|Wasabi plants in cultivation|
Wasabi grater made from shark skin (samezaya-oroshi [鮫皮おろし])
Photo: Wolfgang Kehmeier
Close-up to the wasabi grater
Photo: Wolfgang Kehmeier
Wasabi paste is made by grating fresh wasabi root on a grater to a very fine
texture; most conservative cooks will use graters made from shark skin
The cuisine of Japan cannot be imagined with ingredients anything less than
most fresh. This is easy to understand in the case of raw fish, which
changes its taste rapidly and can host dangerous bacteria very quickly. In
Japan, fish must be fresh enough to not develop any
fishy odour. On the other
side, Japanese cooks put much less emphasis on spices and flavouring; it is
seen more desirable to let the ingredients’ flavour stand for itself. The pure
and clean pungency of wasabi fits very well to this somewhat Spartan concept
Even in Europe, the Japanese are well-known for their affection to raw fish, but love to this exotic foodstuff is not restricted to Japan at all (see lime about Mexican ceviche). In Japan, the simplest form of raw fish is called sashimi [刺身, さしみ] and consists simply of absolutely fresh fish in thin slices which are dipped into soy sauce and wasabi paste. More known in the West is sushi, which very often, but by no means necessarily, contains raw fish.
Basically, sushi (properly spelled zushi in compounds) [鮨, 寿司, すし, スシ] is
short grain rice cooked with sugar and vinegar (and thus tasting slightly
sweet–sour). After cooling, the rice is brought to a flat, plain shape and topped
with some flavourful food (nigiri-sushi,
nigiri-zushi [握り寿司, 握り鮨, 握鮨, 握りずし, にぎりずし]).
As an alternative, the sushi may be placed on dried
seaweed (nori [海苔, のり])
and then rolled up; thus, the cylindric rice bits famous in the West are obtained
(maki sushi, maki zushi [巻鮨, 巻寿司, まきずし]. A variant of
this design is the so-called inside-out, where the rice is outside
of the nori leaf. Some maki types may be seasoned with
sesame oil for extra flavour; toasted
sesame seeds are a common coating for the rice surface of the inside-out
The most common variants of sushi contain raw fish or raw
sea foods, e. g., salmon (sake [鮭, さけ, しゃけ]),
tuna (tekka [鉄火, てっか] or maguro [鮪, まぐろ]),
shrimp (ebi [蝦, 蛯, 海老, えび])
or squid (ika [烏賊, 墨魚, いか]), but there are
also sushi types without fish: Scrambled egg
(tamago [卵, 玉子, たまご]
fresh carrot or cucumber (kappa [かっぱ]),
and pickled vegetables, predominantly radish (oshinko [お新香, 御新香, おしんこ]).
employing fried or boiled (or even raw) meat is less common, but not unheard
of. Sushi is commonly served with soy sauce, wasabi paste
and pickled ginger
gari [がり, ガリ],
which are thin slices of young ginger in a sweet–sour brine. Gari
usually has pale pink colour (although there are also colourless variants); this
color develops during pickling without addition of any colouring agents.
Fragrant herbs like perilla,
water pepper or young leaves of
Sichuan pepper (kinome)
are also possible decorations for sushi.
is so popular in Western countries, new variants are being created every
day, some of which use ingredients which are not at all typical for Japan
(avocado, cheese, tomatoes with basil).
Indeed, sushi is as versatile as the Western concept of
sandwich and it can be seen as a special Japanese version of sandwich that
substitutes bread by another processed cereal, boiled rice. From that analogy
it becomes more understandable that almost everything that can appear on top
of a slice of bread has also been tried to make into a sushi — often (though certainly not always)
with amazing success.