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Japanese foods--sushi/sashimi


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In the USA besides there not being a wide choice of sauces at top NYC places like Kuruma Zushi and Sushi Yasuda, very knowledgable clients sitting next to me would mix soy sauce and wasabi together before dipping anything. I got the impression that this was the proper procedure. However in Tokyo at equivalent places, besides the choice of sauces accompanying dishes was much wider and the quality of rice vastly superior, the sushi cook would frown and replace my mixture of wasabi and sauce with a clean dish everytime. With no comment but the message was clear.

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Yes, the traditional way of eating sushi has one using their hands, not mixing wasabi with the soy sauce, and only dipping the fish (and not the rice) into the soy sauce. Whether or not this counts as proper sushi etiquette is debatable, especially in non-Japanese countries. This is the way I eat sushi, even though my girlfriend is the first to do the opposite. (From a technical perspective, mixing soy and wasabi is very ineffectual to me. So why bother?)

Much peace,

IML

ballast/regime

"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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eating sushi:

there is no need to add wasabi to the dipping sauce, the pieces that the sushi chef feels are improved by the wasabi will already have it applied when you recieve it, it can be insulting to the chef to add more (it isn't much different then squirting ketchup all over your food in a decent restaurant)

when you finish eating there should be no sauce left in the dipping bowl, you add a small amount at a time (about 1 teapoon) insuring no waste

fingers are the traditional way of eating sushi, but do whatever is comfortable for you, plenty of Japanese use chopsticks to eat it

as to dipping, though it is more common to dip fish side down, I have been told it is actually a Kanto (Tokyo area)- Kansai (Osaka area) thing. Those from Tokyo (birthplace of nigiri sushi) dip fish side down while those from Osaka (birthplace of pressed sushi) dip rice side down

fish like unagi, anago, etc that have already been sauced do not need to be dipped

a general rule of eating is to start with usui-mono (delicate flavored) such as the hirame , tai, etc and then move onto the koi-mono (strong flavored) toro, uni, etc, then finish up with the palate cleansing rolls

cleanse your palate between pieces by having a piece of gari (pickled ginger) and/or a sip of tea

green tea is the traditional beverage for sushi, not sake (sake is fine to be drunk with sashimi though)

as to different sauces, this is rarely seen in the cheaper to mid range places, but sometimes the soy dipping sauce isn't the perfect match for a certain fish and at those times a different sauce is served. Fugu sashimi is one of the best examples as it is never eaten with soy, rather a type of ponzu. The different sauces is all at the discretion of the chef, I have seen some places (on TV :sad: ) that seem to serve a different sauce with every fish!

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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One important thing to remember about eating sushi is there are no strict rules, just guidelines on how to enjoy it to the fullest. So basically you should do what ever makes it taste good to you.

Occasionally you may hear about some nazi sushi chef who insists on things being done HIS way in HIS place, but that is really a rareity.

I have never understood the gaijin (foreign) man's use of wasabi as display of his manliness, like the more wasabi he uses the more of a man he is..... :blink:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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to Torakris:

Very helpful post. Among "palate cleansers" at a top-notch place was a shiso leaf sandwiched beteen two thin slices of daikon. Some of the sushi spread a sweet sauce (mirin?). The quality of the rice was astonishing and made me realize how important a component it is. Getting back to shiso, there are many important medical and nutrative properties of plant leaves. For example, the stinging nettle contains an antidiarrhetic and an antidiabetic. Do shiso leaves have such properties?

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But there's nothing wrong with the idea itself of a 'correct' way to eat sushi. This is a traditional dish that has been developed and refined over centuries. It is (or it should be) lovingly and painstakingly prepared, using top quality ingredients. It only makes sense that you'd want to eat it in a way that best enhances its flavour. You're dealing, after all, with raw fish (mostly). This is stuff that has subtle, delicate flavours and an incredible variety of textures. Adding wasabi to something that doesn't go well with it, or adding too much wasabi to something that goes with just a little, can completely mask those flavours. And adding enough to numb your tonge will prevent you from enjoying the texture. The chef knows which toppings go with wasabi, and he knows just how much to add.

If, after experimenting, you genuinely like lots of wasabi with everything, then go ahead and mix it into your soy sauce. Go nuts. You're paying for it, after all. But if you are only adding wasabi to your soy sauce because everybody else seems to, or because that's how you were taught ages ago and it's become a habit, then you should try skipping the wasabi at least once. You might discover that you actually like being able to taste your sushi.

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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I asked a sushi chef once about sushi etiquette as it would apply in America, and he said that here, basically, anything goes, and nobody's going to take offense if you do something that would be considered rude or ignorant in Tokyo.

Not to say that there's not a practical reason for these things. I once sat too close to some sushi rubes who were clumsily picking up their sushi with chopsticks, and dipping it rice side down. By the time they were done, their sauce dish was full of something that looked like, er...

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I asked a sushi chef once about sushi etiquette as it would apply in America, and he said that here, basically, anything goes, and nobody's going to take offense if you do something that would be considered rude or ignorant in Tokyo.

Not to say that there's not a practical reason for these things. I once sat too close to some sushi rubes who were clumsily picking up their sushi with chopsticks, and dipping it rice side down. By the time they were done, their sauce dish was full of something that looked like, er...

I was with you until the second paragraph -- if anything goes, then leave the rubes alone! (Besides, preventing a harmless mess in a little dish is hardly a practical reason for anything, even if you're obsessive-compulsive.)

What the sushi chef said is exactly the way I've always thought about the issue. I imagine they have some kind of mental training that goes on before they come here that allows them to put aside their dignity and become clownish caricatures to a bunch of ignorant spoiled brats.

We non-Japanese have no hope of ever gaining a level of understanding comparable to growing up in that culture. Think Bobby Flay on Iron Chef. OK, we're not all as mentally challenged as he is, but we're probably not as smart as we think we are either. There's always something else to learn. Maybe the inflight magazine blurb isn't telling us the whole story. Maybe there's a time and a place for everything, and maybe we're a bunch of rubes too.

If you were a sushi chef, wouldn't you find it much more annoying if someone thought they knew it all? What's worse, a rube or a poser?

P.S. Is wasabi served on the side in Japan? If so, what's it there for?

Queen of Grilled Cheese

NJ, USA

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P.S. Is wasabi served on the side in Japan?  If so, what's it there for?

wasabi is not normally served on the side at sushi restaurants in Japan, if it is on the table or counter at all is is probably there for the guests who order sashimi.

here is the proper dipping method for sushi:

http://sushi-master.com/jpn/whatis/eating.html

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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What about sashimi? What is the proper / traditional way to eat it?

sashimi is a lot more simple.

Always eat it with chopsticks, fingers are the biggest no-no.

The traditional way of eating it requires the piece to be folded in half with the chopsticks and then dipped.

Wasabi also should be applied directly to the fish and not added to the bowl of soy sauce, though plenty of Japanese add it to the dish.

It is perfectly fine to drink sake with sashimi.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

When I'm in Japan and go out for a big sushi/sashimi style dinner, I normally eat mostly sushi. I love sashimi, but I can get good fresh fish many places. However, I've never had shari that even began to approach what I get in Japan anywhere else (including my own). The first time I ever ate sushi in Japan was in Kyoto and it was a revelation. The Kansai style for slightly more heavily seasoned, slightly sweeter rice made the contrast to sushi outside Japan that much more evident. The rice was sweeter, but not in a cloying way. I commented to my wife that I could still taste the shari on my lips several hours later.

Of course, in an ordinary, izakaya kind of evening, a little sashimi is usually in order.

My favorite kinds of sushi are generally things that are hard to find in top form elsewhere. In Japan, I almost always order if in season:

Akagai -- I can buy these live from the market in Korea and they're very good, but in most restaurants in Korea, they are nowhere near the same in preparation or freshness. In the US they're always frozen, at least in my experience. In Japan, they're sublime.

Himo -- Same as above, but double the enthusiasm.

Engawa -- I find cutting skills here are a huge issue. I haven't mastered proper cutting for engawa and find that many itamae in the US haven't either. Love the texture.

Ama-ebi -- The true ama-ebi, the little ones, are hard to find elsewhere. In the US, most of what is sold as ama-ebi is actually botan-ebi, because they freeze well and are available year round. Of course, if they're fresh, I don't complain when botan-ebi shows up; I smile and eat it! Props to David Lutjen from wasabi, a great Japanese food importer in Portland Oregon, for teaching me about the ama-ebi/botan-ebi thing (see www.wa-sa-bi.com).

Hikari-mono -- I have to admit that I love the shiny, sometimes more oily fish. My very favorite is good aji. I've been tipped that one of the best things in the world is live aji in Fukuoka. Gotta plan a trip there! I'm also very fond of sayori, iwashi, etc.

Tai -- Really good madai just can't be found anywhere else, though domi in Korea is pretty damn good. I prefer the tai family as sashimi, though. Nothing prettier than tai in an usuzukuri cut, except maybe fugu cut the same way.

I also really like that kazunoko on the kombu thing...can't remember the Japanese name.

Of course, there are other things that are less regional:

Gesso -- Love that texture. I'm very much a texture guy.

Maguro -- I like tuna in all its forms, but probably my favorites are nakaochi (the meat scraped from around the backbone) as gunkan-maki and plain old-fashioned toro. It's not sushi, but I also love that dish with the tataki toro and yamaimo. Then again, I'd love yamaimo eaten out of an old boot.

Uni -- Of course this is a great one...but only impeccably fresh. Unless I'm wowed by a sushiya, I often won't order it. In Seoul, I can find live sea urchins at a reasonable price and make my own.

Speaking of making one's own, I've taken to buying the ridiculously cheap and perfectly fresh ankimo available from the seafood market in Seoul (though it took me a few tries to learn to cook it right). When I buy it, it comes with the rest of the viscera attached. That viscera is such a beautiful piece of fish guts that I can't look at it without thinking shiokara. Does anyone have a recipe/method for making shiokara at home from finfish guts?

Thanks,

Jim

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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So Jim is there any sushi/sashimi that you don't like? :biggrin:

We had a good ankimo thread going a while ago , look here:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?act=ST&f=3&t=8626

as for shiokara, my FIL makes the squid one quite regulary, I have never tried since it isn't one of my favorite food.

We purchased a katsuo-shiokara a little while ago and I remember one of the main ingredients was sake kasu (sake lees).

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I don't know nearly enough about sushi and sashimi as I would like, but I do love pretty much all of it. I can't really say I like sashimi over sushi since I don't think I could make a whole meal out of just sashimi.

In Hawaii, we would occasionally receive gifts of a the smaller tunas from fisherman friends, like kawakawa (wavyback skipjack) and aku (skipjack). Those can be excellent eating - finer texture, and sometimes quite fatty. Tendency to be bloody, though. Sometimes people cut opakapaka (pink snapper) for sashimi, but that's one I'd rather have steamed.

Favorites include hamachi, saba, toro, salmon skin roll (bacon of the sea!), and uni for dessert. I've never had shime-saba, but that sounds yummy. Albacore can be nice, but its usually too lean for my taste. And while they're not raw, I also like to get the broiled yellowtail collars if they have them...

~Tad

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So Jim is there any sushi/sashimi that you don't like? :biggrin:

We had a good ankimo thread going a while ago , look here:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?act=ST&f=3&t=8626

as for shiokara, my FIL makes the squid one quite regulary, I have never tried since it isn't one of my favorite food.

We purchased a katsuo-shiokara a little while ago and  I remember one of the main ingredients was sake kasu (sake lees).

Aha! You've figured me out and announced it to the world. I'm simply a glutton. In fact, when I joined eGullet, I thought I was joining eGlutton.

Seriously, there is very little traditional sushi/sashimi (or other traditional Japanese food) that I do not like if it is prepared properly. I'm not wild about plain boiled ebi, boiled hamaguri, some things like that. But that's more an issue of the fact that I do not think they are as interesting or flavorful or that they play off the shari as well as other neta.

I guess what I'm not wild about of the new-style, wild roll kind of things. California roll, spicy tuna roll, spider roll, etc., etc., etc., all taste fine, but they don't match what I am looking for when I go out for sushi or take the time to prepare a full meal of it at home. Some rolls I do like -- kampyomaki, nattomaki, negitoromaki, a few other things like that. I also really like nakaochi rolled in really good nori, but with no rice.

I will admit that I break my rules and stoopa bit to make a kind of tuna salad roll to use as a quick, easy, and affordable hors d'oeuvre or picnic food, but I don't consider it serious sushi. I can get pretty good and very cheap bincho maguro here. I find that it needs a little pickin up though, so I will make a salad of tataki bincho maguro, QP mayo mixed with a little prepared wasabi and soy, aonegi, a little sesame oil, whatever else is around and hits the spot. For convenience food, I often serve it as uncut hosumaki. For a snack, as cone-shaped temaki. For hors d'oeuvres, I normally cut it and put it on a platter with attractive garnish. I've gotten good reactions from Japanese friends, but I don't think it is anything special and I consider it more convenience food than serious sushi. I think my friends are displaying that gentle kindness to typical of the culture (and so pleasing at times). I am careful about the shari prep, as I can't abide even the simplest thing made with underseasoned or badly textured rice.

I'm also not that big on chirashizushi, but -- to be fair -- I don't think I've ever had really good chirashi. I first tried it in a so-so sushiya in the US and got turned off.

That's funny about the ankimo thread, as it is how I found eGullet. About 3-4 months ago, I was learning how to prepare and cook it and did a websearch on ankimo. That thread came up and I started lurking here.

Thanks for the shiokara tip and for starting the thread. I'll follow up there.

Take care,

Jim

Edited by jrufusj (log)

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Last night's TV campion show was about maki-zushi, they ran the contestant through various competitions to find the "best" maki-zushi maker in Japan.

One of the competitions had them at a kaiten sushi store competing against each other and the regular sushi chefs. They had three groups of people come in (at different times) and they tried to create rolls that would appeal to that particular group, whomever had the most dishes eaten was the winner.

The three groups were families with small childre, foreigners, and a group of men from a physical education university.

They came up with some very interesting things:

BLT roll with bacon, lettuce, tomato and asparagus drizzled with ketchup (for the family group)

French toast roll -- the nori and rice was filled with cucumber(and something else I can't remember) topped with a slice of processed cheese then rolled up in white bread, dipped in a egg-milk mixture and then cooked in a fry pan, this was drizzled with a mayo-paprika sauce (for the family group)

Pasta roll what looked like fettucine wrapped in nori with tomatoes and then sprinkled with parmasean cheese (from the green bottle) (for the foreigner group)

Pizza roll --sliced steak rolled in rice and nori then topped with a slice of processed cheese and popped under the broiler (for the college group)

Takoyaki roll -- octopus and scallions rolled into the rice and nori and drizzled with both mayo and tonkatsu sauce

You can see a variety of the rolls here:

http://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/tvchamp/result/result.htm

it is all in Japanese but just click where it says "clicK" to see the pictures

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Kristin, or others:

i have a question. i love sushi but am nowhere near as learned about it as most of you. one thing i have noticed, or think i have, is that in los angeles, nigiri styles seem to have changed some. it used to be that everywhere it was a point of pride that the fish was exactly the same size as the rice, or roughly. over the last couple of years, i've been going to more and more places where the fish is much bigger than the rice, so it kind of flops over at both ends in a way that i suppose could be found insouciant and charming. or maybe just sloppy. has anyone else noticed this? is there an explanation?

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hello russ

I think that oversized fish is just a trend. Maybe because it looks nicer to have a huge piece of fish lying over rice.. Or, bigger the fish, the more bargain, maybe... Traditionally, people eat sushi with fingers, and the size of fish and rice are the same size because the sushi is meant to been eaten one bite. It's easier to put sushi into your mouth if the fish was the same saize as the rice.

Check out the latest meal!

Itadakimasu

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Traditionally, people eat sushi with fingers, and the size of fish and rice are the same size because the sushi is meant to been eaten one bite.

ooooh, ms. mochi (making an assumption that could be completely wrong). I'm so glad you brought that up. i was taught to eat sushi with my fingers, too. but i feel like a total idiot when i do it because everyone else is using sticks. even when i'm at an all-japanese place, i find this. is there a regional/class/other group difference in fingers and sticks? or is it a demonstration of dexterity (it is really something to see someone pick up a piece of sushi with chopsticks and then turn it upside down so they dip the fish and not the rice into teh soy; i'm in awe).

Edited by russ parsons (log)
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Like ankomochi said this style of sushi seems to be a trend. I noticed this becoming really popular in Tokyo a couple years ago, sometimes the fish is more then twice the length of the rice making it very difficult to eat.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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i was taught to eat sushi with my fingers, too. but i feel like a total idiot when i do it because everyone else is using sticks. even when i'm at an all-japanese place, i find this.

You shouldn't feel idiot when you eat sushi with fingers. There is no definite rule whether you should eat sushi with fingers or chopsticks. Some people eat sushi with fingers because it is easier to eat. I eat sushi with chop sticks because i don't want my fingers to get messy. My boss eats sushi with fingers becasue that's the way he likes it.

I was told to hold fish with your thumb and hold rice with your index finger. You flip the sushi and dip fish side into soy sauce. Then, you put sushi -- rice on the top and fish on the bottom -- into your mouth at once.

If fish is too big, you can eat the half of rice with chop sticks at first. Then, you wrap the rest of the rice with fish and eat it. In this way, it doesn't get too messy with soy sauce or do not have to worry dropping rice or fish on the plate.

ms. ankomochi

Check out the latest meal!

Itadakimasu

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