Friday, May 20, 2011

Sushi


Growing up on a farm in a very rural and very poor part of Iowa, sushi just wasn't on my radar. I'm sure I knew what it was but there just wasn't any desire to try some nor had I the desire would there have been a place to find some. There still isn't. I came from a meat and potatoes family and everything was well cooked except for our steaks which were medium rare.

Then while doing an internship late in my college career, that all changed. Another intern's roommate wanted to experiencing camping and asked me if I would take her and some of her friends camping for a night. I think it was the backpack and half a dozen tents that tipped her off. She was from Hong Kong and so were her friends and I don't think any of them had ever camped before. Long story short, the night we camped was very cold and I think they all spent at least half the night shivering in the nearby cars while I slept warmly in my sleeping bag. But sometime during the late evening hours over a campfire, we got on the subject of foods and my lack of knowledge or even experience around sushi was revealed and the girl said she would remedy that. I had no desire to eat sushi but it was one of those deals where I said it sounded great even though it didn't because I knew she was just being polite. I was wrong.

A couple weeks later, I found myself, the girl (I think her name was Melissa but I am no longer certain) and her roommate at a sushi bar in a much larger urban jungle than the one I frequent these days. They started me off easy with sushi rolls which were really good and I happily enjoyed them. Then they picked a plate from the rotating display and set it in front of me telling me it was unagi and very delicious. By then, my courage had picked up a bit and I tasted the unagi and found that it was even better than the sushi rolls. Only then did they tell me unagi was eel. I had a few more things that were also very tasty and then had raw octopus. Though that was over fifteen years ago, I still remember it clearly as being a bit like chewing a rubberband and probably of similar taste. Despite ending on a bad note, the overall experience had been positive until I got the bill and found out those small plates actually cost me almost fifty dollars.

Over a dozen years would go by before I found myself at another sushi place, this time with my wife and daughter in tow in our small urban jungle. At that time, I fell in love with sushi all over again and try to eat it a few times a year. It is still fairly expensive but with time, I have found a few places that serve excellent sushi at a fair price and you don't have to pay a premium for an atmosphere. The last sushi I had a few weeks ago, seen in the picture above was probably the best of all of them in both taste and price and I enjoyed it tremendously even if I didn't get my unagi fix.

I have a theory that most people would love sushi just as much as I do if they could just get around the mental road block that most Americans seem to have about it. The taste isn't what I expected nor is it very describable to those who haven't it before. I think the closest experience I can relate it too is eating a ripe piece of melon. Raw fish is very clean and refreshing tasting.

But let me take a step back and explain that though sushi is used to refer generally to a specific genre of food, notable raw fish, that isn't the case. Sushi refers to any fish served with rice. All the fish on the left side of the grainy cell phone picture at the top of this blog was sushi or raw fish served over a mound of rice hidden underneath with the exception of the shrimp at the bottom which was lightly cooked. Sushi can be raw or cooked. Sashimi is what I think most people equate to sushi and it is simply fish, raw or cooked served without any accompaniment. In the picture above, all the fish in the center of the plate, including the raw salmon hidden under the garnishing was sashimi. On the right side of the plate was a sushi roll which is can have raw or cooked fish and other condiments wrapped in rice and then seaweed and cut into bite sized chunks.

With that knowledge, I generally prefer sushi to sashimi though it is a bit like comparing which is liked better, $1000 or $999. They are both good but I think sushi tops out sashimi especially with a little wasabi paste added. It is also a bit easier to eat with chopsticks than thin pieces of raw fish. The most common raw fish served as sushi or sashimi here in the midwest seems to be tuna, yellowtail and salmon and I like them all. But nearest and dearest to my heart is eel or unagi which is generally smoked and brushed with some sweet sauce that reminds me a lot of BBQ chicken. For some reason, whenever I tell people that eel tastes like chicken, they never believe me.

I think that if people could just free their minds enough to try sushi, the majority would love it. I've been working on my parents to try to get them to eat sushi and though I have gotten them to eat Vietnamese food and love it, I still haven't won them over. They are still meat and potato people and though there isn't anything wrong with that, they are missing out. Now for some gratuitous sushi pictures from a different sushi eating session this time all rolls.

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Three Sushi Rolls and Wasabi Paste

 The Iowa Sushi Roll which is of course fried and very delicious!

 A bite of salmon roll in my chopsticks

 This was called the Rainbow Roll and was wrapped in cucumber slices instead of rice.

Another roll, this time Spicy Tuna, about to meet its demise for the second and final time.

15 comments:

Vince said...

One of the issues with the price over this side comes from the fact the Sushi Restaurants came due to the numbers of Japanese over in the 80's. They were the 'ethnic' food place for these ex-pat's. However, at the time Japan was going through that boom in their economy and this meant that the price's in these eateries was twice/thrice that of a hot-shot French place. So got the rep of being only for the extremely wealthy. One they have never really shed.
'Til very recently. Fish was seen as the food for the poor, and Catholics. Or the poor Catholics.

Ed said...

Vince - We've had the same issue over here but it seems like it has recently changed. I think I've eaten at a half dozen sushi places in the urban jungle and there are probably at least a dozen more. Competition is driving the prices down. Back when I first had it, it cost me $50 for the few dishes only I had. Now three of us can eat sushi for under $50.

R. Sherman said...

My daughter keeps threatening to take me to a sushi bar in St. Louis. I suppose I'll have to go, now that I've read this post.

Cheers.

edifice rex said...

Oh, thanks Ed :(
! Now I am STARVING for sushi!! lol!
I love the stuff but can't get many people to eat it either. Now, I don't care much for sashimi and I have always thought most people are confusing it for sushi also.
Dang, now I need a reason to go to Birmingham...

warren said...

I love sushi too. Like you, it was never on my radar until some weird circumstances put it before me. Anyhow, now I eat it whenever I can. People still look at me like I am crazy, but like you, I think if they tried it, they would be surprised

Eutychus2 said...

Only a few years ago my oldest daughter got me hooked on raw tuna, which I now love, and my son tries to get me to eat sushi, so I suppose I'm going to have to cave in one of these days - the unagi sounds good; i love almost anything out of the water - squid is delicious. Thanks, Ed.

Ed said...

R. Sherman & Eutychus2 - You both should go for it. I would be willing to bet money you wouldn't be disappointed.

Edifice Rex & Warren - I got tired of the incredulous looks that I was getting so I decided to write this post as a public service announcement. Perhaps if more people try it, the price will go down even further.

Ron said...

That stuff does look really nifty... but this is why I avoid it...

Now, the cooked version - you bet! I also enjoy cooked mussels whenever we find ourselves at a buffet.

Ron

Murf said...

Yuck.

Ed said...

Ron - I suppose there are risks to anything. There is a chance you could seriously cut your leg with a chainsaw while clearing the wood in front of your shop. It is a risk but a calculated one. Anisakis is well known in the sushi industry and easy to spot when the fish is first caught and therefore it doesn't make it to market. I don't eat sushi from the local grocery store which just started preparing it for that reason. I keep my culinary exploits for places that deal heavily in sushi and have a reputation to uphold.

Murf - That is what is for supper when you come visit. ;)

sage said...

I first ate sushi and sashami when I was in Japan in 1979... I enjoyed most of it, and with enough wasabi sauce or that pickled ginger stuff, I can eat anything!

Roy Blount has a great story about how sushi came to America--in which he envisions a group of Japanese business men trying to come up with a new American industry to take over... They decide to take over restaurants and in the discussion of cutting cost, they get around to asking what's the cheapest way to cook...

PhilippinesPhil said...

I don't know why, but the topic of food, any kind of food, just doesn't inspire me. I like to eat but I'm not all that fussy about it. I realize I'm the lone ranger on this one when I see all the posts on the subject. Filipino bloggers probably do more than half their blogs on chow. They really should be fatter than Americans they way they fixate on it. But most asians eat healthier than we do, they eat less and they eat better. Do they supersize Sushi over there like everything else is? The fatness of Americans is kind of joke the world over. Has corpulence been added to the list of "human rights" back in the states yet? heh heh

Ed said...

Sage - A very funny anecdote!

Phil - It isn't super sized yet but as the price comes down, everyone orders more and more of it. I always got the sense that Filipinos equate fatness with wealth more than it being a joke but I'm not surprised.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Oh no, Filipinos excluded since all but the elites of this place seem to put us up on a pedestal. You're right, these people love chubby. If someone is skinny they equate that with being UNhealthy. Here, a very chubby kid is a healthy kid.

geri said...

I can eat sashimi but not a fan, there' something unsettling about all that rawness however I love raw meat on sushi. I love sushi, period. Love unagi too. Heaven is sushi buffet =)