Sushi is arguably Japan’s most popular contribution to the world. The compact, bite-sized portions typically consist of vinegared rice, topped with fresh fish, vegetables, seaweed, or other lightly cooked or raw seafood. Nowadays, people are becoming increasingly health conscious and since sushi is low in all the dreaded c-words – like calories, carbs, and cholesterol – it is becoming one of the most viable options for those who wish to eat nutritious fare without packing on the pounds.
The icing on the cake as regards the nutritional value of sushi is the fact that it is extremely heart-friendly, as it is low in saturated fats. Sushi made with seafood is rich in proteins and omega-3 fatty acids. Seaweed, a regular sushi accompaniment, provides the benefits of iodine, magnesium, calcium, iron, and folic acid. The fresh vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals.
The health benefits of sushi are numerous, but it must be remembered there are umpteen ways to prepare this dish and not all of them are healthy. Fried tempura items and condiments like mayonnaise and cheese can be fattening. Too much sushi can send sodium and mercury levels soaring, and one always assumes the risk of food-borne illnesses as it is often eaten raw. That being said, experts have opined that the health benefits outweigh the risks associated with sushi.
Some believe sushi is a simple dish to prepare, as it does not call for a lot of cooking. But that is not the case. Sushi chefs, or itamae, undergo years of rigorous training under master chefs before they are allowed the honor of creating these exquisite culinary masterpieces. Skilled chefs incorporate special techniques into their craft such as dipping their hands in cold water laced with vinegar in order to keep the fish cool and germ-free. They always work quickly and with concentration in order to provide their customers with a taste treat they will never forget.
There are many types of sushi. Nigiri-zushi is the commonest variety. It is composed of a piece of seafood placed on vinegared rice, seasoned with a touch of horseradish or wasabi, and wrapped in seaweed. Maki-zushi is made with a thin bamboo mat that is used to roll up a cylinder of rice and a morsel of fish or vegetable. Sashimi is an assortment of finely sliced fish accompanied by a number of garnishes. Temaki and chirashi are variations of maki and sashimi respectively. Inari-zushi is made up of rice and vegetables rolled up in fried tofu.
To eat sushi like a true gourmand, one must dip it delicately in a small amount of soy sauce before savoring it. The favored technique is to turn the sushi upside down while dipping in order to season the topping as opposed to the rice. But this calls for a high level of manual dexterity while handling the chopsticks. And it is not advisable for rank beginners.
Connoisseurs eat thinly sliced pickled ginger to cleanse the palate and help differentiate between the subtle tastes and aromas. The meal can be washed down (if one can employ so vulgar a term for a gourmet treat!) with sake, or piping hot green tea.
Sushi can be quite pricey, as only the freshest fish and other produce are used. The price can vary depending on the quality and availability of the catch. For those on a budget, the set meal is the best option, as it offers an assortment of dishes at a more reasonable price. And downing sake by the gallon can also extract a heavy price from the wallet, so the green tea is a more financially feasible option.
This summer, if you are looking to beat the heat and wish to spare yourself the arduous extra hours at the gym, head for the closest Japanese restaurant and give yourself and your taste buds an exotic treat. Irashaimasee ("welcome" in Japanese) to the world of fine dining.