Recently I had an email from a friend/follower critiquing the visuals of recent posts, which in turn helped provoke this posting. I had never thought of explaining the mesubim approach and if some readers find my photos boring I understand why. I am posting the same nigiri fish over and over but for a reason.
Mesubim is a journal, I document and offer readers a birds eye view of our daily life. It isn’t aimed at entertaining readers, and the original intention was never that. The idea was always to offer a single perspective – it isn’t a blog platform to discuss or debate – just look-see and enjoy.
Fish whether served in New York, Hong Kong or Tokyo all share the same anatomy. I do not enhance photos or photoshop them, I use the same angles to give viewers a better comparative understanding of size and proportion, its important in understanding and comparing nigiri.
The close-ups show details such as the rice tension from the chef’s grip, the cut of the fish, the skin, and whether it’s cut is clean or sloppy. The photos illustrate color, texture, rigidity or deformation and the freshness is easy to see on close ups. All these elements are important to any sushi aficionado, and I feel the obligation to share my information with Mesubim readers.
I do not stage the fish, and I try to use the same angles every time so you can easily draw comparisons between fish, nigiri and the work of a chef. Without using these principles readers couldn’t judge on a fair basis.
Therefore the same angles are used on purpose and after many years, I can learned how to avoid nasty reflections, shadows, or hot spots as the fish is often wet and reflects bright light.
Recently I posted a comparison of sushi to share with readers a visual understanding of the differences. I didn’t explain it clearly perhaps but either way I thought my message was obvious. You can see here in this link: http://mesubim.com/2016/01/19/see-it-taste-it-sushi/
In analyzing sushi it takes many years of experience and understanding. It isn’t just about loving it, or craving it, or eating it. I know sushi is addictive and when I first came to live in Japan 30 years ago, I was addicted and even overdosed on sushi.
I started at the bottom, it took many years and it wasn’t until I met my sensei that I was exposed to the real differences. Many of these photos illustrate my perspective and are not meant to be excite viewers, just be informative to draw your own comparisons.
Thirty years ago to enter any quality sushi shop would require an introduction, but these days you can open the red book (Michelin) and find what you need. The red book is a good guide, very useful, yet the standard is sometimes wishy-washy, which is confusing for users.
After spending time in Japan, I learned about style and process, two very important aspects that go hand in hand. Sushi is one of the most visual foods I know, and in many ways the food itself is one dimensional. It is one of the only foods that each course includes the same ingredients, rice and fish for the most part.
Sushi’s style is easy to see after seeing many good examples, and bad examples over and over again. You need to look deep into the photo and see the details. Japan is all about details or it would be an ordinary place. The edges of the fish, the colagen-tissue, the gradation and change in colour of a single nigiri-amazing.
The rice never changes, it is the background for the fish and the delicate flavours are aroused by a chef nikiri, (shoyu/mirin) that gets swiped over top as it makes its way to the customer. That’s not to say that the rice isn’t important because it is.
But the transformation a fish goes through, one moment its living, the next its being cut and served raw. Its hard to believe that in one seating you are eating so many types of marine life – that’s incredible! The work involved, the technique and the chefs efforts to purvey the finest grade fish available is impressive, something I deeply respect.
These fish represent our most important bodies of water, which are being destroyed slowly but surely. Global warming, nuclear waste and over fishing are the destruction of the sea-bed and some fishermen are all contributing factors.
To think a pacific tuna travels all across the globe, it never stops moving until the day its landed on the boat. Yes there are abuses but you cannot stop them by quitting sushi. You can stop them by educating people, and making customers understand quality sushi. You do not produce quality by over fishing or using exploitive techniques. At the same time, consumers are creating demand and mostly on the lowest level.
Those Japanese fishermen that work painstakingly to catch and preserve fish from the time its on the line until the time that it is packed and shipped. They have check points worldwide, people living on fishing vessels to control the catch. I won’t get into that subject but you can get a sense of it here:http://mesubim.com/2014/05/12/why-tuna-is-costly-after-catch/
Most people will go to eat kaiten-sushi and eat fish that is absolutely crap, or go to a some sushi bar/restaurant in Europe that serves the most disgusting fish – why? Its simple, just to fulfill their craving for nigiri, and walk away feeling fulfilled. It is addictive, the umami, texture, temperature and contrast warms your soul.
So many people eat conveyor belt sushi and love it, but I find it unacceptable.
Kaiten sushi: http://mesubim.com/2014/03/19/%C2%A5100-sushi-video/
Today tourists come to Japan to line up for Tsukiji sushi. Eating just anything is the same as supporting McDonalds, its convenient and cheap and that’s it.
Even the fish served in the Tsukiji these days is at a point where there are so many customers that the quality is often horrifying. You’ll see people lining up for hours to eat sushi Daiwa and the standard is not impressive.
The sushi served in Europe is mostly by non Japanese and these so-called chefs are part of the circle of destruction. This is the abuse of the ocean life, but humans couldn’t give two shits about it.
When I first came to Japan, I used to eat fish at a local shop nearby where I lived in Shibuya. It was there I learned the basics. It was a traditional styled shop, the owner was the chef and he lived upstairs. He had started a new life with a younger wife, and had a small family to support. I was one of his few foreign customers, it wasn’t expensive at the time, and I was there almost 4 days a week. His fish was glistening fresh, or at least I thought it was, and that is where it all started.
Actually first tried sushi when one of my neighbours in her teensm as her family had travelled to Japan for years doing business and were familar with sushi. She knew about sushi well before I did, and she introduced me to raw fish sort of.
In those days, most people were skeptical about raw fish, the same way they are about sous vides cooking in America. It was taboo and my Mom warned me. But actually as a novice I was eating shrimp (cooked) and some other fish such as eel that was made in a toaster. The raw fish was tuna and it had been frozen and it was sushi and rolls.
There is a well defined sushi standard in Japan, or at least there was in the past, the exclusive nature and long apprenticeship maintained a limited number of quality establishments. To eat the best you had to work at it, having money wasn’t enough and the best establishments had an exclusive audience. Clients were elegant and respectful, you had to be introduced.
My first experience was when I tried to enter a sushi shop without any introduction and I was refused.
When I look back, it makes me realize that we all are part of the circle at one time or another, and what separates consumers is their personal interest, ambition, respect and ability to move forward with the idea of pursuing quality and integrity. Without that sushi and many other traditional foods would fade away and or die off, the same way kimono has vanished in most Japanese cities.
In the end, I pursued my dream with the help of my wife, and we share our dream, and we are fortunate enough to eat and enjoy nigiri as frequently as we do. I do eat it often, and perhaps more than most, and I love to photograph it, it never bores me. I know one day it will all come to an end, and until then I am here sharing it. Enjoy it.