My introduction to sushi was at my university canteen. Every week I would buy a small sushi lunch box filled with salmon, tuna, and other such exoticisms. I loved it. Soon after, I moved to Japan and things began to change. On my first trip back to Sydney, I once again bought one of those sushi lunch boxes. I hated it.
It sounds elitist, I'm sure, but there is a difference between that sushi and good sushi. Even now, after all these years, I'm discovering that the sushi I used to think was good was just a stepping stone to even better sushi.
Having said that, if you are enjoying eating it, the sushi is good enough quality. Don't let snobs like me get in your way. However, your appreciation of sushi is growing if you notice these five things:
1. The rice itself starts to take on more importance
Sushi is vinegared rice. The toppings may be the showpiece but the rice is where it's at. If you notice any hardness, coldness or mushiness, take note. You may still enjoy it but probably not for much longer.
2. The size of your sushi starts to concern you less and less
If you expect your meals to fill your belly until you are bloated, remember the old Japanese saying, 'hara hachi bun' - eat until you are 80% full. Quantity is different to quality.
3. You start to wonder why there are other foods being offered at the sushi restaurant
Like most everything else, the better something is, the more attention it has probably been given. The more attention your sushi has required, the more likely it is that you will not be offered the choice of hamburgers, noodles, or tempura.
4. Mayonnaise starts to get on your nerves
Japanese sushi relies on drawing out the flavours intrinsic to its ingredients. Non-Japanese sushi seems based on the adding of flavours and their combinations for taste. That's fine but do remember that Japanese cuisine is listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage...
5. The distinction between topping and rice starts decreasing (or increasing...)
If you don't like your al dente pasta mixed with canned sauce or your fresh tomato-based sauce covering soggy pasta, then you will understand.
If you enjoy eating your sushi, it may not be long before you will also start to enjoy and appreciate its many subtleties.
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