Sushi: The raw deal

Of the many types of cuisine out there, sushi gets a pretty raw deal in terms of being misunderstood by many ignorant Americans.  Simply put, it’s not all raw. However it does center around fish and the best being the raw options. Tonight I treated my lovely fiance to a dinner out at one of our more favorite sushi houses. Kyoto Sushi in Downers Grove, IL.  They have no website so finding this place was a rare coincidence. No one had recommended it so what finally got us to try it out was a coupon I stumbled upon in my regular junk mail. 40% off the entire bill was too good of a deal to pass on. We’ve been regulars since even without the coupon.

I favor the flavor of the raw fish in negri or sashimi form where as my soon to be wife generally sticks with the maki rolls. The taste of raw fish is unique. It is cool and creamy with a slightly sweet flavor. My favorites include the Maguro (Tuna), Sake (Salmon), Tai (Red Snapper), and Unagi (Freshwater Eel) but I’ll try anything once. Her favorite is The New York or Philadelphia roll. This is a maki roll filled with smoked Salmon, cream cheese and cucumber. It’s like haing bagels and lox.

The fun thing about eating sushi is that the diner is transported into another culinary world. The food speaks its own language in both literal terms and the overall dining experience. I particularly love taking a virgin sushi eater on their first adventure. To see the look on their faces when the beautiful plate presentations arrive and to witness the metamorphosis of utter fear on their face to a joyful smile as one hesitantly reaches for their first piece and place it in their mouth. Only one person has been a disappointment. My mother, while celebrating my sister’s birthday was so freaked out by her fear of this strange food in her mouth that she actually flung the mouthful back onto the plate.  I’m still amazed I didn’t reach across the table and punch her in the face for that one. Not because she didn’t like it mind you but out of the lack of respect she so rudely displayed by throwing her food from her denture filled mouth onto the plate and contaminating the rest of the uneaten pieces with. She still doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of how that is unacceptable table etiquette anywhere. Then again neither is punching someone in the face let alone ones mother  but I digress. Needless to say, I doubt she’ll be joining me on future adventures in sushi even though she did love her terryaki steak dish she gobbled up.

Our total food order tonight consisted of an appetizer of crab rangoon and a house salad with a fresh ginger dressing,  a few different maki rolls and my 4 pieces of negri sushi. A Maki roll is vinegared rice with fish and vegetable insertions and rolled up in Japanese seaweed (nori). Most maki places the nori on the inside, but some, like the California roll, place the rice on the outside. Negri sushi is pieces of fish, shellfish, or fish roe over vinegared rice balls. Accompanying each dish is a little green mound of Wasabi and Pickled ginger. Wasabi looks like guacamole but is actually a Japanese horseradish paste. This stuff is hot. True wasabi has anti-microbial properties that can help reduce any risk of food poisoning. The Gari or pickled ginger is a palate cleanser munched on in between different pieces or at the end of the meal.

A sample of various types of sushi

A sample of various types of sushi

Sushi like many Asian places usually have great lunch specials which is a great way to try it without spending a lot.  If you’ve never been, find a friend and ask them if they eat sushi and if they do, will they take you sometime.  This may help alleviate some of the initial fears most sushi eaters have on their maiden meal. It’s worth the adventure. The food is so fresh and tasty. It has to be in order to live up to the very strict standards that sushi chefs must achieve and maintain in order to serve raw fish. These chefs undergo a long apprenticeship to learn how to master the fine slicing and delicately prepared presentations. Dine at the sushi bar and literally watch them prepare everyone’s food right before your eyes. It’s like dinner and a show.

There are plenty of non raw or cooked food at sushi joints too. Many of the maki rolls have cooked fish in them and Chicken and steak options in terryaki sauces or fried tempura served with rice and noodle dishes also offer those who prefer meat to fish or are still skittish on being adventurous when it comes to raw fish. Obviously all of these dishes are cooked.  One thing that is consistent is the cleanliness and simplicity in ingredients. Dishes generally have only a few components where the flavors of the ingredients are highlighted and become the centerpiece of the dish. Feng Shui, the Chinese art or practice of creating harmonious surroundings that enhance the balance of yin and yang is central in a lot of Asian culture and art. Sushi although Japanese,  is another example of this.

Give the raw fish a try sometime. You just may find that the raw deal is not all it’s wrapped up to be. If nothing else, you can at least say you’ve tried it. Which, sadly, is more than the average American can say.

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