Genre: Popular Culture/Food/Japan/narrative non-fiction
Price: $29.95 (CAD)
On Sale: 5/29/2007
Formats: E-Book | Hardcover
The Zen of Fish on NPR
Lets start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...Sushi as the world knows it today probably had its origins in the 1600's on the streets of Kyoto. It was made by spreading vinegared rice in a box, laying whole fillets of fish on the top and compressing it with heavy stones for a few days. It was then cut into pieces like a cake.
When a terrible fire destroyed most of Edo (today's Tokyo), workers from outside the city swarmed into Edo to rebuild it. These men needed something to eat so stalls sprang up all over Edo serving "hot noodle soup", but in 1686 to prevent another fire, authorities outlawed the noodle soup and as a result vendors switched to making the Kyoto "quick sushi" which didn't require any heat in the preparation. As Edo grew and became one of Japan's major cities, so did the Sushi stalls. As time went on, the technique was modified to allow for quick preparation and by 1818, some Sushi chefs started making hand-squeezed Sushi called "nigeri" (from the Japanese for "nigiru" meaning to squeeze).
In this way, Trevor Corson, in his book "Zen of Fish" traces the social and cultural history, evolution, preparation and development of the humble Sushi from Tokyo to the US, using a California sushi academy (that trains would-be American Sushi chefs) as a backdrop. It's a clever narrative strategy because Corson uses each lesson as a jumping-off point for a discussion on sushi and fun little digressions about the ecology, biology and behavior of some of the fish used in sushi.
Truly, this book is a treasure-trove for foodies or anyone interested in Japan or Japanese food, and Corson's easy and conversational writing style makes this a hugely entertaining and informative read. I swear after you read this book you will enter into a Sushi bar with a confident swagger. I would also urge you visit Corson's blog, it is packed with fun information which you won't want to miss.
I just want to leave you with a few tasty morsels that I picked up from this feast of a book:1. First off, the word "Sushi" doesn't refer to the raw fish, instead it refers to the vinegar-seasoned rice.
2.The California roll is an American invention which is just getting popular in Japan. Corson writes that when a Japanese chef working in the US couldn't get toro (fatty tuna belly) for his Japanese customers, he combined avocado and crab meat to re-create its appealing oiliness and thus was born the much-loved California Roll.
3. We are all under the impression that sushi is healthy and low in fat compared with other fast foods but a sushi takeout box at a supermarket could easily contain as many calories as two slices of pizza! pg 27
4.Sushi should be picked up with the fingers (preferably)- and eaten in one bite. The fish should touch the tongue before the rice does and shouldn't be slathered with soy sauce and wasabi. (this point has been edited since publishing this post...I had said chopsticks should not be used, but turns out chopsticks are OK, too) pg 321
5. In real-life Japan, sushi is a man's world. The most common argument against women sushi chefs is that a woman's hands being warmer than a man's will cook the raw fish simply by handling it. Sushi is a man's world on the customer side of the bar too..a Japanese woman who walks in to eat by herself will be made to feel most unwelcome pg 53
6. Sushi bars are almost passe on the West Coast where they first started out, but have become almost as ubiquitous as hot dogs in the Midwest...even Wal-Mart seems to have got into the act with sushi counters installed in some of their Texas stores pg 133
For more surprising Sushi Facts go here
I would love to know how you feel about Sushi..do you love it or hate it? ( I can't imagine anyone being indifferent to Sushi). If you love it what is your favorite sushi to eat? I love the one with freshwater eel (picture above) it is absolutely delicious! When you go to a Sushi restaurant, do you sit at the bar or do you prefer to hide out in a booth like I do? :) And finally, if you went to a restaurant where the sushi chef was not Japanese, would you still be tempted to order the sushi, or do you, like many other people, think Sushi must be prepared by a Japanese chef? And do you have any surprising sushi facts to contribute? Or any sushi stories to share?