News flash, America: your favorite Japanese dish isn’t as Japanese as you think. Ask any Japanese person if they think we’ve done a good job at recreating their traditional dish and chances are you’ll get a straight no.
Here’s where we, America, went wrong.
1. Inside vs. Outside
Japan: The original sushi roll (Maki) consists of sushi rice and fish or vegetables wrapped in nori (seaweed).
America: To appeal to the western aesthetic, the traditional roll was flipped inside out. Americans like their rice on the outside and nori on the inside.
2. Simple vs. Complex
Japan: Maki sushi is simple: seaweed, sushi rice, one type of fish, and maybe some vegetables inside.
America: Sushi rolls are jam-packed and topped with different types of fish, veggies and whatever else can fit inside the roll. Exhibit A: the Rainbow Roll – snapper, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and avocado all wrapped around a California Roll.
3. Earning the “Sushi Chef” title
Japan: It takes 2-4 years of intense, stressful training to become a sushi chef. Before one can learn how to make a piece of nigiri sushi, he/she must learn how to properly cut the fish, make sushi rice and pair it with the perfect amount of wasabi. It takes two years to become a level 5 chef. To achieve the highest rank, level 1, many more years of training are needed.
America: Culinary schools, as well as cooking stores offer sushi making classes where you can learn how to make American sushi. It takes only 3 months to complete the Beginner and Advanced courses from the Sushi Institute of America. After completion, only a certificate is awarded.
4. Sushi Rice vs. Brown Rice
Japan: Sushi literally translates to vinegar rice. Sushi rice is a smaller white grained rice seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt. It takes time and a specific temperature to create perfect sushi rice.
America: In order to attract health nuts, sushi restaurants introduced brown rice as a substitute for the necessary white sushi rice.
5. Small vs. Large (and Extra Large)
Japan: Sushi is usually a one-bite kind of food. A typical roll consists of 6 small pieces.
6. Flavor Balance
Japan: The balance between the flavors of sushi rice and fish are very important in Japanese sushi. You want to be able to taste both flavors in each bite.
America: American sushi rice lacks the vinegary flavor that Japanese sushi rice is known for. A lack of balanced flavors hints at improperly prepared sushi. Tisk, tisk.
7. Rolls vs. Cones
Japan: A hand roll in Japan is cone-shaped but still made with nori.
America: Grocery store sushi stations and some restaurants incorporate waffle cones into their “hand rolls.”
So next time you think about going to a sushi restaurant here in the United States, do some research and find a traditional Japanese restaurant. You’ll thank me later. If you still don’t believe me, check out this chef’s review on our American sushi.