Sushi à la Carte

by Chikashi

I have noticed that we Japanese tend to eat sushi a little differently from many Westerners.  The difference in method is worth reviewing but not necessarily interesting in and of itself.  What interests me is, why do many Westerners eat sushi the way they do?  I know why we eat it the way we do, but I have never actually quizzed the Brunette about why her lot do it the way they do.

The soy sauce is what the Japanese and Western methods share in common.  It is also where we differ quite considerably.

We start by pouring a small amount of soy sauce in the saucer, approximately a tablespoon of it, perhaps a little less, certainly not much more.  If we exhaust the portion poured, then we can always pour a bit more.  In this regard, we share the same view as the Italians with respect to a double espresso, which is essentially an American concept.

Westerners tend to fill the saucer almost completely with soy sauce, taking full advantage of the receptacle’s interior capacity.  Fill ‘er up!  A nice, deep, dark dip.

Historical trivia:  Drinking a large bottle (about 2 litres) of soy sauce was one of the popular and effective ways to take one’s life.  How else can one consume such a phenomenal amount of sodium so efficiently?  It is a bit painful as one goes into shock before achieving the final result, but it is somewhat less onerous than slicing one’s gut open, which, unlike the soy sauce method, requires a bit of skill, strength and equipment, some or all of which may be lacking in some circumstances.  Unlike hanging or jumping, one can deploy the method anywhere, any time, without assistance or too much mess.

Once the soy sauce is poured, then we take a piece of sushi with either our chopsticks or with our fingers, turn it upside down and dip a small part of the fish in soy sauce.  The rice does not touch the soy sauce lest the rice soak up the soy sauce and become not only too salty but also lose the handmade form.  We also prefer that the soy sauce not overwhelm the flavour of the whole piece.

We have our sushi dip its metaphorical toe in the water.  It is the same principle with maki sushi where the rice actually does touch the soy sauce.

Many Westerners dip the rice in the soy sauce.  Some give it a little time to allow the rice to absorb as much soy sauce as it can from the bottom.  Some roll it around to make sure that the soy sauce is applied on the fish as well as ensuring that all sides of the rice are comprehensively dripping in soy sauce. (Was it Dante that coined that versatile expression ‘Effing hell!’?) In the land of food allergies of epidemic proportions, the most colourful range of intolerance and unqualified phobia of certain ingredients, one routinely sees people specifically requesting low-sodium soy sauce and using the same method, which is an absorbing sight to behold.

Many Westerners have their sushi take a full-on dive into the deep, dark abyss.

We add a bit of flavouring to the fish using a bit of soy sauce but allow the fish to do the proverbial talking rather than putting a pillow over its face, waiting until it stops breathing and then chewing it just to fill up our stomachs.

If the topping is salty enough to start, then we do not use soy sauce at all.  A good example is salmon roe.  However, it seems that our respective notions of ‘salty enough’ is where there may be an irreconcilable difference.  A spanner gets thrown into the whole discussion when a sugary piece, such as the grilled sea eel or eel, is dipped in soy sauce, and the whole discussion enters a twilight zone.

I have no qualms about our difference because I see no benefit resulting from a reconciliation or compromise.  Conveniently, individual pieces of sushi are not meant to be shared, so there is no risk of conflict.  However, it does make me wonder why.

Was it that incestuous Hamlet that enquired ‘sushi with soy sauce, or soy sauce with sushi?’