Sushi Culture @ World


A wonderful start, a “mise en bouche” to launch a lunch of fish that carried on for over two-hours. It is rare the a lunch can go on for so long given sushi is a fast food.

The miniature-sized squids are served at Kizushi in Tokyo with a touch of shoyu, and shoga that accentuates, combines and completes a circle of flavors. The perfect combination leaves us feeling a sense of joy.

When ordering fish, you must, “always see it, in order to taste it”, because there are few foods that require “looking” as much as sushi does, and the reasons are straight forward; essentially raw, in its purest state, and freshness and sizes matters.

But is sushi really raw? It is considered a raw food but in reality more than 85% of the nigiri is cooked rice. Rice that can be textural, wet, soggy, and the taste can range from sweet, or salty and tangy or even umami when combined with other condiments. That is why sushi pleases so many people all over the globe.

Most fish served at sushi counters all over have a neutral taste, and it is often the condiments that provide us a sensory connection to sushi, or the fattiness of a fish. The overwhelming interest by fans all over the globe who adore sushi agree on one thing, fish. But there are so many types, a variety of styles but few are true to its roots. So many condiments emphasize the fish’s personality but at the same time some provide a permutation.

The sushi served in the west is too often exaggerated by the over use of sushi’s condiments that do not belong in the traditional sense in the preparation of sushi, or have been mutated by chef’s trying to catch the attention and challenge the palates of westerners. For example, the use of chili peppers or jalapeno does not permit the fish to breath in your mouth and stuns your tongue. While not always does it stun your tongue, because some are sued to “hot” but it can initiate a sense of immediate recognition = that’s what we like!

Eating spicy foods can help you to stimulate the production of endorphins, and the stimulation occurs when the “spicy” part of the food, like a substance called capsaicin, comes into contact with taste buds on your tongue. Receptors at sites on the tongue send a signal to the brain; the signal is similar to a pain signal. The pain signal triggers the release of feel-good endorphins. This may be why eating spicy foods seems to be so “addictive.”

Also foods rich in complex carbohydrates, or starchy foods, help elevate your mood because of their effect on your brain chemicals. The nutrients found in complex carbohydrate foods help produce chemical messengers within the brain that influence behavior. One important neurotransmitter, serotonin, helps regulate mood and appetite. Foods such as breads and pasta, are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin in the brain.

Most seafood is high in protein, which can increase dopamine. In addition, Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can also increase receptors for dopamine in the brain.

But when enjoying traditional sushi, the direct and concentrated flavors should appear much smoother, lighter and more refined. Onto your palate as you begin to enjoy the elegance and balance instead of spiciness, and the fish itself. But I thought fish is neutral….well yes and no, as that is a matter of understanding balance of taste.

It is true that in Japan, you can eat sushi that is ordinary, and still feel as if this experience was monumental. Of course each person defines his own experience by his or her own level of understanding. So what is it about sushi that lures so many avid fans into the sushi den?

Is it one common denominator? I cannot say that one single taste lures you in, but the rice is the single most important ingredient, salt (shoyu) and spice (wasabi). Rice as the single most important ingredient covers almost the entire mouth’s neurons and helps spread a layering and spectrum of taste. It lays down the pathway for the fish. Perhaps that is why you see some sushi connoisseurs flipping the fish into their mouth to have the fish make initial contact. After masticating the fish, rice, wasabi and shoyu, they smile with joy.

Sushi is mostly raw, and therefore the tastes are very pure and much more complex to balance. In fact and sadly humans are rarely interested in balanced taste, because balance is very hard to obtain, or define for most people. If we have to describe our favorite ingredients in sushi, we cannot say “balance”, we would say, savory, spicy, sweet, salty, etc. This is a kind of balance because we counter tastes, for example sweet with salty. This is the way we discover our own balance in process, and our brain has certain predisposed ideas through experience and childhood, etc and it is those very combinations that help us find what we refer to as balance.

So the idea of balance is something you construct on your own to determine whether or not you enjoyed the experience or not. This is quite easy to understand when you eat sushi at Globus in Zürich. The kaiten sushi is decent, yet it isn’t really what I would refer to as the best sushi experience. It is more like a filling station for people hooked on sugar and spice.

I am used to eating a more refined sushi that incorporates most or all of the listed ingredients below. The kaiten sushi is just a watered down version of authentic sushi culture. The chef’s are often non-Japanese, ingredients are mixed and distorted to enhance taste, in a similar way to Nobu. These types of sushi experiences are all interpretations, and lack the true essence fresh fish, causing adaptations, or changes subject to environment, the same way that kusaya is salted and dried:

What is extraordinary about sushi is the ingredients can be narrowed down to a handful. If you think about it, there are not too many cuisines that have so few ingredients and cover so much territory. These are more or less the divided number of parts. But before you look at the parts, there are a few elements that are crucial in understanding sushi and taste.

It is my theory that in the west we find chewiness an obstacle and it interferes with pleasure. But in the west, taste includes chewiness and in Japan “katai” is a description used for certain hard characteristics. This hard quality adds a dimension of taste even though it is not perceptible as taste.

This hard quality adds a dimension of taste and to the overall experience. While you masticate the fish, you have a different sensation. The mouth is all about sensations tastes and flavors so think about it next time you sit down for sushi. The countless efforts made by fishermen who work hard to purvey the finest grades of fish to be consumed raw. Shouldn’t chefs in general respect more the processes, I think so.

Culture is the very basis on which we shape our future and preserving it, is respecting it, diluting it is destroying it, unless the dilution is a contribution to the evolution of sushi as a cuisine.

The basic ingredients of sushi:

1. Rice: background to the fish’s taste
2. Vinegar: used in several fish preparations and rice preparations
3. Shoyu: is the principal umami taste
4. Salt: is sometimes substituted in place of shoyu and also used in several fish preparations
5. Tsume: reduced eel is used as a sweet base for eel
6. Wasabi: fresh grated horseradish is used to neutralize the fish’s bacteria
7. Yuzu/Lemon: citrus is used to contrast fish and add dimension
8. Ginger: grated or sliced and used with fish preparations or alone but there are several preparations, one is more sweet and is refered  to as gari which has been marinated, while shoga is the ginger itself without marinating
9. Onion: used in various preparations such as neggi-toro
10. Red Pepper: used in ponzu sometimes
11. Shiso: a leaf’s distinctive aroma and pungency and might be compared to that of mint or fennel
12. Ume: plum can be used
13. Nori: seaweed used to wrap rice and fish, or ume and shiso
14. Kombu: used in some preparations
15. Egg: tamago
16. Root vegetables marinated: campio, betara, etc
17. Mirin: used in the preparation of rice