On a recent shopping trip to Kutchan we stopped at the Sushi train for lunch. What a delight! Knowing what to order was the challenging part.
The sushi train is a conveyor belt that circulates around the area that the chef (above) is standing in. It passes through the kitchen where new plates of food are added and passes clients who select items to eat, keeping the plates. Each plate colour corresponds with a price that the waitress adds up.
Clients can also choose items from a menu. This involves calling out to the chef: “sumimasen!” (excuse me). He takes your order and prepares your dishes on the appropriate plate.
What is sushi?
Sushi is vinegared rice topped with different ingredients. It is not raw fish on its own. That is sashimi (more about that in a later post). However, sushi can include sashimi as one of its ingredients.
As all cuisines change over time to meet the requirements and tastes of the people, so to Japanese food has changed and evolved. Modern style sushi shows the many influences on this dish.
The evolution of sushi
Historically sushi has its roots in Southeast Asia where fish and meat were salted, then fermented for long periods of time. Later in the Heian period (10th century) uncooked rice was stuffed inside fish after they were gutted, and cleaned with sake before being fermented. A fresh water fish such as carp was often used for this and called nare (ripe) sushi. Rice helped the fermentation process and made it quicker to prepare than the original sushi. The rice was discarded when the fermentation was complete (2-3 months depending on the season) and only the fish was consumed.
In the 15th Century (Muromachi period), there was a split in the way sushi was prepared – the true ripe way (traditional) and the raw-ripe or pre-ripe way where the rice that had aided the fermentation process was able to be eaten sooner. It was a quicker preparation method which gained popularity.
About 100 years later, it was discovered that adding vinegar to the process shortened it even further.
The sushi of today with sashimi (raw fish) and rice first combined between 1827-1829. This became what is known as the Edo style sushi. It was created as an inexpensive fast food for the busy streets of Edo (Tokyo). It was a great success and prevails today as one of the most popular styles of Japanese cuisine.
To experience sushi as a purist
To take a purist approach when trying sushi means you want to taste the fresh ocean flavour of the fish rather than adulterate it with excessive soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger or other sauces. The Japanese keep their condiments simple. For example, they do not mix wasabi in the soy sauce. They dab it on the sushi. Pickled ginger is used as a palate cleanser between pieces of sushi, not with them. Sauces are not put on their sushi either.
Our non-purist approach
We experienced sushi in a non-purist way. We chose items that appealed. We did not obey all the above rules. Some of our choices were – tuna on rice and salmon on rice. We also chose items that were grilled with a blowtorch, or garnished with shallots and roe (yum!).
Because it was in the middle of the day, we had no sake with this but I am sure it would have been a great accompaniment. Instead we had green tea or water.
Types of sushi
Nigiri – an oblong mound of vinegared rice with a bit of wasabi on top and then a single ingredient draped over it eg egg omelette, a slice of raw fish, vegetable. Take the nigiri between your thumb and index finger, turn it upside down and dip the fish in the soy sauce. It goes in your mouth fish side down.
Maki rolls – cylindrical pieces of vinegared rice with thin slices of cucumber, soy paper or omelette in the middle, wrapped in nori (seaweed sheets). Sometimes the inner ingredients are wrapped in nori, then in a layer of rice.
Narizushi – a pouch of fried tofu filled with rice, eaten with your fingers.
Chirashi – is also called “scattered sushi” – a bowl of vinegared rice and mixed ingredients, eaten with chopsticks.
Temaki – a cone-shaped piece with nori on the outside and vinegared rice with ingredients inside, eaten with fingers.
All I can say is – may there be many more sushi moments like these in our stay here!