Sushi. How could something so simple become a worldwide sensation overnight. How could only three basic ingredients, a harmonious marriage between rice, fish and seaweed inspire a food movement, impact the world economy and become a national food symbol in such a short amount time? These are the questions that bewilder people and food experts alike.
For me, sushi has always been my favorite food. I can think back to going to our local sushi spot in Albuquerque for every major family celebration. Every birthday, anniversary and family visit was met with large plates of specialty rolls, nigiri and the like being swept away by competing chopsticks. The table always filled with good conversation, smiles and full bellies. The end of the meal being surprised with a inaudible Japanese birthday song and an unidentifiable dessert covered in whipped cream and sparklers. When I think of sushi, I think of my family, the good times we’ve had and the delicious moments we’ve shared. I believe this is what really inspired my passion for sushi and what makes every bite in the future a bit nostalgic, taste a bit like home.
What I appreciate about sushi is its simplicity in its construction. It is the minimalists answer to food and food culture. It is appreciating the small nuances of flavor and the art form itself over big flavors and large portions. It is appreciating the craftsmanship of the product, the skill required to take a piece of fish and grains of rice and turning it into something spectacular, unique and delicious.
What many people don’t realize is that and what all sushi chefs agree on, is the fact the rice itself is the most important part of the dish. It is not your everyday rice, but a special sticky rice, washed carefully of its impurities and flavored with hints of salt, dashi and rice vinegar. When a person wants to become a sushi chef in Japan, the apprentice must first master the art of making rice. This process normally takes around a year and a half, which is crazy to think about, especially since they don’t even pick up a knife during this time. If you want to become a sushi chef overnight, try a different career choice. Sushi truly embodies the Japanese dedication and respect for ingredients, the social structure and baseline skills that many Americans take for granted. There is no instant gratification in the sushi business, only self discipline, adherence to the process and respect for the craft.
A real sushi chef has fully mastered the craft. He is not only a culinary guide but a seasoned veteran behind the counter, a person who can read his guests, their likes and dislikes. There is an awesome tradition in sushi restaurants, well, the good ones at least, where the customer can select “omakase” as their meal choice. Omakase is basically chef’s choice, in that based on how the chef views the customer, he selects the courses, the fish and everything else featured in your meal. The sushi chef becomes your own personal sushi Sherpa, carrying you up a mountain of culinary exploration and guiding you on your own path to taste salvation.
The awesome part about sushi for me is the culture of sharing behind it. I love going to sushi bars with friends and showing them a bit of the things that are important to me. There is nothing better than ordering a very weird sushi item for a skeptical friend and turning them into a believer. There is something to be said for stepping out of your comfort zone and the sushi bar is a great avenue for doing that.