“The first part of sushi,” he said quietly, “is its creation. To experience the fullest enjoyment, you must watch the sushi chef perform his art. See how he has a small flame lit, there? That is to gently toast the nori.”
“That’s that sheet of black stuff? I thought that was the seaweed,” broke in a companion.
“It is a sheet of pressed and dried seaweed, a very mild-flavored variety. Now watch how he gently spreads the rice over part of the sheet, and then the filling. That one is tuna and look how thin he slices the fish.”
We watched as the chef laid the delicately trimmed slice of tuna on the rice and added a selection of green and orange things. Then he sort of flipped the bamboo mat and the sushi sort of rolled itself – very impressive.
At that moment, our saki arrived, and our host directed our attention to the pretty little jug on its warming stand and the tiny china saki cups. With due ceremony, he poured and presented each of us with a cup. “Hold it, for a moment, under your nose, before tasting, then take just a sip,” he said, leading us through a sensory introduction to the saki.
Then our sushi was placed before us. It was too beautiful to be food. A large lacquered boat was decked with various types of sushi, or maki, as he called it. On little pedestals in the boat, sat pink piles of shaved, pickled ginger and cones of green wasabi; we were each given a small plate for our sushi choices and a tiny bowl for dipping soy sauce. Our host transferred a cone of wasabi to his plate as he named the various sushi.
I chose a slice of two-tuna spicy roll and something called Karin’s Special which I was told contained raw scallop. The tuna was covered in tiny orange balls and a couple of larger ones. I was told these were tobikko or flying fish roe and the large was ikura or salmon roe.
I was feeling pretty far out of my comfort zone by this point, but our host calmly reassured us all and, ultimately, we were ready to try a taste. I gingerly picked up a piece of spicy tuna roll, with my chopsticks, dipped it into the soy sauce and, at his urging popped it into my mouth. Expecting a flavor somewhat akin to low tide, I was pleasantly surprised to find an interesting blend of flavors and textures, including a slight sweetness to the rice.
As he watched our experiments, our host became quite jovial and unthinkingly popped the item from his hand into his own mouth. It’s not a good idea to forget you’re holding a blob of green Chinese horseradish, but ultimately we had a memorable feast. The startled pain on his face, when the wasabi he had been playing with kicked in, was enough to put the whole party into hysterics and then totally at ease.