Japanese street food? I must be joking! No I am not!
Japanese cuisine is considered one of the World’s greatest and finest cuisines. In the older days, among the upper class, Japanese meal would be brought on serving trays called Zen.
In Lebanon, I used to pay high bills for the quality of ingredients and presentation of a tray of Sushi. Unlike Australia, where a Sushi roll costs less than a McDonald’s burger; pre-packaged and widely consumed along with another Japanese snack “Takoyaki”; a ball shaped Japanese octopus dumplings, invented by a street vendor from Osaka, named Tomekichi Endo in 1935.
The good news of traditional Japanese food is the low uses of red meat, dairy products, and oil. The bad news is the extreme consumption of soy sauce and miso that are very high in salt. While one can extend your life, the other can literally kill you.
Japanese cuisine has developed over the past 2,000 years with strong influences from both China and Korea and the introduction of rice around 400 B.C.
Religion has also played a major part in Japan’s culinary development when Buddhism became the official religion of the country during the 6th century and prohibited the consumption of eating “four-legged creatures”.
In the absence of meat, fish was a significant substitute and Sushi was invented as a means of preserving fish by fermenting it in boiled rice for one or two weeks to prevent proliferation of the bacteria that bring about putrefaction, until the Edo Period between 1600 and 1867, when sushi became a daily consumption.
In Australia, Sushi is much more popular than Takoyaki, You can buy sushi for as low as $2.00 per roll, or a sushi tray starting from $6.00. My favourite is Andy’s at North Sydney were 3 rolls are sold for $6.00. Sushi trains are more expensive and priced per plate, starting at $3.00 for a standard sushi up to $6.00 for sashimi. Takoyaki is available at some sushi stands, particularly in the city for $2.70 per skewer of 4 dumplings.
To make sushi at home is quite a challenge the first time especially when your intention is to create a sushi roll and you finish up with an edible bazooka! Supermarkets sell Sushi kits for $12.00 if you insist on making yours at home, and the recipe below is simple:
Rinse 1 cup short-grain rice under cold water and drain well. Place rice and 2 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Decrease heat to low and simmer uncovered for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand with lid on for a further 10 minutes.
Place rice in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of caster sugar, 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt, and pour over rice. Stir to combine. Cover a flat tray with aluminum foil and spread rice on it to cool. The rice should be completely cool before using.
Choose from a variety of fillings e.g. fresh salmon and avocado, etc… Prepare the fish and vegetables by slicing into batons about 5cm long. Set aside. Meanwhile, combine another 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar and 300ml cold water in a bowl.
Place 1 nori sheet at a time, shiny-side down, on a non-stick baking paper (or a bamboo mat if you have one). Make sure longest edge of nori is at top of mat. Dip hands in water mixture (to prevent rice from sticking) and spread a quarter of rice over bottom two-thirds of nori, leaving a small border around edge.
Spread a thin line of wasabi along the middle of the rice and arrange a little of the fish and vegetables alongside the wasabi. Gently lift the end of the mat closest to you, and roll it over the ingredients to enclose.
Continue rolling the mat forward to make a complete roll. With one hand on top, gently roll mat back and forth a few times to make a nice round shape. Use a sharp knife to slice the rolls at 2cm intervals. Serve with pickled ginger, soy sauce and extra wasabi.
If you fail rolling your first sushi, I console you with a wise Japanese saying: “nanakorobi yaoki” – perseverance is better than defeat!