Sushi is one of Japan’s great gifts to the culinary world, a dish of such elegant simplicity that one wonders if a more perfect food has ever existed. Sushi has become a truly international phenomenon, with top-tier restaurants everywhere from Tokyo to London. It’s all the rage in Mexico City, and trendy young professionals are developing a taste for vegetarian versions in Delhi. Still, as pervasive as sushi may be, there are things you probably didn’t know. Here are seven.
The Japanese didn’t invent sushi. Sushi originated in Southeast Asia and was brought to Japan sometime in the 8th century. In those days, it was made by stuffing whole fish with raw rice and salting them to induce fermentation. Nigiri-zushi, the modern version of sliced fish on rice created by street vendors in Tokyo, first appeared during the 19th century.
Fresher isn’t always better. Fish like tuna is at its best after a few days, when the flesh has had a chance to firm up and the umami levels have increased. Some sushi chefs mature the fish for up to a few weeks.
Sushi is more than raw fish. In addition to serving fish raw, chefs use various techniques, which were originally developed as preservation methods, to add flavor to fish. Two of the most common are konbujime, where slices of fish are marinated between two blades of kelp, and shoyu-zuke, where fish is steeped briefly in a mix of soy sauce and sake.
The rice makes all the difference. Every chef has a different recipe for his shari (sushi rice). Some use sweet white rice vinegar, while others use more acidic red rice vinegar. Some use a combination of both.
Not all sushi is served with wasabi — or soy sauce. Delicate white-fleshed fish might come with just a sprinkling of salt, while oilier fish like aji (horse mackerel) may be garnished with fresh ginger and scallions.
It’s okay to eat with your hands. For nigiri-zushi and maki rolls, it’s perfectly acceptable to use your fingers, although sashimi is always to be eaten with chopsticks. At some high-end sushi bars, the chef may serve a few pieces in the palm of his hand.
Always dip fish-side-down. It’s considered impolite to let the rice touch soy sauce. The proper way to eat nigiri-zushi is to roll the piece on its side and then dip fish-side down. Shaking off excess soy sauce is a definite no-no.
—Melinda Joe, Brand Publishing Writer