The only thing I love more than eating sushi is talking about sushi. (Picky People don’t stop reading yet, I may entice you.) Over the years it has become one of my favorite foods. I don’t know if it is the artistry that is involved with each piece or the expansive flavors the chef (itamae) incorporates in each bite. Either way, it is probably one of the foods I am most passionate about eating.
If you have never had sushi, I have a ton of recommendations for you to make your first experience a pleasant one. First, don’t buy the stuff sold pre-packaged at the grocery store. It is good for a “sushi fix” if you are hankering for the taste but it is not the best representation of sushi. (This also goes for the sushi at Asian buffets in small towns.)
Next, try to have a friend who LOVES sushi take you out. (If you don’t have friends, ask your mom to pay for someone to play with you. It has worked for me for years.) A sushi lover will know how to explain how to order your meal, what to expect when it arrives and general sushi etiquette. (Like using the hot towel the waitress gives you at the start of the meal to wipe anything other than your hands.)
If you seriously can’t find a friend (and that is really a sad thought), here are a few sushi baby steps to take. For your first roll (maki), order a California roll. In my opinion, it is the epitome of novice sushi eating. All it consists of is seasoned rice, nori (dried seaweed), crab (cooked), avocado and cucumber. Sometimes it comes with sesame seeds or masago (roe). It will be accompanied with soy sauce, pickled ginger (gari) and wasabi.
The seaweed has a mild smoky flavor while the ginger is a bit tangy. The wasabi will give you a quick blast of heat. (Go easy on it at first so you know what to expect.) You don’t have to try all of the accompaniments at first. Take a bite of each (a REALLY small bite of wasabi) so you understand your flavor profile. Here is where it is helpful to have a friend guide you. (Unless your friend hasn’t been paid by your mom in awhile and they are seeking revenge.)
Think of the accompaniments like condiments on a hot dog. Every person likes it his or her own special way. I personally take a large dab of wasabi and mix it with lite soy sauce into a thick paste. I save my ginger as a palate cleanser where others may add it to their soy sauce mixture.
The other thing I HAVE to mention is that your fish shouldn’t smell “fishy.” If your fish is off smelling, run for the hills!! (Or you’ll be running to the bathroom.) If you are ever suspicious, send it back and order something different. I have only had to do this once in my 15 years of sushi eating. (Except I didn’t ask for anything else, I just left.)
I guess this gets me on the subject of finding a good restaurant. Read reviews online and ask your friends. In our small town, it is not found easily. I recently wrote an article in The Beachcoast (www.Thebeachcoast.com) about my favorite local places that will help my NW Indiana readers find some good sushi.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been lucky enough to be in Chicago (hint, hint, I need your votes) and I’ve indulged on the rolls at Tank in Lincoln Square. I really liked their food and their creative rolls. The staff is incredibly friendly and willing to explain their menu in detail.
I know once you have a couple of experiences with sushi, you will love it as much as I do. You may even like it so much you may want to make it at home! If you would like to learn some fun techniques, The Beachcoast also has an article in their Taste section about homemade sushi too. (Okay this was a setup to plug my articles but can you blame a gal?) If I can get over my camera shyness, I will try to do a demo video soon. FYI: The sushi in the picture was all made by me!
Finally, if you cannot find a friend to take you, I am available for a small fee to teach you the finer points of sushi dining. (Okay, not really but that would be a fun job for me, wouldn’t it?)