Sushi 101: How to Eat Sushi Part 1 – Nigiri VS Rolls

Follow Me Foodie: Try the nigiri

By Mijune Pak , Follow Me Foodie – WE Vancouver
Published: June 12, 2013 3:00 PM
Updated: June 12, 2013 3:48 PM

We pretty much all love sushi in Vancouver. In fact, we probably love it as much as the BC Spot Prawn, except it’s even better because we get it all year. We are honoured with our endless sushi options, fresh seafood and talented Japanese chefs, but, sadly, the passion for sushi doesn’t really go beyond the roll.

I’ll talk to self-proclaimed “sushi connoisseurs” and sushi lovers who are proud to say they have been to Japan, but still, many do not know how to order it, let alone eat it. There is a technique and art to making and eating sushi. Mind you, I’m referring to places serving sushi piece by piece, and in some cases places that do not even serve soy sauce for customers to dip as they please. These are the places serving traditional Japanese food.

Confused already? If not, you’re on the right track, but if you are, then it’s time to break down the sushi basics.

There are rolls and then there is nigiri-zushi, commonly known as nigiri which is the simplest form of sushi. The seasoned rice is hand formed into rectangular shapes and a piece of fish will be showcased on top. Depending on the quality of fish and the sushi chef, there may be wasabi in between the rice and the fish. In the past, or in places were the fish may not be as fresh, wasabi would be used to mask the fishiness of a fish or to rid the germs in raw fish. The fish can be either grilled, fried, or sashimi (raw), and high-end places will often serve it raw, although not all types of fish are best that way.

Nigiri is served with condiments including soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger and perhaps shiso leaf and radish. However, the latter three are actually more palate cleansers than they are condiments. Yes, dont pile the pickled ginger on the nigiri, and the shiso leaf and radish are not just the side salad or garnish. They are meant to be eaten between bites of nigiri so you can taste the different varieties of fish. Although seen as plain and perhaps boring, nigiri is traditionally more valued than the creative rolls.

Rolls have their place, especially in Vancouver, where the majority tend to like the funkier rolls. They are stuffed with many ingredients and covered in sauces and toppings, and although they might be fun and good, it masks the flavours of the fish which defeats the whole purpose of sushi. If the place knows what they are doing, I encourage you to explore nigiri.

Due to the simplicity of nigiri, there is nothing to hide. It may only be two ingredients, but it is much harder to assemble than it looks. The rice has to be good quality, properly made, at the right temperature, and well seasoned (and on average most of the sushi rice in Vancouver is under seasoned).

Originally the rice was seasoned heavily with vinegar and sugar to help with the fermentation process which would preserve the raw fish, which is actually a Chinese technique thus, sushi is technically a Chinese invention.

The sashimi has to be fresh and if the chef is not serving high-quality sashimi, he should be nervous to even put it on the menu. I see it at all-you-can-eat sushi places and other places that shouldn’t be serving it at all; these are the places where rolls are encouraged.

Last but not least, the rice has to balance with the amount of fish, which can vary according to weight. The sushi rice can only be made into a rectangular shape by hand, pressing it a few times before it loses its stickiness and the chef has to start again.

Ordering it is only the first part though, the second part is eating it which is a whole other article next week.

See Sushi 101 – Part 2: How to use condiments

See Sushi 101 – Part 3: How to eat it

Recommendations for experiencing edomaezushi (classic nigiri):

Maruyama (3883 Rupert Street, Vancouver, BC)

Masayoshi (4376 Fraser St, Vancouver, BC)

Sushi Hachi (8888 Odlin Crescent, Richmond, BC)

Octopus Garden (1995 Cornwall Ave, Vancouver, BC)

Sushi Bar Maumi (1226 Bute St, Vancouver, BC)

Kiriri (8780 Blundell Rd #190, Richmond, BC)

See more Follow Me Foodie stories from Mijune in the WE Vancouver:


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