How the Misconceptions and Misunderstandings Usually Happen:
When people begin eating sushi, they’re usually convinced (by a family member, co-worker) to ‘give it a try.’ Somewhere/Somehow, nearly everyone is convinced to walk into a Japanese restaurant and sample a few delicious creations from the sushi bar. Soon, the ‘sushi newbie’ discovers a handful of tasty options and exclaims, “Wow…this is not what I expected! This is really good!” Within a few weeks, the sushi newbie is experimenting with a handful of new items; making mental notes of his/her likes and dislikes.
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this process. In fact, it’s an exciting experience for the novice and great business for the restaurant (a new customer!). But here’s the reality – when the sushi newbie was first introduced to sushi, he/she was probably ‘instructed’ by a friend or family member who knew very little about sushi as well. A few weeks later, as his/her courage builds, the sushi novice will simply learn by judging ‘what tastes good’ and ‘what doesn’t.’
As the months go by, sushi newbies exclaim “I love sushi!”…as they bring their friends and family members to the sushi bar and the process repeats itself all over again. Simply explained – novices are teaching novices. After a long period of time, hundreds of people proudly attest to their love for sushi…without knowing anything about it.
So let’s spend some time eliminating the common misconceptions about sushi while clarifying the facts.
Fact: Sushi is all about rice…not about fish.
The most important factor that any true sushi lover must learn is that sushi is defined as cooked, vinegared rice – not fish. The temperature, flavor, packing and flavor of the rice is crucial to determining the quality of sushi. Unless the rice is exceptional, the rest of the ingredients do not matter at all. Substandard sushi rice is substandard sushi. Quite honestly, if you ever hear someone say, “I can recommend a great sushi restaurant for you to try. They have the best salmon!” Guaranteed…that person is a newbie.
Fact: Sushi rice temperature is crucial.
Sushi rice should be body temperature. Not room temperature (78 degrees). Not chilled (lower than 70 degrees). Quality sushi rice is 90 degrees. Exceptional sushi rice is 95 degrees. This is typically a big challenge for sushi restaurants, especially in the United States. Due to the increase in customers, sushi restaurants must make large batches of sushi rice in order to serve a large customer base. Once made, the rice will begin to cool down quickly. Within an hour, the rice is less-than-great. In Japan, small-to-mid-size sushi houses purposely prepare smaller batches of rice and continuously refill them at the appropriate time. But, in America (since 99.5% of sushi eaters aren’t aware of the required temperature), they can overlook the standard because nearly no one knows the difference.
Misunderstanding: Nigiri is intended to be grabbed with your fingers, not with chopsticks.
Nigiri, commonly known as ‘the strip of fish that rests on a bed of rice’ is not intended to be eaten with chopsticks. In fact, you’re supposed to pick it up with your hands. Nigiri, in Japanese, means ‘to grab.’ The proper way to eat nigiri is to pick up a single piece with your hand, invert the nigiri so the fish/vegetable/egg is lightly dipped into your small saucer of soy sauce, then, eaten. With concern to nigiri, never dip the sushi rice into the soy sauce. It will diminish the flavor of the sushi rice. Instead, you are expected to lightly dip the fish/vegetable/egg into the soy sauce. This is intended to enhance the flavor of the sushi…not mask it.
Fact: Never mix soy sauce and wasabi together.
We don’t know who started this…and we don’t care. We just wish it would stop. Creating your own version of wasabi soup is the easiest way to negatively effect the flavor of your sushi. In fact, if the sushi is properly prepared, putting additional wasabi onto your sushi is rarely necessary.
Fact: Sushi isn’t about a ‘general flavor.’
People (Americans especially) make the mistake of thinking – ‘if it tastes good, it’s good sushi.’ Nope. Americans love flavor. It’s how we measure nearly everything we eat. But sushi isn’t about flavor. It’s about the balance of flavor. If you eat a piece of sushi and you taste the fish (for example, tuna) but not the rice, there is no balance of flavor. The fish must compliment the rice and the rice must compliment the fish. If sushi lacks a balance of flavor, it is improperly prepared.
Misunderstanding: Salmon is considered ‘new sushi’…even in Japan.
When most sushi lovers imagine sushi in the mind, they tend to think of a piece of fresh salmon sitting atop a bed of rice (salmon nigiri). What most people do not know is that salmon is fairly new to the sushi world. For hundreds of years, salmon was considered a ‘river fish’ in Japan and wasn’t eaten unless cooked. After the second World War (from the invention of refrigeration), salmon was kept cold and eventually considered worthy of sushi. Roughly 30 years later, it was served at a sushi bar in Los Angeles. So we recommend that you make a mental note – Japan and America are ‘newbies’ when it comes to salmon sushi.
Fact: Fatty tuna is not ‘better’ than lean tuna.
As we mentioned above, most sushi lovers make the mistake of measuring sushi quality by the level of flavor. When most sushi lovers are given the opportunity to choose between red tuna (akami) and fatty tuna (chu-toro or o-toro), they usually gravitate to the fattier selections. And why? Because they provide a smooth, almost-buttery flavor. In actuality, experts consistently state that red tuna (akami), also known as ‘lean tuna,’ offers a range of texture and flavor that are not found in fattier portions. In fact, hundreds of years ago in Japan, fatty tuna was fed to stray cats within several neighborhoods. It was deemed ‘garbage fish’ for a very long time. Now, we’re not suggesting that sushi lovers should not enjoy fatty tuna. Quite the opposite. Fatty tuna sushi provides a smooth flavor and even the most discriminating sushi lover orders it from time to time. But we recommend that you spend some time appreciating the finer points of akami before permanently removing it from ‘your common order list.’
Misunderstanding: Escolar: ‘Super White Tuna’
Don’t let the rumors or printed menus trick you. There has never been, and never will be, a ‘super white tuna.’ It’s a marketing term. In some cases, sushi restaurants will offer Escolar (at times labeled as ‘Snake Mackerel’) because of its deliciously smooth flavor. In many cases, it’s nicknamed ‘Butter fish.’ What most Escolar lovers do not know is that it is never eaten in sushi form (raw) in Japan. Due to the excessive oils and natural waxes, it is rumored to cause constipation and other obvious digestive concerns. When it is served in Japan, it is offered cooked…and served in small portions. So, if you enjoy eating escolar at your favorite sushi spot, keep in mind that it isn’t authentic and keep your portions to a minimum.
Fact: Sashimi isn’t sushi.
This misunderstanding derives from the notion that raw fish defines sushi. As we stated in Misconception #1 (top of the page), sushi is defined as ‘cooked, vinegared rice.’ Therefore, if sushi rice is not involved, it is not (and cannot be) considered sushi. Sashimi is not sushi because it does not contina sushi rice.
In fact, in Japan, sashimi is typically served at the very beginning of the meal (before the sushi courses)to purposely idenitify it as a different item.
Fact: Sushi rice in the United States…comes from the United States.
Fact: 99.99% of all sushi rice that is served in the Unites States is grown in the United States. If a sushi restaurant attempts to convince you that their rice comes from Japan, ask to see the shipping label from a box in the back of the kitchen. They’ll never show it to you. Why? Because sushi rice is too easy to grow in the United States to warrant shipping ‘authentic’ rice from Japan. Imagine the cost of shipping 70 lbs boxes of rice from Japan every day. Your sushi would skyrocket in price. And let’s be honest….if a restaurant can convince you that their rice comes from Japan, would you really know the difference? In reality, a large portion of sushi rice that is grown, shipped and cooked in the United States comes from California. The flavor is close enough that any sushi lover would be challenged to taste the difference.
Fact: Restaurant Wasabi isn’t Wasabi.
Fact: Authentic wasabi is actually the shavings of a root – the wasabi root. It’s a light green root, covered by a tough-textured exterior. The ‘bark’ of the root is removed and the wasabi is grated on a shark-skinned grater. Depending on the time of year, wasabi root can cost (through dealers in Japan), about $100 – $150 per pound. Common ‘restaurant wasabi’ isn’t wasabi at all. In fact, 99.99% of all Japanese restaurant provide a water soluable mixture of dry horseradish, green food coloring and dry mustard. Why do they do this? Simple – it’s inexpensive (so they can provide it at no cost to the public) and the vast majority of sushi-eaters aren’t even aware of the difference.
If you’re looking for the best sushi in Scottsdale, you’re in the right place. Zen Culinary expertise is Asian food and we love preparing sushi for our customers. We’re just that good. Come and see for yourself. We’re located at 15544 N Pima Rd Scottsdale, AZ 85260.