A Word on Sushi

Uramaki, or "Inside-out" roll, a predominantly Western style

Everyday at work I hear this at LEAST once.... "I won't eat raw fish..." or "Eww! I'm not touching that! It's raw!" As narrow minded as this sounds to me, I can, in some very small way, understand the reluctance, but this is a myth that needs to be met head on and dispelled! The definition of sushi has NOTHING to do with raw fish. Nothing at all. That's called sashimi. While it is true there is a lot of sashimi involved in sushi, the fact is it can still be called sushi and not involve anything raw and very often doesn't. The word "sushi" comes from the Japanese words for rice (su) and vinegar (shi). All that's needed for something to be considered sushi is to involve the specially prepared rice mixed with a vinegar based dressing. That's it. Some forms are nothing more than a ball of rice and a strip of nori (seaweed tends to freak some people out too, but I'll get to that in a minute). Aside from the seaweed, most people who turn their nose up at sushi have eaten all the components involved in other things. Yet the myth and fear still remain. Let me give you a (very) quick history. Centuries ago in Southeast Asia people preserved fish in fermented rice. It was a long and laborious process sometimes taking up to 5 years, but the fish could be kept indefinitely for times when fresh was scarce. The rice was usually discarded and only the fish was eaten. Eventually this changed and the rice too was eaten, no doubt due to the pressures of imminent starvation. This practice migrated with the people and eventually found it's way to the shores of Japan, most likely via Korea. Japan, being a long and quite narrow island, had no need for the labor intensive method of preservation since anyone on the island could get fresh fish at just about anytime, thanks to the very fertile surrounding seas. However, they found the sourness of the fermented rice still desirable, so they skipped past the fermenting and started adding vinegar to the rice to get a similar (and easier) effect. It had turned into, in many ways, an early form of "fast food", and had developed into a snack food eaten with the hands on the go or in company. That said, and to dispel another myth, it was MADE to be eaten with the hands in informal settings. Chopsticks need not apply, you won't commit a Japanese "faux pas", you won't be shunned for your insolence, no samurai will come lurching from the shadows swords drawn... If your still wary of the seaweed, try a california roll, the "gateway sushi". They were, by the way, invented by a Japanese chef in (where else) California in the 50's because he found that Americans were skittish about eating the traditional rolls that had the nori on the outside. So he created the "uramaki" with the rice on the outside. This form is still rarely seen in Japan, where the nori is generally still on the outside which is easier to eat with the hands than having the sticky rice as the outer layer. There are so many other varieties of sushi beyond the familiar rolls that I'm not going to get into them here. Let me suggest the further reading links I provide or just do a Google search. There are so many people with a deep passion for the subject that information on it won't be hard to come by. So, eat the damn sushi! Most people I know that were against it and got over the the seaweed part can't get enough now. The logic my parents always used to get me to try something applies here more than in most cases, and that would be, "how do you know you don't like it if you've never tried it?" I'm most likely preaching to the choir here, but I needed to get that off my chest. It's just frustrating as a chef seeing all the myths and biases against a food style in which most people have eaten all the ingredients in another form. So, eat the damn sushi! Jack Intolerant of intolerance.... For further reading on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sushi http://sushiref.com/glossary/ http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/sushi.asp

One Comment  to  A Word on Sushi

  1. Frank says:

    My favorite is inarizushi, but for some reason everyone else I know hates it. It’s sweet rice in a tofu pocket, man! What’s not to like?

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