How To Eat Like An Asian
Raw SushiBy Mark Liao
Alright all you yahoos, hoodlums, and peabodies, put down the quarter-pounders with cheese and pick up something that’s actually worthy of being called food. Since all of us only get one chance at this party called life, before you die you’ve got to at least grow a pair and try raw fish. If at one time people considered Pee Wee Herman a suitable host for a Saturday morning kids show, eating raw fish can’t be that insane.
Just to make sure I’ve covered all of the bases, let’s go over a few more things about sushi etiquette. A common question people ask a sushi bars is, do I have to use chopsticks? It is perfectly fine to go after your sushi using just your hands. In the hardest of hardcore downtown Tokyo sushi bars, they don’t even give you chopsticks. So trust me, you’re good as long as you’re not that one guy out of every six who doesn’t wash his hands after going to the bathroom (shame on you, shame shame shame).
Now again, when it comes to wasabi, many people like taking a lump of it and putting it straight into the soy sauce. Then they’ll mix it around creating a mixture ranging from an army green paste to a light brown liquid. Apparently, that’s as wrong as asking for some pepper for your soup in a five star French restaurant. Between the layer of rice and slice of raw seafood, the sushi chef has put on exactly as much wasabi as you need. Who are you to tell him how to make his creations? Does he come by and tell you how to ask stupid questions in lecture?
In any case, the right thing to do in a sushi restaurant is to simply pour only soy sauce into your dish and dip your sushi seafood side down. This prevents the rice from falling apart and making a mess. Truth be told, I still like putting wasabi into my soy sauce; most places are so un-hardcore these days that by default, they don’t even put wasabi underneath the slices of fish.
Finally, a rule of thumb for gauging a good sushi bar -- there should be more fish than rice with every piece of nigiri. I can’t stand it when places get cheap and serve you a huge log of rice with a thin piece of crappy fish. The slices of seafood should be at least two, maybe three inches long, one and a half inches wide, and a quarter of an inch thick. Use the portion sizes of the salmon and tuna nigiri from the sushi bar in Lobdell as the minimum size of any sushi you are ever served.
After reading this, you should be a pro, so go on, ask that cute girl in bio lecture to dinner and show her what you’re made of.
Tako -- This is the only cooked item in today’s article: boiled octopus tentacle. After boiling the octopus with daikon radish for the purpose of tenderization, the chef slices the tentacle into thin pieces. This is your next step after graduating from calamari school. Expect a chewy, slightly sweet flavor. The round suction cups are fun to play with but even better to eat.
Ika -- Now that we’ve already convinced you that eating squid isn’t that scary, try moving onto raw squid. Ika is a scored piece of translucent squid, sometimes with a piece of a mint-like leaf underneath atop a bead of rice. You can actually see the green of the leaf pass through the squid. This item is even sweeter than tako. Texture-wise, I can only explain it as, well, a crisp pop, followed by a smooth tenderness. Sounds like something out of a harlequin novel.
Ikura -- Now you too can be like the barracuda in “Finding Nemo” who ate Marlin Jr. et al. Ikura is actually not clown fish, but salmon roe, served in the same fashion as tobiko from the last issue. In reality, these fish eggs are bigger and actually do look like Nemo before he hatched. Don’t worry, you won’t see any fish fetuses before you chomp down. Since they’re so much bigger than tobiko, you can expect a slightly fishier taste with every pop.
Sake -- This is the benchmark upon which I judge every sushi bar I visit. If they can’t get this dish right, opt for an order of the other sake before you continue your meal. Sake is salmon, usually bright orange with marbling of white throughout, similar to a nice cut of beef. This is the perfect springboard for novices to sushi. It has no hint of fishy flavor, and is generally loved by the public because, as my dear friend Fallon says, “Fat = Flavor.” My favorite place back home serves huge slabs of salmon with a crown of shaved bonito, sliced green onions and a drizzle of black vinegar.
Maguro/Toro -- Blue fin tuna. These slices should be bright red, not a dull crimson. The difference between maguro and toro are the parts of the tuna the slices come from, like a t-bone verses a filet. Maguro is the side of the tuna, whereas the toro comes from the fatty underbelly. (Sidenote: Until the day you die, you should always remember that the two best pieces come from the belly or behind the cheek of a fish.)
It’s up to you to decide which slice you like more, but in my opinion, all blue fin tuna sushi is just filler space on a plate.
Hamachi -- One of the most prized types of sushi, hamachi is yellow tail tuna. I personally give it the second most hardcore sushi award. For true connoisseurs, this is the real benchmark used to measure the quality of a sushi bar. The pieces are usually a peach/pink color. Enjoying the flavor of this sushi is relatively easy if you’ve mastered sake. Welcome to hardcore sushi-hood.
Uni -- This sushi beats out hamachi in value, esteem, and hardcore-ness. Uni is sea urchin roe. If you take a sea urchin, flip it over, cut around the mouth, and remove the internal organs, you will find pieces of uni lining the inside walls of the purple ball of spikes you hold in your hand. If, and I stress if, you are able to acquire a taste for uni, it’ll cost you. The most expensive uni is red, the least expensive yellow. Each piece is served a la tobiko. Expect a creamy texture. If you acquire a taste for this, I give you an A+ and forty gold stars.