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 Sushi

One widely-held misconception is that sushi is raw fish. This is actually called sashimi - paper thin slices of raw fish (seabass, salmon or red snapper) or octopus, served with finely sliced ginger, shredded radish and horseradish mustard. The exquisite slicing and immaculate presentation makes this dish appetising to even the most squeamish westerner.

Sushi began in the 17th century in Tokyo. It was originally a method of preserving fish, which was covered in layers of salt and left to ferment. This dish, called narezushi, is still served today, but, not surprisingly, is an acquired taste.

In the 18th century, sushi served as decorative parcels of vinegar flavoured rice, became popular and this is how it its known today.

Many different forms of sushi are served and at a Japanese sushi bar, it is traditional to make your selection and watch the preparation.

Following Japanese minimalist tradition, you don't need much equipment to prepare sushi.

Japanese sushi chefs are incredibly skilled at slicing using a very sharp knife, called a bento knife. A bamboo mat or hot pad called a sushimaki is used to roll the sushi and a uchiwa (fan) cools the rice.

Sushi

Rice is an indispensable and much respected part of a Japanese meal. Use short-grained, sticky Japanese rice, (not to be confused with long grain Chinese rice) which can be easily lifted with chopsticks.

To every cup of cooked rice, add one tablespoon of sushi vinegar over the surface of the rice and mix in with quick cutting strokes. Fan the rice quickly to cool.

Soak sheets of nori in water, squeeze and dry out, then cut into strips. Layer the rice on to strips. Roll the nori, forming a cylindrical shape, lightly pressing the ends to secure.

Sashimi

Use fresh tuna, salmon, sole, sea bass or bream. Wash 900g fish fillet and dry thoroughly. Slice each fillet as thinly and evenly as possible using a sharp knife.

Slice one daikon into fine sticks and arrange neatly on the platter with the fish and garnish with spring onions and finely shredded ginger.

Mix two tablespoons of wasabi powder with just enough water to make a thick paste. Give each guest an individual bowl of shoyu. Guests add a little wasabi to their shoyu and use as a dip for their fish slices. Serve this dish with boiled rice as a main course, or without accompaniment as a first course.

CALIFORNIA ROLL

Step-by-step
1: The essential building block for a maki roll - the nori, or sheet of dried seaweed.

2: Smoothing the rice onto the nori is more difficult than it looks… the rice is fiendishly sticky and wet hands are the best way of dealing with it.

3: A sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds . . .

4: . . . then flip it onto the rolling mat, rice-side down.

5: Now start adding your ingredients - thinly sliced cucumber, avocado…

6: . . . slice some fresh smoked salmon.

7: Place it on top of the cucumber…

8: . . . and roll it over with the aid of the mat, making sure to keep the ingredients tucked inside.

9: Apply even pressure on the sides and top of the roll.

10: Remove the inside out maki mono roll from the rolling mat.

11: Again, apply even pressure to ensure the roll doesn't disintegrate when being cut or eaten.

12: Just a little squeeze with the base of the palm makes certain none of the ingredients squoosh out the sides.

13: Cut firmly and sharply with the blade between the fingers while maintaining pressure on the roll. Don't use a sawing motion… it's a recipe for disaster!

14: Presentation is vital - arrange the completed maki on a board in pairs and . . .

15: . . . add the finishing touches, a mound of pickled ginger and wasabi.

Sushi etiquette
Don't make a soy-wasabi soup . . . It'll make a grown sushi chef cry. The wasabi paralyses the palate and makes it incapable of appreciating the delicate, subtle flavours of the fish.

Use soy sauce sparingly. The idea is to taste the fish, not be overwhelmed by salty soy sauce or wasabi.

Don't dip the rice side of nigiri in the soy - it'll suck up too much soy and also make your mouthful of sushi disintegrate. Apply the fish side to the soy.

Don't eat the pickled ginger with the sushi. It's only for freshening your palate in between mouthfuls or different kinds of fish.

Use the back end of your chopsticks to lift a piece of sushi from a communal plate or board. It's considered rude to use the sharp ends of your chopsticks - because those are the ends that have been in your mouth!

Start with lighter, more delicate flavoured fish before moving onto the fattier, heavier ones such as tuna.

Don't eat sashimi with your fingers. Eating maki rolls without chopsticks is perfectly acceptable though.

What's what
maki rolls - strips of fish or vegetable, rolled with sticky vinegared rice and wrapped in crisp, thin sheets of dried seaweed (nori)

nigiri - slices of fresh fish pressed by hand onto a pad of vinegared rice

sashimi - chilled, fresh, raw slices of fish, elegantly arranged and presented

Matches that work
Beer, green tea or sake are recommended, although single malt whiskies make a surprisingly good match too.

Useful sushi terms
omakase: literally "at the chef's preference". You leave yourself in the hands of the sushi chef since he knows what is fresh and will serve you sushi in the right order.

okonomi: your own preference. You choose what you wish to eat and in what order.

itamae: a classically trained sushi chef who has served a lengthy apprenticeship

shokunin - someone who makes sushi, having picked up a few professional skills but without the formal training

namida - a colloquial or slang term for wasabi and literally translated means "tears". Anyone who's had too much wasabi will be able to relate to this…and its nostril-clearing properties too!

Breaking sushi records
In March 2003 at Shimizu City in Shizuoka, Japan, a tuna roll (tekka maki) was made using 100kg of fresh tuna and 300kg of rice.

The Guinness Record belongs to a kappa maki (cucumber roll) that was made at the Toyota Sports Centre in Aichi, Japan in September 2000. More than 1600kg of sushi rice was used and it fed 3000 people!

The longest sushi conveyor belt is 129m and can be found at Sakae Sushi in Singapore.

The oldest sushi shop - Sushiman - in the world is in Osaka, Japan and has been operating since 1653.

The most expensive fish used for sushi was a 202kg bluefin tuna bought at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo for $173 853 (R1 251 741) in January 2003.

Want to make your own?
Wasabi restaurant set up a Sushi Academy three years ago to educate people in the art of sushi making. Courses are either held in the evening or when there are sufficient numbers to justify a once-off course.

The essentials are covered - making the rice, filleting and cutting fish, making maki/California or hand rolls as well as nigiri.