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  • Writer's pictureCarl Rosa

Sushi Rice...The Rice...The Rice

Updated: Mar 23

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There are misconceptions that clearly benefit restaurants…and there are misconceptions that definitely benefit the customers.  I’m not going to debate the ethics of either…but misconceptions can be used to each of their advantages.

For example – In the early 2000s, a sandwich shop in Dallas advertised that they used a special cheddar cheese.  They would advertise the following: ‘We use a special cheddar cheese that is made by scalding the curds at high temperatures to remove the whey and we pride ourselves on this level of quality.’  Customers read it…believed it, casually mentioned it to their friends and co-workers, talking about this special cheddar cheese for the tastiest of sandwiches.   But what the customers didn't know is that common, garden variety cheddar cheese is made that way.   So, the sandwich shop is bragging about something that is a common ingredient for anyone.  Do the customers know the difference?  Nope.  They’re not ‘cheese experts.’  This business used a simple misconception to their advantage.  They were well aware that customers didn’t know the difference, so they made this irrelevant fact a great selling point.  They’re simply using the customer’s lack of knowledge to their benefit.  The sandwich shop was actually telling the truth.  The customer simply believed it was a factor of great quality.  And over time, it translated to a boost in sales.

Here's one from the other side of the fence.  I know one lady (let’s call her Angie) who enjoys bringing her own spicy mayo into a sushi restaurant because she can turn an ordinary, $6 California Roll into a spicy California Roll without adding an up-charge.  She keeps the spicy mayo in a small squeeze bottle in her purse.  If a waiter sees her pulling the sauce out and squeezing it on her sushi, he might say – “Mam, I’m so sorry...but we don’t allow you to bring outside food into our establishment.”  She usually replies – “Oh…I bring this because it’s gluten free.  I cannot have gluten.”  The waiter instantly says – “Oh, now I understand.  Makes sense.  Enjoy your meal.”    The waiter doesn’t realize that most mayos do not contain gluten in the first place.  And even if they do, it’s usually an insignificant amount.  Angie is simply using the waiter’s lack of knowledge to save a buck or two.

Restaurants do it to the customers.  Customers do it to the restaurants.  It’s a reality in the food world; cost of doing business. And in the sushi world, there's about 15 of these little tricks that are used quite often.  In fact, when I started drafting this blog post, I wasn’t sure which one to use.  There are several forms of quick-trickery that immediately come to mind.  But one of the biggest misconceptions that sushi spots use on their customers is this – they push the idea of ‘the freshest fish.’ The sushi itself is the rice.  The fish, veggie or egg is the secondary ingredient and top quality sushi rice takes YEARS to master. In fact, (if I may brag for a moment) I have sampled the finest sushi in the world for the past 18 years of my life.  I’m a tour guide to Japan, which allows me to travel to the greatest sushi spots, secure seats for my tour members and sit among with them and dine in spots that are legendary in Japan.

Sushi Saito

Sukiyabashi Jiro

Ginza Sushi Ko

And many others.

Now…do these premier sushi spots consider the fish, seafood, vegetables and egg extremely important?  Absolutely.  The varieties of fish, nikiri sauce, egg and marinated proteins are considered critical.  They’ll admit that themselves.  Their daily choices of proteins and fermented concoctions mean a great deal to the chefs and they take them very seriously. But I’ll tell you a little secret – if the sushi rice isn’t suitable….’no sushi for you.’   Zero. The very definition of sushi is – Cooked, vinegared Rice.  Without this – you…can’t…have…sushi.

There’s a fantastic 2-minute video of the late chef Anthony Bourdain speaking to one of the greatest sushi chefs alive today – Master Chef Naomichi Yasuda.  Within the video, you learn three undeniable things:

First – the fish isn’t ‘as fresh as possible.’  Like any protein, such as beef, it has to age.  The freshest fish isn’t the best for sushi.  Extremely fresh fish is usually too chewy and tough to eat.

Secondly, most fish needs to freeze for a period of time to ensure it properly cures and is safe to consume.

And third, and most important, the rice is about 90% of sushi.  The residual ingredients, the remaining 10%, is comprised of the fish, soy sauce, nikiri sauce, wasabi and other incidentals.

The rice comes first…the fish or seafood is a distant second.

Now, if you disagree with that fact, you’re disagreeing with the finest sushi chefs in the world, not with me.  I follow the guidance of the masters. Sushi bars in the USA will tout all of the phenomenal fish and special ingredients to wow the client…while the sushi itself (the rice) might be cold, flavorless and a disgrace to the industry. Always remember that the rice comes first - warm (or even slightly warm), well-flavored with vinegar, a sticky surface and a suitable consistency.  It shouldn’t be tightly formed or remarkably flimsy to the touch.  If you chew it, it shouldn’t have the consistency of a tennis ball nor should it fall apart when you pick it up off the plate. If you receive quality rice at a sushi spot, you’ve reached the goal line.  I would enjoy that meal, sit at the sushi bar, order lots of delicious items, chat with the sushi chef and rack up a sizable bill with a big smile on my face.  Kudos the chef and kudos to the customer. But if I sit down at the sushi bar and the chef informs of their latest ‘freshest fish options’ while serving me sushi rice that has little to no flavor and feels like it came from the refrigerator….well, that ain’t happening.

Focus on the fundamentals, not popular misconceptions.  The basics mean a great deal.  After that, almost everything falls into place.


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