A guide to Japan's original fast food

By Dave Lowry styling by Mamie Walling
April 27, 2006
Jean Allsopp

It's all about the rice. Of course, the seafood that finds itsway onto (or into) sushi must be safe and delicious. But a sushi tsu, or connoisseur, always judges sushi by the rice.A drizzle of vinegar and a dash of sugar ties sushi rice to theseason―a touch more vinegar in the summer, a little extrasweetness in winter.

Take a minute to look at that pecan-size, hand-pressed nugget ofsushi rice. Molded with a cupped palm and two fingers, most of thegrains will be aligned, not one squished or loose. Size and shapemight vary, but not consistency or precision. Your stock portfolioshould be so well constructed. Oh, and temperature is crucial.Touch your cheek; that's the ideal temperature for sushi rice.

Regional varieties of sushi are like wines in France: diverseand almost always worth tasting. Sliced rolls with rice andingredients stuffed inside are maki sushi. Temaki, or hand-wrapped sushi, consists of crispy seaweedcones stuffed with rice and fillings. Chirashi sushi comes in bowls, with rice topped by variousingredients. Rice and other ingredients pressed into multilayeredcakes is bara sushi. Most common is bite-size nigiri sushi. Don't worry about eating either of these lasttwo with chopsticks; they're among Japan's original fingerfoods.

Choose your sushi by selecting the tane, or fillings, in ascending order from lean fish toricher ones. Maguro (tuna) is a good starter; even better are cuts ofwhite-flesh fish such as halibut, sea bass, or red snapper, whichoffer a stunning range of sophisticated flavors often highlightedwith additions such as grated ginger, scallions, and daikon radish.Finish your meal with salmon, eel, or mackerel―fishesabundant in natural oils and fats.

Westerners with a taste for spicy food developed an instantcrush on wasabi, a volcanic detonation on the tongue that can do tothe subtle tastes and textures of good sushi what a heavy metalband can do to a motel suite. Avoid stirring up an iridescent greenslurry of wasabi and soy sauce in which to plunk your sushi. Dip inplain soy sauce, and you'll find gustatory experiences the wasabiaddict never tastes. And resist dipping the rice part of nigirisushi into soy. Just touch one of the filling ends into thedish.

Sometimes the flavors of sushi take a back seat and let texturedo the driving. Squid or abalone create what the Japanese call"taste-feel," more mouth sensation than flavor. Sound odd? Well, sodoes eating celery, if you think about it―and the pleasantmeatiness of octopus is a lot more satisfying.

Sitting at a sushi bar is your chance to interact with the chef.If you're self-conscious, mention how much you'd like to spend foryour meal and add, "Omakase kudasai," which roughly translates to, "I'm in yourhands. Feed me."