Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Of moons, tides, and sushi

Image from A Charmed Life blog
Why Celeste?  A friend called me it the day I was starting this blog and it spoke to my soul.  In Spanish, it means Celestial, which is heavenly, the visible or invisible heavens, the stars.  I did some searching and found that it is a form of the name Selena, the Greek primordial goddess of the moon, before Artemis took over that role.  Selena is Luna to the Romans, who was replaced by Diana, Artemis' equivalent.  Luna's name is where we get lunar, of the moon.

But what does the moon have to do with food?  Many things.  I think anything can be related to food if you dig deep enough.  I'll focus on one.  The moon controls the tides.  And tides control when fisherman can go out to fish, and where the fish will be.  Fish has long been a large source of food for coastal areas, and those along rivers and lakes.  Many people in the world eat fish.  In fact, fish is the only meat traditionally allowed to be eaten on Friday (and originally Wednesday) was fish.  This was because meat was a luxury item for most people and was expensive, while anyone could raise vegetables or fish for fish.  The fasts on Wednesday and Friday abstained from most meat and ate vegetables and fish because you were controlling your body, not giving it luxury items.

It's the opposite here in Wyoming.  Beef is plentiful, being a ranching state, but sea food is expensive because it has to be shipped in from the coast.  There are local fish, but they aren't real big at this high elevation and with the small sizes of the lakes, rivers, and streams.  A creek in Western Oregon is wider and deeper than a river in most of Wyoming.  Also, the type of fish that are native aren't the type of fish served in most restaurants.

You have to be careful with sea food in Wyoming.  Because of how far it has to travel, sea food can be kind of nasty tasting at times.  Some restaurants are good, some very bad.  You just have to learn which is which.

Caterpillar roll 
One way I like sea food is as sushi.  It's expensive, so I don't have it often.  Most Americans think sushi means raw fish, but this isn't the case.  It is the rice, made a specific way, that makes it sushi.  There are many types of sushi, but without the rice it isn't sushi.  Raw fish by its self is sashimi, not sushi.  I've made sushi at home.  The rice, i do pretty good with, but when I make rolls and such, they aren't the works of art they are in restaurants.

My partner was always saying I would love sushi, so finally I tried it.  I wouldn't eat any with raw fish, because of the dangers of raw meat being drummed into me by my nutritionist mother.  I walked over to the Sushi Boat and ate a roll that looked good called a Sunset Roll.  I loved it.  I went back fairly often and tried several rolls.  But only off the cooked menu, not the raw one.

For my birthday, I went there with all the people who worked under me.  I was a manager then.  The supervisor under me, who I consider a good friend (I was even in his wedding), ordered a roll with spicy tuna in it.  Raw spicy tuna.  He insisted I try at least one piece because he was convinced I'd like it.  I did, and he was right.  My database administrator had also ordered a roll with raw fish.  It had thin slabs of raw salmon on top.  I actually liked it better.  Ever after that, I've been trying various raw fish sushi.

Store bought pre-packaged
sushi doesn't look like art,
and I think it has a nasty texture.
At some point I read part of Sushi by Kimiko Barber (I'm pretty sure that was the book anyway).  I learned a few things from it.  First of all, I learned about soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger.  Most Americans dump soy sauce in the provided dish, then mix in liberal amounts of wasabi and douse the pieces of sushi in this mixture.  I found out that first of all, in Japan, adding wasabi tells the the sushi chef that he (I've never seen a female sushi chef; why is that?) didn't put enough wasabi on it when he made it.  It is an insult to him and dishonors him.  You only do it if you are really upset at how he made it.  Unless you think he did it wrong, you should enjoy it the way he made it, the way he intended it to be eaten.  In America, the chefs ignore this, since most Americans don't know better.

With soy sauce, the author said too much will hide the tastes the chef intended.  He recommended that if you do dip it in soy sauce that you do your best to only get the rice in it, not the rest.  Though he felt it was better to avoid it all together and enjoy it the way it was intended.

Ginger isn't a garnish to put on the sushi.  It is to clear your pallet, like the pieces of neutral bread you get at wine tastings.  Don't put the ginger on your sushi.  Tear off a small piece and chew it, swallow it, before each piece of sushi.  This will clear it of other tastes, your drink, previous pieces of sushi, soup or salad.  You will get a better idea of what the piece really tastes like if you do this.

Yellowtail nigiri and Japanese
snapper nigiri
The part I really liked from the book, though, was the discussion of senses.  Sushi is art, and is intended to be enjoyed with all the senses.  First, the ginger.  Then, you start by looking at the piece of art that is the sushi.  The layout and looks, the colours and patterns, are all very much a thing of beauty.  Then touch.  He recommended using your fingers instead of chop sticks.  Pick it up between your fingers.  Feel what it feels like.  Raise it to your nose.  Smell it.  And then put the whole piece in your mouth.  If you just take bites, you don't get all the tastes together.  Chew it slowly, enjoying the feel (touch again) of it in your mouth, between your teeth, against your tongue.  Listen to the sound of your chewing.  Relish the tastes, who they combine.  Swallow.  Give it time before you eat or drink anything else to enjoy the lingering tastes and to remember the sensations.  When I started doing this, I enjoyed sushi all the more.

I've found that a majority of the people I know that like sushi primarily eat the rolls.  Rolls are easier to share than nigiri sushi, so maybe this is why.  I like rolls, but I prefer nigiri.  Nigiri is sushi rice topped with something, usually raw fish.  It's either a small roll of nori (sea weed) with rice in the middle with the fish or whatever piled on top of it or it's a finger of sushi rice with something on top.  Most places, only two pieces come with each order.  Most rolls have eight pieces, so it's easier to share.  A roll is typically more expensive than an order of nigiri, but ends up cheaper for the same amount of food.

Squid nigiri and scallop nigiri
I've tried all types of sushi, and enjoyed most of it.  But there was one bad experience.  While in Memphis, I was ordering sushi and sea urchin was on the menu.  No place I'd ever been had had it, so i decided to try it. They brought it out first because it goes bad very quickly in the air.  The recommended I eat it right away instead of waiting for the other sushi.  It was the first type I described, a cylinder of rice in nori with the sea urchin piled on top.  It was reddish tan, and looked kind of spongy, with tiny tiny holes like where bubbles might have been.  I took it and put it in my mouth.  Slowly is a bad idea with sea urchin.  It tastes good at first, and the texture isn't too bad, but it reacts and melts in your mouth, changing taste and texture.  It turned very nasty.  I made it through the first piece but had to spit out the second because it was just too much.  For the rest of the day thigns kept smelling like it, and the imagined smell turned my stomach.  I will never eat sea urchin again.


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