Getting to know…Sushi

It’s no secret that I’m a big time foodie. I love making it, I love learning about it, I love talking about it, and one look tells you I definitely love eating it.

Inspired by the number of Mofos that are huge fans of sushi (and the number of people that don’t understand it), I decided it’s time to put some of my food-love to work for me and throw out what might end up being the first in a new series about food.

The first thing to know is that “sushi” has nothing to do with fish, at least not the contemporary version that you’re probably familiar with. The word sushi (or zushi if it has a prefix on it) refers to the vinegar-dressed rice and is derived from an archaic phrase that means “it’s sour”. I’ll be referring to the prepared rice by its proper name through this article.

Your sushi is produced by someone called an itamae (pronounced it-uh-my-eh). If you really want a fun time and you’re in a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant, bow to your itamae and say “omakase onegaishimasu”. At this point, you’re putting your tastes in his hands. You’re basically telling him that you have complete confidence in his abilities as an artist and he’ll do everything he can to make sure you don’t regret it.

There are many ways that sushi can be presented, but Westerners usually only see a handful of those. The most basic presentation usually found in Western sushi joints is nigiri. Nigiri (or nigirizushi)is most often a slice of fish pressed into an oval-shaped ball of sushi. This form of sushi is regarded as the first “contemporary” form, dating back to Edo around 200 years ago. It was designed to be fast food, prepared quickly and eaten with the hands.

That brings us to what most people think when they hear the word “sushi”, makizushi. Maki are sushi rolls, but even then, there are several differences in type. They can also be rolled in several materials including soy paper, rice paper, or nori. Maby, many years ago, Nori used to refer to many types of seaweed but, in modern times, it is actually an algae that is pressed into sheets and dried on racks, much like handmade paper.

There are three main classifications of maki that you’ll find most often in the Western world. The first type of makizushi you’ve probably thrown down the gullet (or watched others eat if you’re too scared, wuss) is called futomaki (literally “fat rolls”). Futomaki are thick rolls that have the rolling material (nori or whatever) on the outside. These are what I tend to see most people ordering.

Just as an aside, there is also a smaller variety called hosomaki (thin rolls). Hosomaki are usually very thin. These are usually an inch or less in diameter. Your standard tuna roll (tekka-maki) is one of these.

The second type is uramaki, or “inside-out rolls”. The California Roll is probably the most widely recognized incarnation of uramaki and most people have tried these before. They’re thicker rolls with the rolling material on the inside of the roll. The way the sushi is prepared makes it really sticky which means that it will hold together perfectly well without being contained by any kind of paper or anything.

The third type of makizushi is called temaki. These are really common at parties and informal gatherings since they’re easy for an untrained person to make, though a lot of restaurants do offer them. Temaki means “hand roll”� and are most often a sheet of nori wrapped in a cone shape and filled with whatever you want. Because of this, it doesn’t need to technically be considered sushi since there is no actual sushi in it, but why would you want to leave that out?

The last thing I should talk about is sashimi. Sashimi is not technically sushi since there is no rice involved but just consists of thin slices of fish served on a platter. That’s about as simple as food can get but is also some of the tastiest stuff on the planet, proof positive that great food doesn’t have to be complicated.

As for how to eat it, yeah, you can do whatever you want. After all, you’re the one that will eat it but I don’t feel that an article on sushi would be complete without a few things to keep in mind while you’re doing your thing. The first thing is that nigiri and all forms of makizushi were designed to be eaten with your hands. It’s perfectly acceptable to pick them up and eat them. Don’t be afraid at all.

Secondly, it’s usually considered disrespectful to dunk your entire piece of sushi in soy sauce. A quick dip is all that’s necessary and really only if your plate was prepared with no other sauces. Letting your sushi sit in a bowl of soy sauce and soak it up is just like getting the most amazing ribeye steak on the planet and then smothering it in A1. If you’re going to cover up the flavor of the food itself, what’s the point? Your itamae is an artist, creating food that appeals to the eye as well as the palate. Trust his judgment.

That pretty much covers the basics of sushi. Maybe next time, we’ll talk about the differences in chile peppers!