Saturday 25 March 2017

Sushi: Special Occasions Only!

A picture of various kinds of home-delivered sushi in a decorative pseudo-laquerware box called a sushi-oke
A selection of home-delivered sushi in a sushi-oke
Nothing may seem more Japanese than sushi (寿司), but in everyday Japan sushi is for the most part eaten only on special occasions, such as a birthday or other celebration (oiwai).  Indeed, the first kanji in sushi is also read kotobuki, meaning congratulations, felicitations, or best wishes. Non-Japanese guests are typically treated to sushi, perhaps cementing the image that Japanese eat raw fish all the time. But for the ordinary Japanese it is an expensive luxury. The busy Tokyo office worker popping out to grab lunch is much less likely than his or her London counterpart to pick up sushi; indeed, convenience stores tend to have little if any sushi, with onigiri (rice-balls), nori-maki (seaweed rolls), or sandwiches/bread much more common. Conversely, a Japanese tourist seeing "sushi" in a London shop is often horrified at the lack of freshness and the fact that it is over-chilled.

When Japanese do eat sushi, freshness is everything and buying directly from a supermarket with a fresh fish section where the fish are cut up before your eyes is a popular option. The more expensive option is to get it delivered; in this case, it usually arrives in a sushi-oke (pictured above), a round plastic pseudo-lacquerware box that must be returned (it is typically placed outside the door to your house or apartment block after eating so that it can be picked up later). Sushi will come with soy sauce, wasabi (unless you specifically ask for no wasabi), and ginger slices. A slice of ginger should be taken between each piece to refresh and reset the palate. The top three most popular fish in Japan for sushi are salmon, hamachi or Japanese young amberjack, and red tuna.