For a person like me, who was a virgin to the world of Japanese cuisine, eating sushi for the first time was quite a gripping experience. When taken out for a sushi dinner for the first time I couldn’t help but wonder what all I was to expect. And yes, you’re right, it was loaded with a few unexpected surprises! But, none the less it was an experience to remember. I tried not to gag and I tried not to think of my medical report reading, Cause of death: eating raw fish. I share my experience here and hope that the first time for all the Sushi virgins out there is lot less scarier than mine. And If you have had Sushi before and have gone beyond the initial phase of face contortions and curious sniffing you might find this useful too.
One thing about Sushi is that it isn’t as esoteric as it used to be and is now enjoyed by a lot of people across the globe, especially here in the US. So a large number of places have good sushi restaurants. Which makes you think, “Hey, if it is that popular then there has to be something about it” and it is not uncommon these days that you get invited to a sushi dinner in a posh restaurant. Well, don’t let any apprehensions stop you. For some who have tried and liked it sushi has almost become their staple diet. The entire proceedings of going to a traditional Japanese sushi bar and the way it is served and eaten adds up to a complete sushi meal. The ambience is always interesting. If you go to a good sushi joint don’t forget to take notice(you won’t miss it) of the lights or lanterns shades, fountains and plants that deck up the place. The intereiors are created according to the principles of feng shui intending to infuse harmony.
There are restaurants where the sushi goes around on the conveyer belts and you are supposed to eat it when the dish reaches you. Then there is the sushi bar, where you sit on one side of the long table and across it you’ll see all the ingredients that are available for sushi that day. This way you’ll be better able to observe the quality of the seafood, the technique of the chef, and the preparation of various sushi meals.
First, take a good look at the menu. Avoid getting into the correct pronunciation and check out the ingredients. Most menus will have what is put in what and whether it is grilled, poached, steamed, cooked or uncooked. If confused, keep the guess work for the morning paper crossword puzzle and ask for help right away.
The next challenge is to eat with the chopsticks, don’t let them remind you of your mother’s long knitting needles. Relax and remember that while eating Sushi it is ok to use your hands. Traditionally, sushi was always eaten by hand. It was only when the sushi traveled to the west that people started using chopsticks. But, if you really want to use a chopsticks and are not sure how to use them then pick up the one which has both sticks attached to each other at one end. These worked for me and I found using them more easy than the regular detached pair of chopsticks.
Besides the main dish you should be familiar with the condiments on the table. Start off by pouring a decent amount of soya sauce in your sauce dish, you can dip your sushi using your fingers or the chop stick. I always dip the fish part and not the rice part to avoid the sushi from falling apart. If you are wondering what the pickled ginger is doing on your dish try eating it between different kinds of sushi. It helps to clean your mouth and enhance the flavors. Don’t be very curious about the small wad of green paste on the platter, like I was. It is called wasabi (Japanese horse radish). Mix a very little quantity with the soya sauce. Although a common practice now, mixing the two in one dish was considered bad table manners in ancient Japan. The wasabi is hot and its hotness is more like that of mustard sauce than that of chili. For drinks you can order green tea. This goes best with sushi. If you are trying sushi for the first time you might want to order a huge glass of plain water, I like I did!
use the oshibori(wet towel) before and after the meal. It is brought hot or cold (depending on the weather).
try to eat the sushi roll in one go if you can because it breaks off very easily, besides being able to enjoy the enhanced flavor.
be careful of the wasabi, it is has an extremely strong flavor just a pinch can send shock waves in your nasal passage.
ask the chef for his/her recommendation of the day, you might get a dig into those fresh ones.
feel free to order the sushi you want if it is not on the conveyer belt.
never over fill your sauce tray, the dripping can become quite a mess.
while dipping your sushi in the sauce , don’t dip it entirely. Rice coat tends to fall apart very easily so dip the fish side only.
If you ever get invited to a Sushi restaurant and don’t enjoy Sushi a lot the trick is to opt for something less experimental on the menu. The good thing is that there are so many other cooked delicacies you can chose from besides sushi, like soups, noodles, rice, drinks and dessert. You can even try out the California roll, which is my personal favorite. It is cross breed which carters more to the non-Japanese taste buds. It usually has ingredients like crabs, avocados and cucumbers.
The richness of color, the texture and the flavor is what attracted me the most towards eating the sushi. If the word raw fish still scares you and just hearing exotic ingredients like fish egg, crabs and eel gives you a tummy ache, you’ll be happy to know that all sushi not made from raw fish. Take for example the shrimp sushi which is thoroughly cooked before served . Also, try eating only those that you have already eaten when they are cooked. I tried tuna and salmon, these are easy to find in any restaurant.
If you have an interesting experience about eating sushi then write about it and share it here.!!