I came late to the world of sushi. Oh, I’d tried it once or twice back inthe 80s, when I first noticed people whispering about sushi. Sushi culture was dark and mysterious back then — like opium den culture.
Then I moved to Halifax in the late 1990s and starting mingling with Buddhists. Sushi was on the menu at almost every gathering, so it became a regular part of my diet.
I can’t say I love sushi. XUP Jr. loves sushi – it’s her favourite food. She’s even become a dab hand at making her own sushi. She can barely scramble eggs, but she can roll a mean maki. Of course, we don’t make the ones with fish at home – I don’t think I’d even know where to buy sushi-grade raw fish.
Back in 4th century BC in Southeast Asia, raw fish was salted and wrapped in rice to preserve it. Fish could be stored this way for months and when the 4th century BC Southeast Asians were ready to eat the fish, they’d unwrap it, eat the fish and throw away the rice away. (Maybe they recycled it, though – who knows…tossed it in the green bin where it would freeze and fester until spring)
Anyway, it wasn’t until the 8th century AD that this fish preserving method made its way to Japan. The Japanese decided it would be fun to eat the rice after unwrapping the fish, instead of just chucking it out. Then, much later, at the beginning of the 19th century when restaurants in Japan were mainly mobile food stalls, they figured out it would be a lot handier and tastier to keep the fish wrapped up in the rice and to then wrap the whole thing in some yummy seaweed. And so, voila, the whole Japanese “sushi” culture was born. (“Sushi,” by the way, translates into “vinegared rice” — nothing to do with fish.)
I have more of a yen for sushi in the summer. It just seems like a warm weather food to me. When I really feel like sushi, it’s more about the ritual of the experience than the food. I get full too fast to really get into the varieties and subtleties of the different flavours. I think most places have too many pieces in their maki offerings and make them too big. The nigiri also always seem to have way too much rice. I suppose I could just get sashimi. It’s not too filling, but I can’t manage too much of that before the textures start to make me feel gaggy.
Sushi is a fun food, though
- You get to eat with sticks
- You get little piles and blobs and puddles of stuff with your food that you’re never entirely sure what to do with
- You get to drink interesting things in tiny little cups
I don’t like the weird pickled ginger you get in restaurants. It’s meant to be eaten between bits of sushi to cleanse your palate. Probably real pickled ginger or gari (made with rice vinegar and salt) would be nice, but the stuff you usually get is loaded with preservatives and chemicals and dye and I can’t get the taste out of my mouth for hours afterwards.
Did you know that the little blogs of green stuff you usually get in restaurants isn’t even real wasabi? Wasabi available at Japanese restaurants around here or in grocery stores is just horseradish with green food colouring.
Real wasabi is very difficult to cultivate and has only been successfully grown in a few places outside of Japan. Oregon and Vancouver are two of these places.
As a result, fresh wasabi can go for almost $100 per pound. The machinations of the whole wasabi industry could rate a blog post all on its own. There’s big money in sushi-related stuff these days and you can bet lots of people are trying to cash in.
For instance, 20 years ago Bluefin tuna was used mainly for cat food and was dirt cheap. Since the international sushi explosion, Bluefin tuna has been so overfished that its population has decreased by over 80% and is being sold wholesale for $100 – $200 per pound. For the sake of the species, I would suggest we stop ordering this in sushi restaurants.
Another thing that can greatly enhance or detract from a sushi experience is a good quality soy sauce. Japanese traditional shoyu is recommended.
We shouldn’t forget the accompanying beverage. I know you’re thinking sake is just the thing to top off a great Japanese meal. However, they tell me that since saki is rice-based it’s not a good accompaniment for any rice dish. Green tea is the recommended drink for a sushi feast.
I love the green tea some Japanese restaurants serve. Why can I never find green tea like that to make at home? I sometimes ask the restaurants what kind of tea they serve and where they get it, but I always get a vague, non-committal response.
Ottawa is not renown for its sushi restaurants, but there are a few that aren’t bad: Wasabi is pretty good. Gengi has been sketchy. I’ve been there at lunch when it wasn’t good at all, but have been other times when it was really good. Also, they closed for a while and then re-opened so I don’t know what’s going on there.
XUP Jr. also likes to go to the all-you-can-eat places like Sushi-Kan or Yummy Sushi. I’m not a fan. They have too much weird filler stuff on the menu like sushi pizza and large chunks of deep-fried starch.
I recently joined an Ottawa-based Facebook group called The Sushi Whores, so I’m guessing they’ll have some good recommendations.
Sushi and You
What’s the sushi situation in your life?
 Sushi rolled around fish and/or other ingredients, usually with nori seaweed on the outside or inside.
 Thin slices of raw fish, no rice
 Made with soybeans, roasted wheat, sea salt, and koji (Aspergillus oryzae), mold spores that when exposed to moisture begin growing giving rise to unique enzymes that create the fermentation process.
 A brew made from rice. Contrary to popular belief, sake is not a wine – not made by fermenting the natural sugars in the rice – but more of a beer where the grain’s starch is converted to sugar. It does, however, have the higher alcohol content of wine – often as high as 20% undiluted. And, while most sake can be served either warm and cold, higher quality sake is always served cold.