The Zen of Fish is on my summer reading list, me being a sushi lover (and former sushi slinger) am finding the book very informative. Most Americans find sushi etiquette confusing ( and intimidating!) and think that most sushi they eat is the same as in Japan. Here’s a passage from The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson that offers some insight
“Jay was American, but his ancestors were Japanese. As he’d learned more about sushi, he’d become worried about the state of sushi in the United States. He would sit at a sushi bar and see people stirring globs of green wasabi paste into their soy sauce to make a thick gray goo. They’d slather their fish with the goo, eat it and exclaim “Oh, that’s such good fish!’ Jay himself used to do the same thing.
But now Jay knew that this behavior was distressing to the chef. Wasabi is a type of horseradish, and in the quantities required to make that thick gray goo, the spiciness of wasabi overwhelms the human capacity for taste and smell. The chef might have risen at 4:30 that morning to go to the fish market and haggle over the best fish, only to see his customers slather it with wasabi so they couldn’t even taste it. Jay believed chefs were becoming disillusioned and customers were missing out. Americans liked food that was hot and spicy, but there was so much more to sushi than that.
Jay learned that in Japan, sushi chefs might put a touch of wasabi inside nigiri, using a larger dab of wasabi with fatty fish, and a smaller one with lean. But they never served extra wasabi on the side. They would serve a pinch on the side with sashimi-plain raw fish, without rice. But diners certainly weren’t supposed to mix the wasabi into their soy sauce and apply it indiscriminately.
Another thing Jay noticed was people gobbing up the pickled ginger as an appetizer. But the point of the ginger was to cleanse the palate between servings of different kinds of fish. Not eating a slice of ginger between each type of fish, jay felt, was like mixing 5 different wines and trying to taste the Chardonnay.
He’d also see diners dunk the rice side of their nigiri in the soy sauce, instead of the fish side. Or they would eat the nigiri in two bites instead of one. Or they would force themselves to use chopsticks, when in fact most Japanese people just use their fingers to eat sushi.
Jay noticed too,that people automatically assumed sushi was good for them. But in the United States, the most popular form of sushi was big sushi rolls, loaded with carbs, sugar, fat and sodium. A sushi take out box in an American supermarket could easily contain as many calories as two slices f pizza, and the rolls served in restaurants are often worse.”
Keep that in mind next time you order that deep fried roll served in peanut sauce!