Transformation of Sushi

What is your favorite type of sushi? Let me guess. It’s some sort of rolls, right? Something like California Roll, Dragon Roll or Rainbow Roll? If I tell you that these types of rolls are not available in Japan, would you be surprised?

Sushi served in Japan is quite a bit different from sushi you encounter in American (or outside of Japan) sushi restaurants or super markets. Sorry, you can’t order your favorite California Roll in Japan.

If you have Japanese guests who have not traveled outside of Japan, and take them to your favorite Sushi restaurant, they are likely to be baffled to see the extensive menu of huge and colorful rolls with creative names. They are quite a departure from what they are used to eating in Japanese restaurants.

Tuna and cucumber rolls. Most common in Japan
A plate of American style rolls – looks quite yummy! credit:Michel Philip Atkins

Difference of Japanese and American Sushi

  1. Japanese rolled sushi (makizushi – 巻き寿司) is simply with one ingredient and rolled thin. The most common ones are kappa maki (cucumber roll), tekka maki (tuna roll) or shinko maki (picked vegetable roll). There are some thicker multi-ingredients rolls, but they are not as common as thin ones.
  2. Japanese makizushi always has nori (seaweed) on the outside, never on the inside like California rolls. I read somewhere that in the early days of adapting sushi to the U.S., Americans did not quite take to the taste of nori, so they hid it on the inside to make it more subtle taste. I think a lot of people love nori taste now, but keeping nori inside of the rolls make “economical” sense. It uses less amount of nori per roll, since sushi-grade nori can be expensive.
  3. In Japan, you will be hard-pressed to find some common American sushi ingredients such as avocado, fake crab meat, smoked salmon or cream cheese on sushi. These are American inventions to substitute hard-to-acquire sushi ingredients. California Roll was invented in 1960s, early days of sushi in America, by a California chef who substituted the fatty texture of Toro (high quality tuna) with avocado. I have never seen it myself, but I heard some sushi chefs in Japan are using Avocado on sushi lately. So, the invention is imported back to Japan…
  4. There is no way you can find brown rice sushi in Japan. Sushi rice is very important to Japanese sushi even more than fish itself. There is no way you can achieve the right sushi texture using brown rice. I think brown rice sushi is an invention of health-conscious  American grocery store chains like Whole Foods. I love my brown rice, but not on my sushi, please…
Nigirizushi  with cherry blossom credit: Michael Philip Atkins

Difference of Japanese and American Nigiri

  1.  Nigirizushi (握り寿司), commonly called nigiri in America, are basically the same in Japan except there are varieties of raw fish available in Japan for nigiri. One key difference is that the sushi chef will put a small amount of wasabi between the rice and the fish. Not a large amount of wasabi. Wasabi is there to enhance the taste of fish and rice, not to kill your taste buds… You have to special order sushi without wasabi, but a proud sushi chef will sure to give you a look that you don’t know how to eat sushi properly.  Little children are allowed to eat sushi without wasabi in Japan…
  2. Japanese high-end sushi chefs go through years of apprenticeship and training before they are allowed serve sushi to the customers. They train how to cook sushi rice correctly for years before they are allowed to other tasks such as handling the fish. I heard it takes anywhere form 2 to 20 years to be a senior sushi chef. In America, I know there are some Sushi Chef training school to get certification, but I don’t know if you really need a certification to be employed as a sushi chef.
  3. In Japan, sushi is consumed at room temperature unless you buy a sushi package from a super market. The idea is to eat sushi at the right texture while it’s super fresh. When the sushi is chilled, it loses the natural texture quickly, and the rice tend to get dry.
  4. Correct way of eating nigiri in Japan is; use your clean fingers to pick up the sushi, turn it upside down to dip the fish side to the soy sauce (not to drench in soy sauce), and eat the sushi in one bite.  This way, sushi is not going to fall apart, or nor absorb excess amount of soy sauce. The chef is supposed to make sushi small enough for your bite. Eat pickled ginger in between to cleanse your palette. There is no mixing of Wasabi into soy sauce.  That said, I do use chop sticks to eat sushi myself, and you see plenty of Japanese people do the same in Japan. I do think dipping into the soy sauce with the fish side down is the way to go. Soy sauce drenched rice can sure kill the delicate taste of sushi. However, in casual sushi restaurants like kaiten-sushi, I don’t think anyone cares how you eat your sushi, and you can enjoy in any way you please.

When I go back to Japan, I enjoy Japanese style sushi for sure. The ingredients are so much fresher, and there are so many varieties of fish to choose from. I usually don’t buy sushi from American super markets, because I find that the sushi rice is made with too much vinegar for my taste.  However, I occasionally make sushi rolls on my own with my “invented” ingredients, such as fake crab sticks, Chinese dried pork  (pork-fu) and teriyaki cooked shiitake mushrooms. I add them to normal sushi roll ingredients such as fluffy eggs and cucumbers. I call them Yoshida rolls. So far, my rolls are quite popular with my family and friends. Next time I make them, I’ll post a picture of my famous Yoshida rolls.

Itadakimasu (いただきます).



8 thoughts on “Transformation of Sushi

  1. Yuk, brown rice sushi. I would never eat that, totally destroys the whole taste/concept of sushi!
    I have to confess I do love avocado in my sushi roll though I don’t add the mayo that some californian rolls have.


    1. Over 30 years ago, when I moved to the U.S, people thought it was repugnant to eat raw fish! Now if you don’t eat sushi and know how to critique it, you are not a foodie! I can’t find a super market here in the U.S. that does not carry some sort of sushi…. A big transformation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed. In Singapore it has become standard fare, though standards vary if you know what we mean. It helps that a lot of Japanese chefs now make this little red dot their home!


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