There is no denying that sushi is a trending food . Today many restaurant menus and large supermarkets carry it. At my house it is a favorite. Even my son who is a picky eater loves sushi. Spicy shrimp, and California roll are his favorites. For the longest time I had been wanting to learn to make it, but I was never brave or adventurous enough to give it a go.
Last spring, I approached Keiko, a Japanese co-worker, in the hopes she would be willing to teach me. Needless to say, I was thrilled when she graciously agreed to host us at her home for a sushi making experience. So, a few weeks ago, my son, husband, and I appeared at her doorstep carrying two bags with sushi-making ingredients, snacks, and of course our camera. The evening was incredible. We learned not only how to make sushi, but also received a fascinating history lesson. This was a cultural experience we will fondly remember for a very long time.
According to my friend, sushi is traditionally made by men. By men? “Why?” I asked. Well, simple, she said. “Men’s hands are supposedly cooler which makes handling of the rice easier. Hmm… I would have never guessed. “In Japan”, she said, “most people go out for sushi. It’s a cultural thing. It’s kind of like Americans going out for pizza, or chicken wings.” Hmm… OK! To our surprise, she told us that sushi is basically the same throughout Japan. There are regional differences though. One constant? Sushi is always accompanied by sake! Of course.
That night, we learned that sushi is meant to be eaten in one bite. That’s it! One bite. Why? This is where the beauty of Eastern symbolism comes into play. The rice symbolizes earth, fish, obviously symbolizes the sea. Together they represent a sacred union of sorts. Indivisible. The breakage of such union is considered inauspicious. Sushi of course is eaten with chopsticks. And here’s a piece of cultural trivia: Chinese chopsticks are longer than Japanese chopsticks. Why? “Well, because Chinese have a communal way of eating. The longer chopsticks allow diners a longer reach.” I never knew that! To prove her point, she brought out samples of both. Interesting!
Keiko told us that the origins of sushi go back to ancient times. Evidently, due to geography, Japan developed as a society of fishermen. Rice cultivation was acquired later from the Chinese. Accounts from the 4th century indicate that in order to preserve fish, the fishermen would cure it with salt. Then the fish was then covered with rice seasoned with vinegar. The rice would then ferment, which would slow down bacterial growth. This process was basically pickling. It should not be surprising then that a sushi kitchen is sometimes referred to as tsuke-ba: pickling place. A folk legend says that sushi was created by fishermen. When they went out to sea, their wives would pack rice balls for the journey. The men would then take the rice balls and eat them with a slice of their catch.
Making sushi, as my family discovered, is really an art. Our first attempts were clumsy (I am being kind). My son and I both overstuffed our first rolls to the point where we could not roll them up on the bamboo mat. After removing a few pieces of filling, we were able to come up with a somewhat funny shaped roll. My friend found this hysterical. Our second attempt was slightly more graceful. Slightly! No, we didn’t take a picture.
The secret to good sushi she said is in the rice. My friend uses a short grain rice such as Nishiki. No, this is not a sponsored post. She finds that it achieves a similar consistency to that of sushi rice without the cost. When the rice is cooked, she adds a mixture of rice vinegar, and sugar to it, stirs it, and lets it sit covered until it cools down. Normally you spread the rice with your hands (you will need a finger bowl with water and vinegar) over the nori sheet. When in a group, however, it is common courtesy to provide guests with a flat wooden spoon.
This was an incredible culinary and cultural experience. I know I have a long way to go before I can master, and not massacre, this beautiful culinary art. I am so grateful to my friend for her hospitality, and her willingness to share with us her fascinating culture, knowledge, and expertise. Domo arigato Keiko!
- 1 cup sushi rice
- 2 cups water
- 1 tsp. vegetable oil
- 4 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 1tsp. salt
- 4 sheets of nori*
- 1 avocado cut into thin slices
- 2 carrots cut into matchsticks
- ½ cucumber cut into matchsticks
- 4 pieces of imitation crab
- pickled ginger, soy sauce and wasabi
- *seaweed paper
- To cook the rice: Place the rice in a mesh sieve and rinse rice until the water runs clear. Place rice in rice cooker with water and oil. Stir.
- When the rice is cooked transfer to a large bowl and let it stand for about 10 minutes.
- In a small bowl mix together rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add to the rice a little bit at a time while turning with a wooden spoon.
- Cover with a damp cloth and allow it to sit for about 30-45 minutes. You will end up with about 2 cups of cooked rice.
- To roll the sushi: Place a piece of nori sheet on top of the bamboo mat. Put the sticky rice on top of the nori flattening down with a wooden spoon. The rice should go up about two thirds up the nori sheet.
- Place fillings adjacent to each other.
- Take the edge of the bamboo mat nearest you and curl over the nori, keeping the filling in place.
- Seal with water.
- To cut evenly: First slice the finished roll in half. Place both halves next to each other and cut into thirds.*
- * dip knife in water in order to make slicing easier.