There are so many things that come with your sushi order and wasabi & ginger just so happen to be among those things.
Sushi is widely known right now all over the world, I doubt there’s any one who hasn’t heard of sushi. Wasabi and ginger alongside the wide variety of seafood with rice, of course, constitutes this dish, sushi.
There are so many flavors but sadly, wasabi and ginger are two ingredients that most sushi eaters, including the sushi lovers, do not know how to use. From having extra wasabi to adding the ginger on the sushi, truly, we all get a little confused on just how we are supposed to use them.
And as if that’s not enough trouble, there’s the chopsticks to consider. Some say eat with chopsticks, other say don’t but what exactly is the right way? You’ll find out soon but before then, let’s have a little introductory class on sushi 🙂
Sushi 101 – A Prerequisite Class
The first thing to know about sushi is that it’s a Japanese dish but of course you already know that – my 10 year old self didn’t, she thought it was a Chinese dish. Sushi as we know it now was never really so, it was fermented fish preserved in rice but during the Edo period of Japan, the dish evolved to what it now is.
A dish is generally considered to be sushi if it is made with vinegared sushi rice (shari). The dish also comes with raw fish or other raw seafood except in very few cases where the fish might come cooked, as seen with eels.
And you can get vegetarian sushi too, there are so many kinds of it around and all are really delicious choices.
Here’s a quick list on some basic kinds of sushi to get started with if you’re yet to try sushi are:
- Nigiri or nigirizushi: Also known as hand-pressed sushi is a sushi that has slices of raw fish placed over a mound of rice that’s shaped like an oval ball. This type of sushi are seasoned lightly with wasabi and soy sauce by the sushi chef (Itaeme).
The oval shape is formed using the palms thus the name, hand-pressed. The neta (topping) for nigiri is usually fish like tuna and salmon.
- Maki or makizushi: This is commonly known as sushi roll or rolled sushi. This kind of sushi has its raw fish and veggies cut into strips, laid in the rice and then wrapped in seaweed (nori) into a cylindrical piece. Maki has subtypes like the gunkan-maki and the uramaki.
- Temaki: Also usually wrapped with nori like the maki, however, it is made into a cone shape and sometimes, considered a type of maki.
- Narezushi: This type offers you a sneak peek of how sushi was before the Edo period. The fish is fermented with the rice and salt and at the end of the fermentation, the rice isn’t eaten, just the fish is.
- Other types include the chirashi-zushi, inari-zushi (a no fish version), oshizuchi etc. It’s a long list but these should get you started.
Note: When referring to the kinds of sushi and thus making use of sushi as a suffix, the word sushi is used.
This dish has a wide variety of flavors, textures and there are different types of sushi too.
Though there are different types, they all have one basic thing in common, the sushi rice called Shari which is a vinegared rice. That means that if it looks like sushi but doesn’t have rice, then it ain’t sushi. It’s probably just another variation of the dish or perhaps a similar dish.
Is Sashimi a Type of Sushi or Another Dish Entirely?
Sashimi is made without rice and that’s pretty much enough to disqualify it. But does it? No, not to many persons especially those who consider sashimi a type of sushi. These terms have also been used interchangeably, this is wrong since they’re two different dishes.
The dish, sashimi is a piece of meat -seafood or not- serving as a drape. It also comes with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger, and it is eaten traditionally with chopsticks as opposed to sushi which is eaten traditionally with the hands. Shocker, right? Sushi was always meant to be eaten with hands and not chopsticks.
Sometimes, sashimi is served along sushi orders in a restaurant but that doesn’t make it sushi. Three basic differences exist between sushi and sashimi and they are:
The rice. Sushi has rice, sashimi has no rice but if you want rice, you could order for some rice too. Sashimi is eaten with chopsticks traditionally while sushi is eaten with the hands although many persons now eat sushi with chopsticks.
Another basic difference is that they both have different wasabi usage rule. Wasabi is actually placed in between the rice and fish slice for sushi while for sashimi, it isn’t.
The wasabi is served on the side of the plate and though it is commonly mixed into the soy sauce by some persons, that’s not how the chef was hoping it would be used else he would have mixed the wasabi in soy sauce himself. Mixing it in ruins the taste and flavor of both the wasabi and the soy sauce.
So to eat sashimi, add a little quantity of wasabi on one side of the slice of fish, dip the other side into the soy sauce and eat. The wasabi should not make contact with the soy sauce.
What To Eat With Sushi
Sushi can be served as either an appetizer or the main course though it is more frequently served as the main course. This Japanese dish can be eaten without anything else. On its own, it exposes you to a wide array of flavors that can be quite filling.
But then, if you decide to not eat your sushi alone, there are really delicious side dishes, condiments and drinks that could go with sushi.
- Sushi with wasabi: The green rooty condiment comes with your sushi order and you’ll be reading more on this soon.
- Miso soup: Miso soup is a popular soup made from miso paste. The soup is not to be eaten alongside your sushi. It is originally meant to be consumed after you’re done with your sushi. But no one is going to fine you if you drink it all up before eating the sushi, or if you eat and sip the drink.
However, it feels good knowing you’re drinking this soup and the right way is the best way it can complement the taste of the soup.
- Steak. Cut the steak into thin strips and enjoy the contrasting texture and flavor it gives.
- A light salad: The salad should contain only a few ingredients and if there’s one ingredient that shouldn’t be present at all, it is lettuce. Or seaweed salad.
- Spring rolls.
- Ginger and sushi: It’s always there in your sushi order, so you don’t have to order for it specifically. More on this will come soon.
- Drinks: Wines and Beers will work just fine but sake works best. The Japanese drink is a fine complement to the dish and you could even ask the sushi chef or itaeme to have a shot of sake with you as a way to show that you truly enjoyed the meal.
- Habachi chicken. Or teriyaki chicken, which should be skinless and cut into thin strips.
If you know something else that can be eaten with sushi, then by all means add it to the list.
How to Eat Wasabi With Sushi
Wasabi or Japanese horseradish is made from a plant of same name, wasabi. It is a paste made from grating the rhizomes or the stem. It is a spicy pungent condiment for sushi and other foods.
This spicy condiment stimulates the nose more than the tongue, so don’t be surprised if your nose start tearing up whilst you can’t feel any burning sensation from your tongue – that is sure to happen if you take more than is necessary.
The paste is freshly prepared by most sushi chefs especially those in the high-end restaurants, thus ditching the the wasabi that comes in a tube. The paste is kind of volatile and as such will lose its flavor in less than 10 minutes if left uncovered and that’s a good reason why the Itaeme serves the wasabi between the shari (sushi rice) and the neta (slice of fish or seafood).
The proper way to eat sushi with wasabi is to not to order for extra wasabi nor mix it in the soy sauce. The whole idea of ordering for extra wasabi though common, is very wrong. First, your sushi chef considers it slightly insulting, for each sushi, the chef has taken accurate care in adding just the right amount of wasabi that would go well with each fish and not overpower the fish’s subtle flavor.
So there’s really no need having extra besides this will give your chef a good reason to keep his best fish for the customer that won’t be having extra wasabi.
Cos he feels and knows that you won’t be able to tell the difference between the good fish and the best fish because of the overpowering nature of the extra wasabi. Instead of enjoying the fish/sushi, you end up enjoying a spicy condiment.
And just like it is for sashimi, do not mix the wasabi in the soy sauce, it ruins the taste and considering the fact that the chef freshly prepared it, you owe it to him to use it rightly.
The purpose of the wasabi is not only to soften the smell of the fish, it has antimicrobial properties and helps to kill any bacteria that would have the potential to cause food poisoning. Wasabi is different from the American horseradish which can be modified, mixed with mustard and food coloring to serve as an inferior substitute for wasabi.
If you can’t handle the wasabi burning effect, don’t forego it, instead, drink a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice with a little vinegar an hour before you eat wasabi. Salt water and vinegar can do the trick too!
That’s how to eat wasabi with sushi.
How to Eat Ginger With Sushi
The sushi ginger, also known as gari is sweet, pickled and sliced. It has antimicrobial and antifungal properties which are particularly useful since it’s accompanying a dish that has raw ingredient.
The gari is always served with the sushi and it is meant to be picked up with chopsticks, and not with bare hands. The pickled ginger actually serves as a palate cleanser though it also aids the digestion process.
As a palate cleanser, it is not meant to be picked up by the chopsticks and dumped on the sushi, it is to be eaten on its own between sushi bites. That is, it refreshes your palate for the next sushi that goes into it, that way you get to enjoy the taste of every sushi without the previous sushi overpowering the flavor of the next sushi.
If taken with the fish, like most people do, its stronger flavor overpowers the very subtle flavor of the fish. A good reason why your chef might wince for offering you the best fish.
Think of the ginger as a drink, you only sip from it after chewing, so it is with the ginger, it is eaten after a piece of sushi has been completely devoured.
How to Eat Sushi the Right Way
There’s actually a right way to eat sushi and that way starts by:
- Pick out a nice and authentic sushi restaurant and that excludes any place that gives you the option of adding non-traditional ingredients like mayonnaise or spicy chilli peppers.
- If you can, sit close to the chef and ask for his recommendation. You don’t have to order what he recommends but it’s a good place to start. And if it’s your first time eating sushi, let him know.
- Do not ask for extra wasabi. Do not use chopsticks to eat the sushi except for sashimi and when you’re picking up the ginger.
- Use the wet towel provided to clean your hands and eat the fish in order of flavor. The lighter flavor fish should go first, and the stronger flavor should be eaten last.
The color of the fish can indicate the flavor of the fish – the darker the fish’s color, the stronger the flavor. White fish are the lightest in flavor, followed by silver, then red, and then onto salmons and fatty fish. The fattiest fish usually have the strongest flavor.
- To eat your sushi, pick it up with your hand, roll it over, that’s fish side facing downward and rice side facing upward, then dip into the soy sauce and enjoy the trifecta of flavors. Do not break a piece of sushi into two. Eat the piece in one bite.
- The rice should not touch the soy sauce, and you only need a little bit soy sauce on the fish, don’t drench the fish in soy sauce.
- If you ordered for eel sushi (unagi) which would most likely come with its own sauce, then there’s no need for the soy sauce.
- Just in case you ordered for extra wasabi, brush only a little on the fish. The chef has already added the exact amount of wasabi the fish can handle that will enhance its flavor, not overpower it.
- Drink your miso soup lastly!
Learning and mastering the art of making sushi can take years and these sushi chefs have spent a good part of their life knowing this art. So, the best you can do is to eat it the right way and really, the right way is equally an enjoyable way to eat sushi.
But of course, no one is going to scold you if you decide to make a sweet mess of mixing your wasabi in soy sauce or making your one piece of sushi into two. Just remember what you’ll be missing out on.
Enjoy your sushi with wasabi and ginger.