Sushi is a dish we all know and love. It’s fresh, delicious, and comes in with a whole range of different toppings and accompaniments. And while you can certainly enjoy sushi prepared by trained professionals, it is also a fun meal you can share with the family.
This is a three-part introduction to this cultural dish that has taken the world by storm. We’ll begin by introducing some of the basic elements, the different kinds of sushi, and variations of those in Western societies.
Sushi (すし, 寿司, 鮨) is the umbrella term for the different variations of the Japanese dish, made with vinegared rice, and a wide selection of toppings and sides.
Sushi - Image retrieved from Flickr
Sushi-meshi (鮨飯), literally ‘sushi rice’, is the vinegared rice that is present in every variation of sushi. It is made using steamed short-grained rice, cooled to room temperature, and mixed with a dressing of salt, rice vinegar, sugar, and occasionally kombu (kelp) and sake (rice wine). It is also referred to as shari (しゃり) and sumeshi (酢飯), ‘vinegar rice’.
Sushi rice - Image retrieved from Flickr
Neta (ネタ) refers to the toppings that accompany the rice. These are typically high-quality seafood, which sushi chefs are trained to recognise, vegetables, and egg.
Fresh seafood is the most common type of topping used for sushi - Image retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/spine/
Nori (のり) is the pressed, black seaweed used in several common sushi dishes to wrap around the rice and neta. It was traditionally made by rolling out sheets of algae, which were then sun-dried; nowadays it is processed, toasted, and packaged commercially.
Nori - Image retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/jlodder/
These are the most common elements found in the majority of sushi. You’ll also see sushi accompanied by various other condiments such as soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi.
Condiments - Image retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuart_spivack/
Shoyu (醤油), soy sauce, introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks from China. It comes in five variations, depending on ingredients and processing method, but most contain wheat as the primary ingredient.
Kikkoman brand soy sauce - Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/
Gari (がり) is the sweet, pickled ginger commonly served with sushi to cleanse the palate between dishes. It also aids in digestion.
Pickled ginger - Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrea_nguyen/
Wasabi (わさび) is the green paste made from the stem of a plant known as the Japanese Horseradish. Its flavour and heat stimulates the nasal passages, but tend not to linger. It's difficult to cultivate the wasabi plant, rarely found outside Japan itself, so a substitute of horseradish, mustard, starch and green food colouring is often used.
Fresh wasabi on a grater - Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/thedelicious/
Another common dish, a stir-fry made with gobo (burdock root), daikon (radish), and other thinly sliced vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers, can be used as a garnish.
Various other side dishes - Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/thedelicious/
When arranging sushi on a plate, it is often accompanied by strips of green baran or kiri-zasa, originally made from the leaves of the haran or the kuma-zasa plant, which are native to Japan; this has since been replaced by strips of green plastic.
Assorted sushi served with a haran leaf - Image retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/
These are the core elements of a basic sushi dish, although they may not appear all at once. The next part of this series will cover the nine basic kinds of sushi that can be found in different places around Japan.