Food Republic’s George Embiricos recently published a list of 12 commandments for the eating of sushi which got some play on Twitter from the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Iron Chef’s Masaharu Morimoto. Although lacking Bourdain’s experience or Morimoto’s Michelin star, I do have a couple of things in my corner that make me qualified to talk about sushi: I have eaten everything from cheap grocery store rolls to high-end sashimi; I also got engaged in a sushi restaurant over an order of spider rolls and some tuna nigirizushi . So without further ado, here’s something that very few people probably will care about — the opinions of a land-locked food writer about the so-called commandments for consuming raw seafood.
1. Thou shalt not Drown Thy Sushi
I agree with this one, although I break it quite regularly. My tendency to drench my sushi in soy sauce comes from the days when all I knew of sushi were the spicy tuna rolls from the Kroger deli and the (usually) pitiful sushi bars at various Chinese buffets. Drenching sushi in soy sauce was a way to cover up the flavor of fish that might not be the freshest. Of course, that’s the whole point of this commandment — stop eating crappy sushi. And when the fish is good and fresh, I don’t use nearly as much soy, but I refuse to stop breaking the last part of this one: I will continue to touch the rice to the sauce because I like how the sauce soaks into the rice. For me, it distributes the flavor better.
2. Thou Shalt Use Chopsticks
I’m on board with this one 100%, mostly because I’m not a big fan of eating with my fingers (even with ribs and chicken wings I’m a serial napkin over-user). So my method of sushi eating is this: pick up with chopsticks, light dip in soy sauce, pop in the mouth. Jess, on the other hand, is an eat-with-fingers type of gal when it comes to sushi, which she says is because she isn’t very good with chopsticks (and enjoys because it irritates me). Bourdain and Chef Morimoto weighed in on this one specifically, though, and it appears that they agree with Jess and not me:
Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) July 10, 2012
This won’t stop me from eating my sushi with chopsticks, but I’ll have to quit giving Jess such a hard time about eschewing them.
3. Honor Thy Ginger
Jess doesn’t normally touch the ginger at all, and I only occasionally eat it. I’m with Food Republic here: don’t destroy the delicate flavor of fish by heaping it up with ginger; eat a bite or two to cleanse the palate between different cuts of fish. Or just ignore it like we usually do.
4. Thou Shalt Not Take More Than One Bite
This is one that I have no problem with in theory. I prefer bite size sushi — each piece should be a perfectly balanced mouthful. Unfortunately, some of the more ornate rolls out there make the “one-bite” rule almost impossible to achieve, so instead of either taking multiple bites (and making a mess) or cramming an uncomfortable amount of food in my mouth, I just tend to avoid anything that looks like it’s too big for a single mouthful.
5. Diversify Your Order
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Many sushi places, including one of our favorites, Igibon, do a “happy hour” sushi menu that allows you to do this without breaking the bank. Igibon’s menu lets you get a couple of pieces of sushi with different fish, and I highly recommend taking advantage of this in order to explore the different types of sushi out there. Sky Japanese Restaurant also has an excellent sampler platter that I think is one of the greatest groupings of sushi around.
6. Avoid the Insane Green Racoon Roll
What they mean by this is to avoid non-traditional sushi created to appease the tastes of folks raised on Big Mac Sauce and ketchup. This could also be known as the “avoid any sushi with cream cheese in it” rule or the “hey, Guy Fieri, pulled pork nori rolls are disgusting, you gel-headed assclown” rule. This is a good rule. They further stipulate that rolls named after American states should be avoided as well, which is a good rule. I’d also add cities to that, as the “Philadelphia Roll” is an abomination. But yeah, cream cheese — decent on bagels, crappy in sushi.
7. If You Order Rolls, Eat Them First
Good rule, I guess, but I don’t tend to order many rolls, and I’m not a fan at all of gunkan maki (battleship sushi). My ideal sushi platter has little pillows of rice with a fat slab of fish delicately placed atop them.
8. And On The 7th Day, He Did Not Eat Sushi
Ok, it was Bourdain himself that made that “no fish on Mondays” thing such a meme of the early 00’s. And yes, I suppose that if the fish isn’t fresh on Sunday/Monday, it should be avoided. Despite that, one of my favorite sushi places is a little buffet in Benton (oh yes, a buffet) and they do some of their most creative work on Sunday. This is the Bible Belt, and Sunday dinner is time to shine for local restaurants. Apply this rule on a case by case basis.
9. Beware of Freshwater Fish (Maybe)
Again, consider who is making your sushi and what the quality is. Case by case basis here, too.
10. Thou Shalt Avoid All-You-Can-Eat Sushi
Well, this one is just snobby. One of Little Rock’s best places for sushi is Tokyo House, a very high-quality place that also happens to be a buffet. The sushi is fresh, and the owners of Tokyo house also happen to own that buffet in Benton I mentioned earlier. As a general rule, buffets are not great for sushi — but Tokyo House is a notable exception. I’ve eaten everything from tuna to salmon to octopus to oysters on the half shell there and it’s all been fresh and good.
11. Thou Shalt Not Covet Wasabi
Don’t mix wasabi in with your soy sauce is the gist of this one. And I’m going to break this EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. It’s too much of a pain to dab wasabi onto the fish itself, and a nice balance of heat and salt makes a nice dip. If the sushi already has a touch of the green stuff on it, don’t worry about mixing — but don’t be afraid to do so if you like it. Besides, here in Arkansas, I guarantee that 99% of places serving sushi aren’t serving real wasabi anyway, so let’s not get snooty about it.
12. Ordering Take-Out Sushi is a Sin
Yeah, I prefer my rolls fresh. So other than the guilty pleasure of Kroger Sushi, I don’t ever get takeout. And I don’t think there’s anywhere in Central Arkansas that delivers sushi, so this is an easy one to obey.
Sushi is one of those foods that people get weird and holier-than-thou about if they like it and weird and grossed out about if they don’t. For me, I love it and so if it takes a few California rolls to get you acclimated and ready to try the good stuff, then so be it. Don’t worry about being gauche, because unless you’re planning on eating at Masa sometime soon, mixing a touch of wasabi into your soy isn’t going to hurt anybody. Mostly, just try a bunch of things, be adventurous, and most of all — enjoy yourself, it’s a delicious world out there.