So, I’m in the midwest. One would assume that my opportunities for sushi would be rather limited. I’m fortunate – a major Japanese auto-maker and a rather large student/academic population are in town, so we have some rather amazing pockets of places.
We also have the ubiquitous grocery-store sushi like everyone else. Which, truth be told, has gotten much better over the years. Actual chefs in the stores instead of frozen trays being shipped in…but definitely not my first choice. Or fifth…well, the seaweed salad isn’t bad.
Anyway, first things first – not all sushi is raw. It’s not even all fish. And we’re not just talking the fun Americanized rolls. I’ve had the fortune of traveling to Japan and the things you’ll find as part of sushi (and sashimi) there are a far-cry from tuna. By the by – best thing ever? FRESH Wasabi…not the powdered kind. Amazing. We’ll talk about the horse sashimi later…
Anywho, a few of my hints and how-to’s:
- Pick the place that either has close proximity to an Asian grocery or has the most Asian customers. NOT just wait staff – but customers. I find a little more pride and a lot less trendy. I also can find the hamachi kama – grilled hamachi cheek – on a regular basis. Best.Appetizer.Ever.
- So you want to eat at the sushi bar. I’m of two minds on this. If you want to see a ton of stuff being made, eat there at prime time, but remember that your attention may be limited and your service slow. But you’ll see a lot of great work. If you’re looking to bond a bit with the chefs, you’ll have to go often and you should go during off-hours. That’s when you can get the chattier ones. Freebies aren’t guaranteed and my scores generally have been things like fried shrimp heads and free sake in Japan (apparently, I’m an adorable drunk when it comes to melon sakes!).
- Sushi Etiquette – a MUST
at the bar – not as stringent if you’re at a table:
- Do NOT make a soup of your soy sauce. No mixing of wasabi and the hot pepper flakes into the soy sauce. Just don’t. Keep it virginal.
- Dip your sushi pieces into the soy sauce fish side in – NOT rice-side in. Not good with the chop sticks? Don’t worry! Sushi is an acceptable finger food.
- The Ginger slices don’t go on the sushi slices. They’re palate cleansers between different piece types.
- Shrimp tales are edible. Really.
- Before coating your pieces in wasabi, taste them first – the chef has already put some on the piece between the sliced fish and the rice. If he sees you slathering your sushi with wasabi without tasting it, he may give you your next pieces with a lot of extra! (It’s the asking for salt and shaking it on a dish without tasting it first equivalent.)
There’s more, but those are the big ones. In the end, though, if you seem like a nice person, no one cares. It’s all about the effort you make.
My must haves? After hamachi kama appeterizer? Honestly, I’m pretty simple. I love fish roe, tamago (the egg), tuna, sweet shrimp and scallop. I’m also a sucker for the fancy rolls. We go to Aki Hana and they have tons of cute ones. We’ve been on the wasabi roll kick for a while – it has jalapenos on top!
The good news is that if you don’t like raw things, fish or even meat – there’s still sushi for you – and it’s all good! Just try it and have a box of sake and you can’t go wrong. Or a bottle of the melon stuff – it makes you adorable!