Even if you’re not Japanese and are not at all acquainted with Japanese culture, you still must have heard of sushi. It’s a very popular food; most metropolitan cities in the world would probably have a Japanese/Asian restaurant or two that you can easily go to if you want a bite of this wonderful dish.
However, tasting and eating sushi for the first time can be scary for a lot of people. It’s understandable – most sushi features raw fish as a primary ingredient. Folks are just used to having their food – especially seafood – cooked thoroughly. But once you get over this fear, you’ll be rewarded with a memorable culinary experience like no other.
If you’re a sushi newbie, let’s answer the first question that you have in mind right now.
What Does Sushi Taste Like?
The answer to this is: it depends on the kind of sushi you’re eating.
But more often than not, there won’t be strong fishy flavors involved. Sushi is a very mild and neutral flavored food. Traditional sushi is always prepared with Japanese rice that is seasoned with vinegar, and a little bit of salt and sugar. The fish that is used for sushi (e.g. tuna, salmon, mackerel, etcetera) is also not flavored with anything, save for the soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger that you’re supposed to eat with the sushi as a side dish.
Because the most important thing about sushi is that you’re not eating it primarily for the taste, but for the texture. Good sushi doesn’t have one overpowering, dominant flavor. Everything should be balanced about it – the feel and taste of the fish, the texture of the rice grains, the flavor of the seasonings.
This is the reason why sushi should be eaten in one bite – so that you can feel all of its different elements merging together into one tasty and coherent whole.
Different Kinds of Sushi, Different Flavors
Of course, the protein used in the sushi will directly influence its taste and texture. Tuna and salmon are soft and have a mild flavor, and as such, are great beginner fish for sushi newbies. Octopus can be tricky, since it can be on the chewy side of things and has a mild fishy flavor.
The way the sushi is prepared also has a bearing on its flavor and texture profile. For example, makizushi – a type of sushi that is usually wrapped with a sheet of crunchy seaweed around it- can be so full of texture and flavors depending on the ingredients the sushi chef uses for it. The california roll is a popular example of this kind of sushi. It usually has avocado, cucumber, carrots, and crab sticks in it, which makes it a great beginner sushi.
Nigirizushi, which is the most common type of sushi found in Japan, is simply raw fish topped on a little loaf-shaped piece of rice. The rice used for this kind of sushi is usually a little bit warmer than room temperature, and the fish shouldn’d taste or smell “fishy”. Remember, fresh fish shouldn’t smell! If it’s too smelly, then chances are, you’re eating poorly prepared sushi.
How To Properly Eat Sushi
1. While most people opt to use chopsticks, the traditional way to eat sushi is with your hands. This way, you avoid ruining the sushi’s shape.
2. Pick up the sushi, and dip a tiny part of it (preferably, the fish part) in the soy sauce. Avoid getting soy sauce on the rice since this disrupts the flavor drastically. You can add a little wasabi on top if you want to. Mixing the wasabi in the soy sauce is a huge no-no.
3. Place the sushi in your mouth, with the fish side touching your tongue. Eat it in one whole bite.
4. Eat a piece of pickled ginger to cleanse your palate.
Remember: if you’re eating in a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant, then remember to praise the chef right after eating the sushi.
These kind of establishments also don’t practice tipping, but remember to praise and thank the chef after the meal to show your gratitude for his craft. A glass of sake is highly appreciated, if you can treat him.