Sushi has gone through a fascinating evolution in the U.S. - from exotic high-end import to universal staple. What do people truly know about sushi though? Despite its popularity, sometimes the Japanese delicacy remains one of the most misunderstood cuisines in the U.S. From assumptions about what sushi is most "authentic" to the way some slather the nigiri with wasabi and soy sauce, many people may have understood the raw fish game all wrong.
So, take a look at the most common sushi myths that tend to spread among diners in the U.S:
You should always use soy sauce when eating sushi - FALSE
First of all, straight-up soy sauce is really too strong for most of the fish and the flavors of traditional sushi. So, many good chefs dilute the soy sauce into a house brew that is called nikiri. Each good chef generally has their own secret recipe for this, and it is a mix of broth, maybe even some sake, and some other ingredients all simmered together. This softens the soy sauce and makes it a better match for the fish.
Sushi should be paired with sake - FALSE
Traditionally, pairing sushi and sake was a definite 'no'. The classical mentality of Japanese cuisine was that you would never mix a drink made of rice with a food made of rice - because there wasn’t enough contrast between the flavors. That is why a traditional sushi meal frequently starts with kaiseki-style dishes—traditional small plates of appetizers and salads—put out by a chef specifically so that you could sip some sake. When a person would switch to eating sushi, they would also switch to maybe beer or green tea. It isn’t low-class to have beer with sushi.
The California rolls are not real sushi - FALSE
Of course it’s real sushi! The word sushi refers simply to short-grain rice that has been seasoned in a certain way with vinegar and, nowadays, a little sugar and a little salt. So in Japan, anything that is made with rice and seasoned that way - no matter what shape or size - is called sushi. So that makes the California Rolls 100%, genuine sushi.
Sundays and mondays are the worst days to go to a sushi restaurant because there is no fresh fish coming in - FALSE
A skilled sushi chef is practicing the art of serving each fish at the moment when it has aged to the point where it is most flavorful, however also a time before the texture has started to degrade. Obviously that can be any day of the week. People just assume that you want your sushi fish as fresh as possible - however, that is not always the case. A lot of fish taste better after they’ve aged a day or two.
Also, chefs are keeping track of their inventory, and much more important than the day you go is knowing the chef and being a valued customer.
You should add wasabi to your soy sauce and/or sushi - FALSE
Chefs put just the right amount of wasabi into the fish when they prepare it at the sushi bar. Generally, at a good sushi bar, they are calibrating the amount to a particular fish, depending on its richness and you may mess up that calibration if you add more.
In case you add wasabi in soy sauce you are lessening the spiciness as well, because you are reducing it in liquid. The one exception to this is when you are having sashimi—which is just pieces of fish without rice — you should get a little extra wasabi that you can dab on to a piece of fish, then dip it into the soy sauce, and then put it into your mouth. That way the soy sauce and the wasabi don’t mix until they are in your mouth.
Only men should make sushi - when women do it, it's not as good - FALSE
It is known that patriarchy is very much alive in the traditional sushi world, particularly in Japan - and there is still a lot of discrimination against female sushi chefs. There are all these myths about women and sushi-making that don’t hold any water. You quite frequently hear in Japan that women’s hand are too hot because they are too emotional, and so they cook the fish while they handle it. Obviously that is ridiculous and scientifically inaccurate.
Sushi was invented in Japan - FALSE
It is believed that sushi originated in Southeast Asia, around what is now known as Northern Thailand. It was a method for preserving river fish by packing them in rice. This technique of fish preservation spread to other parts of Asia as well, and eventually got to Japan, where it was adapted. You can still get that traditional form of sushi in Southeast Asia, in Taiwan, and in a few shops in Kyoto—the old capital of Japan. It is called funazushi, and it is a fermented fish and rice concoction that is a little bit like cheese.
Sushi should not be eaten with your hands - FALSE
As a matter of fact, in a traditional high-end sushi bar meal, eating with your fingers is a good idea. This allows the chef to pack the pieces of sushi together more loosely. If you are especially skilled with chopsticks, as many Japanese connoisseurs are, then the chef can make the sushi loose and you can still pick it up.
So, using your hands and letting the chef season the sushi allows for an incredible experience where the rice falls apart and kind of mixes with the fish in your mouth.
When eating nigiri, you should put it in your mouth fish-side down - FALSE
In case the nigiri is made loosely, it will all fall apart and mix together in your mouth anyway. The other thing is that a good chef will be seasoning the sushi before he gives it to you—a little sheen of sauce or something on top—as well as adding little garnishes on top of each nigiri to match that fish. The garnishes can differ greatly, from grated ginger to a little bit of some other topping on the top of the fish. If you are turning the nigiri upside down, then the garnish may fall off.
Ginger is a garnish for sushi - FALSE
Ginger is meant to be a palate cleanser, like a sorbet between courses in Western cuisine. It is designed to have a bite of between various pieces of fish to cleanse the palate and prepare the tongue for the flavors of the next fish that the chef will be serving.
Do you know any other sushi myths? Share with us in the comments below.