Rest assured, sushi was always enroute to Nippon Dreamz. It’s one of those topics of Japanese culture that just seems destined to enter the kinds of conversations had amongst armchair travelers longing for these shores. Fortunately for them, and perhaps you, sushi is now one of Japan’s major cultural exports and has become synonymous with sophistication and style all around the world. Ironically, when I’ve thought about why I myself wanted to try it in the first place, it dawned on me that sushi was food reduced to its basics; a piece of raw fish on rice, a refreshing example of unpretentious finger food. Yet, when you do finally take a bite of really well made sushi, there’s something else going on in those taste buds.
Sushi is a traditional Japanese dish consisting of cooked vinegared rice usually combined with some form of seafood but occasionaly other ingrediants. The oldest version, known today as nare-zushi, originated in Southeast Asia before migrating to China and then finally Japan. It’s meaning, “sour tasting”, reflected the method of preparation as fish was covered in soured, fermenting rice. The popular contemporary version, formerly known as Edomae zushi because the fish were caught in Edo-mae or “Tokyo Bay”, was created in the mid 19th century by Hanaya Yohei. Hanaya’s sushi came about as a sort of fast food that was not fermented and could be eaten right away after preparing one’s catch from a day of fishing.
Though sushi comes off as quite simple, it has evolved into a variety of different styles. Some of these include; maki zushi, formed into a roll with the help of a bamboo mat, nigirizushi, which is molded into the shape of a box with dried sea weed used to fasten pieces of fish and other seafood to it and inarizushi, a style that involves a fried tofu pouch usually being filled with sushi rice alone. Inari is a Shinto god said to enjoy fried tofu. These are but a taste of the variations and sub-variations to be found throughout Japan, as there is also Kaiten sushi which is made at high speeds by workers and sent out on conveyor belts surrounded by customers sitting eagerly at bar like tables. It’s important to note that some of these spins on the classic style are native to certain regions of the country and while Tokyo does excell in harboring those hard to find culinary delicacies, you may want to get on a train heading out of town to sample them in the right ambiance.
So, the question on your mind may be this; what does sushi taste like? When faced with what it really is, raw seafood on a block of rice, it’s an understandable question. I’m an American, and most of us are not used to eating uncooked things, we’re taught not to in fact. Therefore, I did not have the best of expectations when I took my first bite in Miami of all places. What made friends with my mouth though was a balance of natural flavors that only a seasoned practitioner could refine; the saltiness from the fish and dash of tangy soy sauce diffused by the vinegared rice, all enhanced with a speck of wasabi, the spicy master of ceremonies. How was it? Though i’m sure some food critic is able, I could never fully translate the experience into words, but I enjoy it very much and try to have some a couple times a month. If you’re ever in Tokyo, head down to Tsukiji fish market early in the morning and brave the lines to try some of the best in the city. Then we can find ourselves some nice armchairs to ease into and chat about what your tastebuds came back with.