“OMG, I love sushi!”
Oh, do you really?
When you say “sushi,” do you mean American sushi or sushi sushi?
When I say American sushi, I’m talking about “specialty sushi rolls” that are on most Japanese restaurant menus in America. These are characterized by cream cheese, deep-fried shrimp, crab salad and a good dousing of several specialty sauces.
Yikes, I’m getting bloated just thinking about them.
But that’s why American people love “sushi”—it’s often fried and served with cream sauces.
And while these specialty rolls are okay in moderation, they’ve diminished the tradition of Japanese cuisine.
Unfortunately, Japanese food nowadays is more like Japanese-inspired food.
Pizza, for example, is Italian. But Pizza Hut is completely American. And the same applies to much of sushi.
And I’ve found that when most people say they like sushi, they mean the Americanized stuff. And that’s sad because sushi in its original form is a beautiful food.
A simple piece of fresh fish and sushi rice is such a clean, pure bite.
But it isn’t really that simple. And that’s the beauty of sushi—it’s complicated simplicity, like a haiku.
As Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto will tell you, it’s difficult to master sushi rice.
And anyone who has seen the viral documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” knows that sushi making is an art form. (This documentary is a must-see for foodies.)
But with the onslaught of Americanized sushi, Japanese food in America has lost its artistry and identity. Even the “un-Americanized” sushi dishes, such as nigiri (raw fish on top of rice with no further embellishment) have lost their tradition.
Let’s examine a typical bite of nigiri in America.
First off, the wasabi on the side of your plate is not wasabi. It’s dyed horseradish and mustard paste. Sushi chefs no longer put wasabi underneath the fish and brush it with soy sauce, as they are supposed to. So Americans mix this “wasabi” in their soy sauce, which is awful form.
And then American diners dunk their sushi into their fouled soy sauce rice-first. Soaking up the moisture, the rice falls apart.
Chef Morimoto writes in his cookbook, “(Proper sushi) rice sticks together yet each kernel has its own integrity.
“Don’t dunk your sushi rice-first into soy sauce. This spoils the texture of the rice that I’ve worked so hard to create and overwhelms the delicately seasoned rice.”
Instead, diners should invert the sushi to put soy sauce on their fish (difficult), or use the pickled ginger as a soy sauce paintbrush (easier).
Sushi is supposed to be about fish, rice and maybe some pickled vegetables. It’s not supposed to be about spicy mayo and blowtorched barbecue sauce.
Since Americans have succeeded in making sushi their own thing, I think it’s time to realize that perhaps it’s better to stick with tradition.
I’m not necessarily saying that everyone must eat sushi in this very traditional way. And I’m certainly not saying that people need to stop eating Americanized sushi rolls—I eat them, too.
Food is about enjoyment. And if you enjoy what I call Americanized sushi, then you should keep enjoying it.
However, I am drawing attention to diminishing art and tradition.
Even more than enjoyment, food is about experience.
Part of eating ethnic foods is observing the customs. After all, it’s fun to sit on pillows at a Moroccan restaurant!
Likewise, it should be fun to experience sushi the traditional, ritualized, and special way that it was meant to be.
It concerns me when Americanized sushi rolls dominate the menu, because some restaurants use this to their advantage: since the fish is masked with sauces in a specialty roll, it doesn’t need to be as fresh.
It’s not uncommon for me to bite into a piece of sashimi or nigiri these days and stop eating because I can taste how unfresh the fish is.
And also, these designer rolls are starting to push the envelope. Blue Nami, a Folsom sushi restaurant, includes ingredients such as basil, canned oranges and peanut butter in their rolls.
These rolls are all awful. The restaurant is trying to be forward and edgy, but these rolls fail miserably.
Unfortunately not everyone agrees with me. This restaurant is quite popular. And I fear that this approach to sushi will wipe out the purist, traditional approach.
If you’re looking for a more Japanese approach to sushi, I recommend Morimoto Napa. Yes, you will pay a premium, but the sushi chefs there treat the fish properly. And Morimoto serves only the best quality fish in his restaurants.
There, the fish will be cured according to the season and type of fish. Mackerel, for example, which is unpalatable in the average sushi joint because of its high oil content, is cured. Or other fish might be cured between two sheets of dried kelp.
And the wasabi he serves is actual wasabi—grated with a traditional sharkskin wasabi grater, of course.
As you can see, there is far more to sushi than fish on rice or fish masked with blowtorched spicy mayo.
So next time you go for the “Kamikaze” or the “Japanese Burrito,” consider ordering a side of nigiri to experience the sushi as it was meant to be.