Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sushi Culture

Sushi is one of the most famous, if not the most internationally renowned Japanese food. It has become so hip that it has brought about the sushi bar fad. Fads come and go, but sushi bars are ever expanding; surfing the net for sushi bars, 1,390,000 sites pop up.
From its humble beginnings in 7th century Japan, done to preserve fish by packing it with rice, sushi evolved as innovative Japanese found ways to introduce it as a daily snack. It traces back to 18th century Edo (Tokyo), where vinegar was added to the rice for flavor. It might as well be the first “fast food”; bite-sized pieces eaten by hand or using bamboo toothpicks. The most common forms are: Nigiri-sushi (hand shaped sushi), Oshi-sushi (pressed sushi), Maki-sushi (rolled sushi) and Chirashi-sushi (scattered sushi). Through the years, changes and transformation led to its world-wide appeal; although preparation remains unchanged, the atmosphere where it is served have changed and have reached all corners of the globe.
Sushi is no stranger to the metropolis. Shintaro, an established Japanese restaurant, has one of the finest sushi bars in town (Four Seasons Hotel, Tel: 02-2501000). Celebrating its 10th year, a new menu is introduced and some special creations are available till the end of June. Chef Satoshi Sawada is one of the more bold Japanese chefs daring to challenge the traditional ways.
“Although the look of my dishes looks fancy, the ingredients remain the same”, says Chef Satoshi, a true artist in the sense that color (yellow, red and green) have to always dress up his dish; with freshness as the key criterion. This explains why sushi is usually served in a counter-type restaurant; demonstrating its fresh and artistic preparation.
An assortment of 22 Nigiri-sushi, the origin of the sushi culture, is on the menu. “I want to serve the traditional ones, while challenging myself to create new ones with the seasonal ingredients”. It is evident in Satoshi’s Sushi Pizza (350B), lightly baked combination of dry seaweed, shrimp roe, shrimp and crabstick with cheese. The UFO Wheel (390B), a tuna-salmon-amberjack-sea bass roll, is quite an innovative class of its own; then he teases foodies to take mouthfuls of pan-fried foie gras sushi with garlic (600B).
Anyone who loves sushi has to love sashimi, since it is one of the base ingredients of a good sushi. Often, sashimi grade fish come up in question. Frozen or fresh, the raw fish has to be of the highest quality. A large of selection of 4-piece sashimi set is masterfully executed, varies from: tuna fat belly (1,800B); uni (sea urchin, 1000B); maguro akami (tuna-back cut, 480B); hotategai (scallops, 470B); to tako (octopus, 250B).
Chef Satoshi also conducts cooking classes from time to time. His charisma exudes from his mild-mannered, almost timid way of showing his craft secrets. Here are some tips from the Itamae-san:
Clean and strain 1 kilo rice and add the 1200ml of water and cook until done. Put the cooked rice into a Hangiri (cedar wood rice-cooking tub) or other non-metallic container. Spread it out evenly in a plowing manner (left-right, top-bottom) with a large wooden spoon and while doing so, slowly add the sushi vinegar until the rice sticks together, do not over mix.
Prepare sushi vinegar while rice is cooking, bring to a boil: 300 ml Mitsukan rice vinegar; 200 gm Sugar; 25 gm Salt; and10 gm Konbu (kelp).
For the soy sauce, bring to a boil: 150 ml Yamasa soy sauce; 120 ml Mirin (sweetened cooking sake); 25 ml Sake; 5 gm Konbu; cool down then add 5-7 gm Katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes). Once the mixture is cool, filter it through a strainer.

Method of rolling and shaping Nigiri sushi:
With your right hand pick up sushi rice of the size of a lime. Very lightly mould into a ball without compacting and squeezing the rice.
Holding the rice in the palm of your right hand, pick up a fish slice with your left hand. With the index and middle finger of your right hand smear the side of fish with wasabi.
Place the rice onto the fish slice and begin to shape the sushi into a rectangular shape using the palm and your thumb.
The sushi must be made quickly as the fish must remain cold and the rice must remain at body temperature.

Recipe for Spicy Tuna roll:

Ingredients (For 1 roll: 6 pieces)
• Sushi rice 100 gm
• Nori (dry seaweed sheet) ½ piece
• Chopped raw tuna
• Chilli powder 10 gm
• Mayonnaise 10 gm
• Aonori (seaweed flake) 3 gm
• Roasted sesame 3 gm
• White Japanese spring onion
1. Mix chopped tuna with chili powder, Japanese onion and mayonnaise.
2. Place a bamboo mat on a chopping board. Lay the cling film on top. Place nori on the bamboo mat.
3. Spread sushi rice to cover the entire nori sheet, turn the sheet over and fill the center portion with the tuna mixture, roll up the sheet with the aid of the bamboo mat to form a square tube; glue it together ends with a grain of cooked rice.
4. Sprinkle the outside part of the roll with aonori and roasted sesame cut in half and then slice into three equal pieces.

Like art, Japanese cuisine continues to evolve and flourish. Shintaro shines with the theme “10 years-10 tastes”, as it presents an array of bright colors, mouthwatering flavors and culinary sensations, defying conventional ways. Even food skeptics can luxuriate themselves in the daring tastes, give in, it’s worth it, indulge!

June Sauer

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