Description of Quiz Answers

Q1: Ordering and eating your favorite conger eel (anago) or clam (nihamaguri) first?

(Explanation)When eating sushi, you are free to eat as much as you like of what you like in whatever order you like. However, if you start off with something sweet, satisfying your appetite, it will deprive you of the pleasure that appetite brings for later pieces. Therefore, I hope you will please at least avoid eating sweet conger eel (anago) at the start of your meal

Q2: Extra-sweetened sushi rice makes sushi taste better?

(Explanation)Sweetness is something that people instinctively desire and the natural reaction is that sweet things are pleasant. However, there is no good reason to make sushi rice extra sweet. This method is used only to hide some ingredients. No matter how delicious the seafood, its natural sweetness is not as strong as sugar. If the ingredients do not have an umami element, to begin with, then sugar is used to provide the desired sweetness. This masks the lack of taste of the raw ingredients. However, it is common practice to use a small amount of sugar in order to bring out the charm of the sushi rice and to improve preservation.

Q3: Getting excited about Pacific Bluefin tuna served during cherry blossom season (around the end of March)?

(Explanation)The Oma town of Aomori prefecture is a famous site for Pacific Bluefin tuna. The tuna season here is from August to December, when tuna is eaten raw, so it is both delicious and expensive. During other times of the year, the fish will be frozen for preservation. There is an obvious drop in both the taste and price compared to the raw version. Furthermore, there are big differences between individual tuna and the quality of fish differs depending on the season, the state of the ocean, the weather and water temperature when the fish was caught, the bait used, the fishing method, the way it was processed after being caught and how it was preserved during transport. Just because the tuna is from Oma doesn’t mean it will be the epitome of flavor. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q4: Ordering your favorite ikura sushi at the beginning of the year?

(Explanation)This makes it clear to others that you are unaware that for every sushi topping, there is a season. Ikura (Salmon roe) prepared between August and November is frozen and then thawed as needed. Roe eaten between January to July is not only out of season, it has most certainly been frozen prior to serving. It is not something to go out of your way to eat after bringing in the New Year.

Q5: Pairing wine with salmon roe (ikura), herring roe (kazunoko), dried mullet roe (karasumi) or other roe?

(Explanation)Neither red nor white wine pair well with these ingredients. The components specific to wine are said to contribute to the fishy smell of fish roe. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q6: All types of Japanese sake go well with sushi?

(Explanation)Just because alcohol tastes good alone, or goes well with French cuisine, does not mean it will pair well with sushi. Even if it doesn’t pair poorly, there will definitely not be any synergy. There are specific types of sake that do pair well with sushi. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q7: Japan’s Edomae sushi restaurants serve the worldwide famous salmon sushi topping?

(Explanation)You will not find farm-raised salmon (such as Atlantic salmon or salmon trout) at an Edo-style sushi restaurant. You will occasionally come across an authentic restaurant that serves wild-caught salmon (keiji, Tokishirazu, Mejika) from the sea. If you do come across this topping, order without hesitation. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q8: Taking sushi toppings off the rice to eat?

(Explanation)This is a great sin. The delicate balance of the topping, shari, wasabi and nikiri soy sauce is considered by the chef when preparing the sushi and it should be eaten in one bite. For example, in order to bring out the umami of the akami (red meat of tuna), it is cut more thickly and prepared with less shari. On the other hand, fatty tuna (toro) has a high-fat content that overpowers the wasabi flavor, so more wasabi is needed compared to the akami. Flounder is chewier and a thick cut would make it hard to bite through, so it is cut more thinly and more shari is added instead. Conger eel is quite thick, and so there isn’t much point in reducing the amount of shari in order to bring out the sweetness. Another example is that prawns, which cannot be eaten in one bite, are cut in half before preparation.

Q9: Mixing wasabi into soy sauce when eating sashimi?

(Explanation)When you eat sashimi, you should eat it without dissolving the wasabi in soy sauce. Doing this will spoil the flavor of the freshly grated wasabi. When eating sashimi, put just a dab of soy sauce on top of the fish and add just a touch of soy sauce before eating. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q10: Eating sushi with a lot of soy sauce?

(Explanation)People do this because they don’t understand the reason for adding soy sauce. The reason is not to add the saltiness of the soy sauce. It makes the flavor of the topping richer by adding the amino acids found in soy sauce, and masking the odor of the fish. The shari and topping already contain enough salt for flavor. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q11: There are various types of sushi sauce used in traditional Edomae sushi?

(Explanation)Sushi restaurants outside of Japan often create original sauces. For example, Spicy Mayo sauce, Garlic Mayo sauce, Teriyaki Sauce, Mango Sauce, or Carrot Ginger Sauce. These are commonly used in sushi rolls. Conversely, in Edo-style sushi, only nikiri soy sauce and nitsume soy sauce are used. As mentioned above, nikiri soy sauce is not used to make it more salty. Nitsume is the only sauce used to actually add flavor to nigiri-sushi. Using the minimum possible amount of sauce in order to avoid overpowering the fish’s natural flavor and umami, and bringing out the complexity of the taste showcases the true skill of a sushi chef. Nitsume is sometimes translated as “eel sauce” but we want to clear up any misunderstandings by explaining that it is made from the water the conger eel was boiled in, not an eel.

Q12: Eating pickled ginger (gari) with sushi?

(Explanation)Gari is served as a palette cleanser to be eaten between pieces of sushi.

Q13: Dipping kampyo-maki in soy sauce to eat?

(Explanation)Kampyo Maki (dried gourd rolls) are already seasoned so it is not good form to add further soy sauce. On the other hand, Tekka-maki (tuna rolls) and Kappa-maki (cucumber rolls) are eaten after dipping in soy sauce. This can be confusing. Incidentally, when the term “seaweed rolls” is used in Edo-style sushi, it refers to dried gourd rolls. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q14: Waiting to drink tea until it has cooled?

(Explanation)Tea at sushi restaurants is made by pouring hot water directly over powdered tea, so there is a high amount of catechin extracted. It is bitter due to the 2 to 4 times caffeine content of coffee, and combined with the astringency of the catechin, it is capable of offsetting any fishy odor, refreshing and cleansing your palette. Also, maintaining the temperature of freshly-made tea is necessary in order to keep the catechin effects going. For this reason, sushi restaurants always have a large, yunomi (thick teacups on-hand). In other words, tea that has cooled is not drunk. However, the first cup of tea offered when a customer sits down, before eating anything, maybe lukewarm so it is easier to drink. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q15: Being bothered by the raw fishy smell at sushi restaurants?

(Explanation)Many overseas visitors who aren’t used to eating fish have an aversion to fishy smells. This is actually the smell of a substance called trimethylamine and is generated by the breakdown of the umami component called trimethylamine oxide found in large amounts in fish by bacterial growth. The smell also gets stronger with the generation of ammonia as more time passes.

Bacterial growth can be controlled with refrigeration so toppings at sushi restaurants are kept cold. Trimethylamine is alkaline, so smells can be eliminated by washing with vinegar, which is acidic. It is also possible to kill bacteria on the surface of the fish by soaking it in vinegar, reducing the number of bacteria. Basically, sushi restaurants are constantly taking measures to prevent bacterial growth and avoid fishy smells.

Q16: Sushi made using freshly caught fish is delicious?

(Explanation)The most delicious time to eat fish differs depending on if it is served as sashimi, as sushi, or boiled. Fresh does not necessarily mean delicious. For example, Japanese Amberjack should be used in sashimi 3-5 days after being caught, in sushi a week after being caught and it can be used in a stew or boiled once it turns black around the edges. This is because the inosine acid, which is responsible for the umami taste, increases after rigor mortis ends and understanding the timing of the peak in flavor is up to the skill of the sushi chef. The sushi technique of letting fish rest, or mature, has evolved since the Edo period. Freshly caught fish are not made into sushi.

Q17: Sushi tastes best in winter when fish are fattier?

(Explanation)The idea that fish get fatter in the winter and therefore are tastier is an understandable one. But in reality, sushi is just as delicious in the summer. For example, fattened-up horse mackerel. The king of white fish in the summer is the marbled sole. Conger eel also fattens up in the summer. There are also Japanese green sea urchins and Northern sea urchins are special summer treats that can only be harvested a few months out of the year. To put it simply, of course, there are fish and shellfish that are in-season in summer (as well as spring and autumn).

Q18: Praising a delicious sushi topping?

(Explanation)Every sushi chef is different, but a common saying is that 70% of sushi’s flavor is determined by the shari (sushi rice). They work to bring out the sweetness and umami of the rice so you can enjoy each piece. Some chefs may not be pleased if you only notice the topping.

Q19: Sushi chefs use a different brands of rice than what we eat in our homes?

(Explanation)The brand of rice that people normally eat (for example Koshihikari or Sasanishiki), is exactly the same brand that is used in a sushi restaurant. However, no effort is spared to bring out the flavor of the rice. It may have been raised organically, cut by hand, sun-dried, stored at a cool temperature, etc. What type of rice do you think is in a package labeled “sushi rice” in your home country? Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q20: The two types of vinegar rice used in sushi in Japan are a white shari or a brownish shari?

(Explanation)Awasezu is a mixture of soup stock (dashi) and seasonings like soy sauce and mirin combined with vinegar. This is what is sold overseas as “sushi vinegar”. Awasezu is made from mixing vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, etc. with other seasonings and soup stock. It can also be made by adding salt to red vinegar made from fermented sake lees. When rice vinegar is used the shari is white and when red vinegar is used, the shari is a brownish color. Incidentally, when sushi first gained fast popularity during the Edo period, red vinegar was used. Please see this page for more details on that topic.

Q21: Whitefish, like Red Snapper, is bland?

(Explanation)It could be that you’ve only ever eaten farmed white fish. For example, sea bream is available both in the wild and as farmed fish. The amino acid composition and umami content are almost the same between the two. So how is it that farmed sea bream and wild sea bream end up tasting so different? The reason is undoubtedly the fragrance. The subtle fragrance components in the fat of the sea bream determine the essential flavor of the fish. You can’t expect to get this flavor from a farmed fish. Farmed fish is focused more on the economic value of the fish, so they are given feed that meets certain conditions and is unable to eat whatever it is that fish enjoy eating. This will of course result in a different flavor. With stronger-tasting fish like tuna and mackerel, you can taste the umami as soon as you eat it. On the other hand, with white fish where the flavor is more subtle to begin with, if your taste buds and sense of smell are not brought to their full potential, you won’t be able to enjoy its true flavor.

Q22: Changing one of the sushi toppings in an omakase course?

(Explanation)While “omakase” means that you are leaving your menu in the chef’s hands, you can make a request that any toppings you don’t like being left out when you order. Also, you can stop at any time if you happen to get full during the course. However, the chef can’t stop immediately, so make sure to let the chef know when you still have room for about two more pieces.

Published April 30, 2020