easier for you to clean it later.
- When you place the noori seaweed sheet on the sushi mat the rough side should be facing you. In other words, when you roll the sushi and are finally ready to serve it, the smooth side is on the outside.
- Once your sushi rice is prepared, cover it with a moist towel while you work on the filling. This will ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.
- When it comes to your filling, remember, less is more. You will want to prepare the ingredients for the filling properly. You will need to finely shred the vegetables such as cucumber, carrot and daikon radish. Meat and fish should also be shredded finely before you are ready to roll the maki sushi.
- Use a wet knife to cut the sushi, this will ensure that the rice doesn’t stick to it.