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Sushi Deconstructed

A look at the meaning and definition

Published: Monday, April 9, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07


Synonymous with Japan, sushi has only fairly recently found a place in America. First developed in Southeast Asia, the origin of sushi can be traced back to 4th century BC. It was later introduced to Japan and there, it flourished into the complex art form it is today.

The Invention of Sushi

Started as a way to preserve fish, the form of sushi that is internationally known today was invented by Hanaya Yohei. What started as fast food for the fast paced world of Tokyo, slowly evolved into a delicacy. Present day sushi refers to a Japanese food consisting of rice combined with other ingredients. While some sushi does incorporate raw fish, not all sushi has to. Sometimes sushi doesn't contain fish at all.

Sushi Breakdown

First, there is sashimi and there is sushi. Sashimi consists of just fresh raw meat, usually fish, served in thinly sliced pieces. Today we are talking about sushi,which is served with rice.

There are three forms of sushi: nigiri-zushi, maki-zushi, and temaki.

Nigiri-zushi is a piece of seafood (or vegetable or meat) served on a piece of rice. Maki-zushi is a sushi roll, and temaki is a sushi hand roll.

Sushi Ingredients

Regardless of the form, all sushi comes with rice. This isn't your normal Uncle Benny microwavable rice; good sushi comes with a rice preparation known as shari. Short-grain Japanese rice is mixed with sweet vinegar, creating a sweet, slightly sticky rice that will help to keep whatever sushi is made together. Traditionally white short-grain Japanese rice is used, although there are variations of sushi with brown, red or wild rice.

In maki-zushi and temaki, dark green seaweed wrappers called nori are used. The sushi chef will use the nori to wrap the rolls or hand rolls. High quality nori should be shiny and smooth with no holes. The longer nori is stored, the darker and browner it will get.

Usually, the neta (or main sushi ingredient) will be a form of seafood. Typical types of neta are unagi (eel), sake (salmon), and maguro (tuna). When served raw, the fish should be frozen before consumption. If you're served warm raw fish, be careful, since the restaurant might not have proper storage set up for the fish.

Sushi is usually served with three condiments, soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger. Outside of Japan, it's hard to find true wasabi. The types found in America are probably imitations made from horseradish and dyed green. Wasabi has a strong hotness and helps clear the nasal passages. Ginger is eaten with sushi to cleanse the palate.

Sushi Etiquette

Most people think the right way to eat sushi, is with chopsticks. Surprisingly, you're supposed to use your hands. Don't mix your wasabi into your soy sauce. At a true Japanese sushi restaurant, the wasabi should be included in each individual piece of sushi. Try not to dunk the sushi into the soy sauce, rather dip a small edge of the fish. This is so you will actually taste the sushi, not just soy sauce. To truly appreciate the sushi's contrasting textures, try to finish it in one bite.

 Try to pair your order of sushi with green tea or saké. A good green tea will bring out the flavor of the fish. Saké, not to be confused with salmon sake, is a rice-based alcohol originating from Japan. The restaurant will ask if you want hot or cold saké, order it cold to match the fish.

Now You Know

With all your new found knowledge of sushi, what better way to apply it than through a visit to a sushi restaurant? Come back next week when I review a restaurant in College Station where you can customize your own sushi rolls!

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