Wrapped in dried seaweed, they are transformed into the authentic delicacy of sushi, which is available in many different variations. Even in Japan, sushi is considered to be a luxury and it is usually served on special occasions.
When you open the door of a traditional sushi bar, the sushi master will give you a hearty welcome. After settling into a seat at the counter, you can survey the day’s selection of fish in the glass case in front of you to see what strikes your fancy. The selection may vary somewhat with the seasons, but will usually include tuna, shrimp, sea bream, ark shell, and grilled sea eel. While you ponder your first selection, you will be brought a piping hot cup of green tea and a warm hand towel to refresh yourself. You will also be given a small dish to hold some soy sauce for dipping the sushi and a few slices of pickled ginger to clear your palate between different varieties of fish.
Ordering sushi couldn’t be easier: Just call out your choice of fish. The sushi master will promptly scoop a bit of sushi rice from a large wooden container and clench it gently in one hand, forming it into an oblong ball. Then he will smear a dab of wasabi on a slice of fish and press the two together with his index and middle fingers. He will repeat the process to make another piece and then put both on the counter in front of you. (No matter what kind of sushi you order, you usually get two pieces.)
Wasabi is used with most kinds of sushi, although in some cases grated ginger is used instead. If you don’t like either of these, you can tell the sushi master to leave them off. You might also try layered omelette or rolled sushi, in which sushi rice and a piece of fish, cucumber, or pickle are rolled in roasted Nori seaweed.
There really are no fixed rules about the correct way to eat sushi, so you may eat with chopsticks or your hands. Sushi is best when flavored with just a small amount of soy sauce; be careful about how you dip your sushi into it. Pour some soy sauce into the small dish and lightly dip the fish side of the sushi in. (If you dip the rice in, it is likely to absorb too much sauce and crumble apart.) If you use chopsticks, you may find it easier to pick up the sushi if you first turn it on its side. The slight tanginess of the rice, which is flavored with rice vinegar, the sharpness of the wasabi, and the fresh, healthy texture of the fish form an unsurpassable combination.