They’re hip, they’re fun, and they’re brimming with raw fish. But just because you like your tuna cooked instead of almost wriggling doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sushi bars.
Here’s a little secret: Up to half of the menu items in most sushi bars contain not a shred of raw fish. The food is healthful, the flavors are bright and clean, and you get to play with your dinner. What’s not to like?
But it’s a food many Americans still haven’t tried. That’s why we went searching for sushi that even sushi-haters could love. We found a ton of great food along with tips on how to order, how to tip, and what to do with that blob of green paste on your plate.
First, the green paste: It’s wasabi (wah SAW bee), and it’s spicy-hot. It is the grated and dried root of a type of horseradish plant. Real wasabi is very expensive, so in this country – and even in many sushi bars in Japan – horseradish is used as a substitute. You are expected to pour some soy sauce into the tiny dish provided, and with your chopsticks mix in some of the wasabi. Then dip each piece of sushi in the sauce before eating it. Go easy at first on the wasabi or your eyes will water from the heat. Start with a blob no bigger than a pencil eraser.
Near the wasabi on your plate will be a mound of pale-pink pickled ginger. The thin slices are for nibbling on between bites, to cleanse your palate. They’re sour-sweet and addictive.
By the time you get your plate with wasabi and pickled ginger, you will have already ordered. This can be a confusing process in a sushi bar. Although the chef is right in front of you, customers are usually expected to order from the server who takes your drink order. Do so, unless the chef hands you a small paper menu and a pencil. At some sushi bars, and in others at busy times, diners merely mark their choices on the paper menu and hand it back to the chef. If you’d like to speak to the server anyway, just say so.
HOW TO PLACE ORDERS
Consulting with the server or the chef is a good idea for first-timers. Ask for recommendations of nonraw sushi. The server and chef will be glad to help, although in some sushi bars you’ll have to rely on the server alone because the chef doesn’t speak much English.
That’s a shame, because the banter between the sushi chef and his customers is an integral part of the experience. In Japan, the sushi chef is expected to be both dignified and convivial.
Dining at a sushi bar is a social occasion. The interaction between customers and chef often leads to interaction among the diners, especially when the sushi chef has a big personality. Regulars keep their personal chopsticks on a rack behind the sushi bar, like the personalized beer mugs at some taverns.
But back to the food. On the menu you will find a bewildering array of soups, appetizers, sashimi, sushi, maki, bento and combination plates. Sashimi is raw fish alone. Sushi is raw or cooked seafood and perhaps other ingredients with gently salted and vinegared rice. Bento is a compartmentalized box that holds a number of different items.
MANY NONRAW ITEMS
Skip to the maki rolls, where most of the nonraw choices can be found. Maki are sushi rolls wrapped in thin sheets of dried seaweed, called nori. The seaweed is practically flavorless. It helps hold the ingredients together. Each maki roll is cut into about 5 to 7 slices by the chef. One or two maki rolls should fill you up.
Another good choice would be a hand roll, which is a maki roll shaped into a cone for easier eating out of hand.
Most local sushi bars serve several items that are similar from restaurant to restaurant. Among these favorites are a few nonraw choices. Try a spider roll, which is sushi rice and nori encasing soft-shell crab. Or try a California roll, which is sushi rice and nori wrapped around avocado, crab meat and cucumber.
Round off your meal with a bowl of miso soup or an order of edamame beans. These are listed as appetizers, but Japanese sushi meals do not come in courses. Sip the soup and snack on the beans throughout dinner.
You may eat the sushi with your fingers or with the chopsticks that are provided. Just remember to eat e