I love sushi and I hope you will too. If you are worried about “bad” sushi in the sense that the fish isn’t fresh and you’ll spend the next three days “catching up on your reading” I wouldn’t worry too much. Sure, give the fish a smell. If you smell anything fishy or “off” then leave. But I doubt you will. Today’s food distribution system is such that you can get just about anything just about anywhere and be ok. Plus, it would only take one call to your board of health or local newspaper to shut the place down. Its just not a risk the restaurant owner would be willing to take over 2 dollars worth of fish.
Now, for the good part. First, approach sushi as an adventure. Are you up to it? Do you really have an open mind? Sushi is afterall simply fish and lightly vinegared rice. It WON’T kill you. Every person that I’ve taken to “sushi” who claimed they didn’t like it, ended up admitting that the only thing that bothered them was the THOUGHT of eating raw fish. Once they had a few pieces though they were off and running. No pun intended.
Start with Kappa Maki; this is just sushi rice and cucumber wrapped in seaweed (“nori”, which is the flat dark green “paper” that sushi is rolled in; rolls are called “Maki” by the way). Its not even fish, but will allow you to taste the rice. The word “sushi” itself actually refers to the rice, not the fish (thats “sashimi”). For your first piece, poke out the cucumber and just taste the rice. It shouldn’t be plain, but lightly vinagerred, maybe a little sweet, but not sugary. Time and again I’ve found that it was the rice that made the difference between good sushi and great sushi.
Next, try the California Roll. This is “sea legs” (fake crab), cucumber, and avacado rolled in rice and wrapped in nori. The Cali roll is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, its “inside out”. The Kappa Maki (most likely) had cucumber surrounded by rice which was surrounded by the nori. The Cali Roll will be crab-cuc-'cado wrapped by nori, then surrounded by rice. If you see orange “sprinkles” on the outside these are flying fish row (eggs). Delicious!! Still one of my favorites. And don’t get thrown by the “sea legs” thing. Cali Rolls are very popular and if the restaurant used real crab they would be prohibitively expensive. Some do. And they are…
The next piece I would suggest is “Spicy Tuna Roll”. This will be your first raw fish, but its in the familar roll form and also contains a little mix of mayo and tabasco. If you REALLY don’t like hot food get a normal tuna roll. But in either case, you’ve just eaten raw fish and it didn’t kill you.
Now, its time for your first “nigiri”. Nigiri is not rolled. It is a small block of sushi rice with a slab of raw fish on top. There may also be a small “swipe” of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) smeared on the fish before its put on the rice. For your first nigiri I would suggest yellowtail or tuna. Both are mellow fishes. Salmon would be good too, but not quite as mellow. And when I say “mellow” remember its a question of scale. Let’s put it this way: tuna in a can is a Boeing 747, grilled tuna is a garbage truck at 4 am, sushi tuna is a babbling brook in the rain forest. Once you’ve made it past your first, or maybe second, piece of nigiri the sushi world is yours.
GO FOR IT!!!
I hope I haven’t bored you. I love sushi and as a consultant by trade who spends his life on the road I’ve eaten alot of it in alot of different places. Some was better than others, but none have ever been “bad”.
Besides the above I offer the following:
Wasabi: wasabi is Japanese horseradish. Its green. It will probably be a very thick, almost hard paste. The reason is that most wasabi that you’ll get in the US is made from dried wasabi powder. The restaurant then makes its batch by mixing in some water. Its hot, but hot like horseradish is hot. A little provides a nice tingle and greatly enhances the experience. Too much and it’ll “blow out” your sinuses and make your eyes water. But, also like our horseradish, a quick drink of water or two will quell the fire for good.
And NEVER EVER EVER mix wasabi into your soy sauce. Dan might disagree with me, but I have it from a very respected sushi chef that mixing the two is the surest sign of a “outsider”. It ranks right up there with ordering a corned beef sandwich with mayo at the Carnegie Deli.
Also, I would avoid soy sauce. Taste the rice, the fish, and the other things. For me even the slightest dab of soy sauce just makes the whole thing taste like soy sauce. Its like ketchup on filet mignon. But then I hate ketchup.
Remember that fresh fish is expensive and that you’ll spend a pretty penny eating yourself stupid on the stuff. Do NOT enter the restaurant if you are concerned with the price. Sushi is expensive for any number of reasons. If you walk in and the first thing you think when you see the menu is how expensive it is you won’t enjoy it no matter how “good” it is. Leave that shit at home.
So GO!! Be happy, confident, and open minded. Throw your cares, your fears, and your wallet to the wind. I’m willing to bet that once you do you’ll love it.