Sushi 101

Watch Out for the Wasabi
Sushi seems to be popping up everywhere – from kiosks at the mall to the supermarket deli counter. If the Japanese delicacy seems a little intimidating, relax. A local expert can explain the art of sushi – in simple terms.

Perhaps the most common misperception about sushi is that it is simply uncooked fish.

“Not all of it is raw,” said Kang Nhin, owner of Kang’s Asian Bistro. In addition to a full menu of Chinese and Thai dishes, Kang’s offers a selection of sushi – both raw and cooked.

Sushi is a traditional Japanese dish originating hundreds of years ago. As an island nation, Japan has limited land suitable for farming, but produces an abundant supply of rice. Rice, combined with the bounty of the sea, is the cornerstone of sushi.

Kang said the ability to make perfect rice is a requirement for a sushi chef.

“The rice must have enough sugar, rice vinegar and a touch of salt for taste,” he said. Kang uses his own recipe to offer the perfect flavor.

Another important factor is the freshness of ingredients. This is particularly important for those who opt for raw fish.
“Our fish is delivered every day,” said Mary Nhin, Kang’s wife and marketing director of the restaurant.

There are three basic categories of sushi: sushi rolls, which can contain a variety of fillings wrapped in seaweed (nori) and surrounded by rice; sashimi, which are slices of raw fish; and nigiri sushi, which is fish or seafood on a bed of rice.
Sushi is nearly always served with wasabi, a green spicy horseradish paste that allows diners to kick up the flavor to suit their own preferences (think Japanese Tabasco), along with pickled ginger. The ginger cleanses the palate between rolls so you can fully experience the flavor of each piece, Kang said.

Many restaurants serve pink pickled ginger, but Kang prefers white ginger in its natural state, which is not dyed. Using the freshest, most natural ingredients is always his preference, he said.

Kang has been a chef for 16 years and started making sushi about three years ago. Born in Canton, China, Kang learned cooking traditions from his mother. Several of his brothers and sisters own restaurants and, as the youngest of eight children, he’s spent most of his life in restaurant kitchens.

Kang’s Asian Bistro is the realization of his dream to have his own restaurant.

“I love the challenge of being creative,” he said. With Mary’s help, Kang created the atmosphere, menu and theme of the restaurant. This month, they are celebrating the restaurant’s first anniversary.

For Kang, the best part of the process is seeing customers enjoy themselves. Although sushi can be ordered from the table, picked up or delivered, many customers sit at the sushi bar and watch Kang prepare their food. This makes for a personal relationship with the customer.

“They see the food being made, they see who is making it and how it is being handled,” Kang said. “Usually I meet everyone at the sushi bar.”

Presentation is an important element in sushi, and Kang strives to make sure what he’s serving both looks good and tastes good.

“Sushi is like artwork,” he said. “You can only make it happen if you enjoy what you are doing.”

After the ingredients are rolled together, the sushi roll is sliced into eight to 10 pieces. These pieces can be eaten with chopsticks, picked up with fingers or cut with a knife and fork. Kang said many of his customers dip the pieces into soy sauce they mix with wasabi.

Kang’s signature roll — the Kang roll — contains shrimp tempura, tuna, cucumber and avocado. The outer wrap of tuna and avocado provides a vibrant display, but the real surprise comes from biting into the roll and experiencing both soft and crispy textures.

Other surprises on the menu include barbecued eel, which tastes a little like catfish. “It melts in your mouth,” Kang said. Mary’s favorite is the Ninja roll, which has tuna, salmon, deep-fried shrimp and a spicy sauce.

For beginners, Kang recommends the cucumber roll, avocado roll or the popular California roll, which has crab, avocado, cucumber and sesame seeds.

In addition to being trendy, sushi is very healthy. All of the basic ingredients are low in fat – fish, rice and vegetables. In addition to providing protein, certain fish can be a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends omega-3 to reduce the risk of heart disease. Vegetables provide phytochemicals, which research indicates protects the body from disease. Seaweed is rich in iodine (vital for good thyroid function) and rice provides complex carbohydrates.

So, if you’re looking for a healthy adventure, give sushi a try.

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