Through the Kitchen Window

There’s a group of us that meets once a month for dinner. Each month, we choose a different restaurant, the only stipulation is that it’s usually Asian and serves sushi.

Let me begin at the beginning. Zeva and I both belong to an online community, BBW Ontario. We have a message board and a chat room but more than that, we have get togethers, parties, bar-be-cues, card nights, pool parties and so on. So I guess it’s more like a social club than just an online thing.

Anyway, both Zeva and I are sushi aficionados . . . who am I kidding??? We’re sushi freaks, if you go by our friends. So we’d been trying to get together to fill our sushi craving (Zeva promised me she knew of some of the BEST places) for a while when finally we just set a date and said “no changing it”. We picked up a few more ladies along the way and it became the first dinner of a regular monthly thing we call Divas who Dine.

So far, we’ve managed to make sure that sushi is involved every time. If you’ve never had sushi, I can almost feel the wind coming from all the head shaking. But if you have, then you know, as Zeva and I do, that there’s nothing else like it.

If you’re not sushi savvy, I’ve put together a bit of a sushi reference guide. Just remember, sushi does NOT mean raw fish. While sushi includes some raw items, for the most part, the term sushi refers to the rice that’s used in its preparation.

Sushi dates back to ancient Japanese times. During the Edo Period of Japan’s history, "sushi" referred to pickled fish conserved in vinegar. Nowadays sushi can more closely be defined as a dish containing rice which has been prepared with sushi vinegar. There are many different types of sushi.

Nigiri
    Small rice balls with fish and sometimes other ingredients on top. There are innumerable varieties of nigirizushi, some of the most common ones being tuna, shrimp, eel, squid, octopus and fried egg.
Gunkan
    These are small cups made of sushi rice and dried seaweed filled with seafood (cooked) and other ingredients. There are many varieties of gunkanzushi, the most common ones being sea urchin and various kinds of fish eggs.
Norimaki
    These are the traditional sushi rolls that most of us are used to seeing, even in the supermarkets these days. They consist of sushi rice and seafood, sometimes pieces of avocado, carrot, cucumber, etc. and rolled jelly roll fashion in dried seaweed sheets. There are infinite varieties of sushi rolls differing in ingredients and thickness. Sometimes the nori is the outer layer, sometimes it’s and inner layer and the outside is rolled in either toasted sesame seeds or fish eggs.
Temaki
    Temakizushi (literally: hand rolls) are different than norimaki in that the nori is shaped into cones which are then filled with sushi rice, seafood and vegetables.

Notice that "sushi" becomes "zushi" in word combinations in which "sushi" is the second word, e.g. nigirizushi. Still means the same thing though.

Sashimi is the thing that’s given sushi that “raw fish” reputation though. Sashimi consists of thinly sliced, raw seafood. Many different kinds of fish (and other types of seafood) are served raw in Japanese cuisine. Of course, the fish must be as fresh as possible. Sashimi can be eaten just as sashimi or as nigirizushi, in which case the sashimi piece is put on top of a small ball of sushi rice.

Sashimi pieces are dipped into soy sauce before they are eaten. Depending on the kind of sashimi, wasabi (Japanese horseradish paste) can be mixed into the soy sauce and a couple of pieces of sliced, pickled ginger placed on top. Sometimes this same soy / wasabi / ginger combination is used with regular sushi as well.

Some of the most popular kinds of sashimi are:

  • Maguro: Tuna
  • Toro: Fatty Tuna
  • Ebi: Prawn
  • Saba: Mackerel
  • Ika: Squid
  • Tako: Octopus

Of course, the most authentic way to eat sushi is to use chopsticks. For those of you who feel intimidated by those two little pieces of wood, let me tell you, it’s easier than it would seem at first glance.

Zeva shamed me into using them. Though I have enjoyed sushi for years, it was always my contention that since I wanted the food to go to my mouth not on the tablecloth, I’d stick to traditional “western” table ware, thanks. Zeva, on the other hand, is an old pro with the sticks and wouldn’t give up till I at least “tried” them. So I did.

It actually was easy. Basically, you let the first stick rest on the spot between your thumb and forefinger and support it on the end of your ring finger. This stick stays still for the most part. The second stick is held much like you’d hold a pencil. This is the one you manipulate to pick up food with etc.

Some chopstick rules of thumb are:

  • Hold your chopsticks towards their thicker end, not in the middle or the front third.
  • When you’re not using your chopsticks and when you’re finished eating, lay them down in front of you with the tip to left.
  • Do not stick chopsticks into your food, especially not into rice. Only at funerals are chopsticks stuck into the rice that is put onto the altar.
  • Do not pass food with your chopsticks directly to somebody else's chopsticks. At funerals the bones of the cremated body given in that way from person to person.
  • Do not spear food with your chopsticks.
  • Do not point with your chopsticks at something or somebody.
  • Do not gesture with your chopsticks in the air, nor play with them.
  • Do not move around plates or bowls with chopsticks.
  • To separate a piece of food into two pieces, exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other. This needs a lot of practice.
  • If you have already used your chopsticks, use the opposite end of your chopsticks in order to move food from a shared plate to your own plate.
The western knife and fork are used for Western food only. Spoons are sometimes used to eat Japanese dishes that are difficult to eat with chopsticks, for example some donburi or Japanese style curry rice. A Chinese style ceramic spoon is sometimes used to eat soups.

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