Foods You Should Know: Sushi. A Not So Short Introduction.

Since I’ve moved back to Ontario I’ve noticed that Sushi doesn’t hold the same place in the general population’s heart as it did in Calgary.*

To be frank, I don’t even know where the best sushi places in the Windsor area are, I know what UrbanSpoon tells me.*** But I am also not going to go into every hole in the wall sushi place to brave lukewarm sashimi and haphazardly dolled out wasabi paste. So I guess this will be a challenge to my readers. Find me the best sushi place in Windsor so I can review it this week. Please refer to the glossary at the bottom of the article so that you can keep up.**

Sushi Fears

Japanese Cuisine is an adventure. It dares you to take your preconceived notions about food and then turns them on their heads. Most people who do not like sushi just have to get buy a few mental blocks:

1. It’s cold food. In north american there is an aversion to a cold plate of food, unless it’s a salad. Japanese cuisine isn’t all cold and I’ve had cooked sushi rolls which were stunning, but it’s something you mentally have to get past. Try simple things first, or something familiar, once you get it…you’ll get it.

2. There is raw fish, am I going to get sick? Probably not, sushi restaurants will not survive long if they serve substandard products. Yes it’s raw, but a trained sushi chef can tell if a cut of fish is not safe to eat and anyone worth a damn with never serve bad meat, much less raw bad meat.

3. I don’t know what anything on the menu means. That is the point. It’s a menu not a readers digest, put it away. Treat your visit like an adventure, ask your server questions or for some recommendations, try new things, and order a bunch of stuff. If you don’t like something ,usually it comes in a small enough portion that you’re not going to starve.

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I truly believe that jumping in feet first is the best way to get into anything that you are unsure of. Sushi is totally like this. Here are my tips:

1. Get yourself a bowl of miso soup: because it’s something that will introduce you to some of the flavours you can expect with the rest of the meal, but in a very approachable way. Miso soup is comfort food, it’s warm and inviting, the aromas put you at ease.

2. If you order California Rolls hang your head in shame: This is like going to a steakhouse and ordering a chicken caesar. Sure it’s on the menu, and you know you like it, this does not mean you need to order it. Save a california roll order for lunch time at the grocery store, some pimple faced white kid, in a smock, can make you one.

3. Communicate with your server: Sure it’s at times easier said than done, but if you ask your server what the chef recommends it shows that you care. The chef knows what is fresh, the chef knows what he does well.  Trust these people to steer you in the right direction.

4. Just Eat It: I would never had known I loved sea urchin until I grabbed a random roll off of a plate at a work party. I ate the rest of them. Knowing what you are eating can psych you out, sometimes just allowing yourself to experiment will help you figure out what you like.

5. Show your appreciation: Tipping your server and sushi chef is customary and it may get you some free sushi the next time you come in. I always make it a point to greet and thank the chef and make it clear that I am tipping him.

Glossary:

Sushi: A Japanese food consisting of cooked vinegared rice topped or rolled with other ingredients. There are three main types of Sushi that you will see pretty much every where in North America, Nigirizushi, Makizushi,and Temaki.

Nigirizushi: A hand formed clump of rice usually topped with fish or veggies. Unagi(fresh water eel) is one of the most known types of Nirigizushi.

Makizushi: Rolled sushi. This is a common style that you will see everywhere. The famous and boring California Roll would be a great example of Makizushi

Temaki: Hand Roll. This of this as the tacone of the sushi world. Usually wrapped in nori, rice and all kind of other ingredients are rolled into kind of a cone shaped cigar of sushi.

Dashi: Japanese cooking stock, comprised of edible seaweed and dried fermented fish. The base of Miso soup, is also kind of a japanese mother sauce and marinade.

Nori: Seaweed wrapper.

Wasabi: Usually in a paste form, derived from the spicy wasabi root. A relative to horseradish.

Uni: Sea Urchin it’s fantastic go order it.

Sashimi: Not technically sushi. Sashimi is uncooked high grade finfish, shellfish, beef, etc, which are precisely cut to compliment the character of the meat. In most north american restaurants you will see. Salmon, Hamachi(japanese amberjack), Maguro(a genus of bluefin tuna, which has about a dozen different cuts)

Roe: Fish eggs, normally in north america you will find bright orange salmon roe used as a visual or textural aspect of a sushi roll.

Umami: This sounds crazy but there are five flavors. You have been failed by your biology teachers. Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Sour, and Umami. Explaining Umami is difficult. It’s a savory flavour that usually only comes from Asian cuisine(there are exceptions). The only way I can describe it is it’s kind of that broad meaty or brothy flavour you get from aged cheese or soy sauce. It’s not salty but it can be mistaken for salty. Think of it as mysterious deliciousness.

In all sushi is a healthy, flavorful and adventurous ethnic food. There is lots to learn about it and lots of taste. What I love about sushi is the unique and wild the textures, smells, flavours you get. I also love is how precise and beautiful the visual presentation of the food appears. Drop your defenses and preconceptions and give it a try.

*Or Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, etc.

** Sushi purists, veterans, snobs, this article is not for you. I am being general in this piece for the benefit of those who may not be familiar. So save your comments and judgement, unless you want me to shit down your throats in the comment section.

***I am not going to bash Urbanspoon, in a pinch it’s a god send. I have found that the reviews aren’t really helpful in anyway. I actually imagine the voices of the people complaining on Urbanspoon as shrill or somewhat mentally handicapped.