2010年秋天，我接了一個 case，幫一家位於西雅圖叫做 Restauranteers 的 start-up 寫關於吃食的稿子，他們說，希望很快地這個工作可以從無給變成有給，不過寫了七篇稿子後，無給還是無給，連個餐廳打折卷也沒賺到。不過當初接下這個工作，主要是因為我愛吃，也愛煮菜，對於美食相當有興趣，也順便藉著這個機會強迫自己多用英文寫作。最後，無給的工作果然撐不長，我就悄悄地從作者群消失了。回頭看看寫的那些文章，大部分都蠻 cheesy 的，因為他們要求簡短和商業化，所以寫了像是「吃港式飲茶的秘技」、「好吃的豆腐菜」、「水果也可以煮來吃」、「Belluvue 的鼎泰豐」等等自己也不是很驕傲的稿子。不過其他的還可以，所以把那些還可以的轉過來我的個人網站，做個紀念。
I love sushi. I have had plenty of encounters with sushi when I had to close my eyes to fully comprehend the experience. The bliss, brought by a balanced combo of superb distinct ingredients, was so overwhelming that I had to shut down one of my senses to accommodate it. To realize what makes good sushi has become one of my major gourmet quests.
Many people would say high quality fresh fish or seafood is the key. Indeed. It is the star of sushi and usually the most memorable item. I ate once at a sushi bar in San Diego that orders sea urchins daily from the port to accommodate orders of uni nigiri. That was still the best uni nigiri I have ever tasted. However, fish is only part of the game. You can have high quality fresh fish but still mediocre sushi. There are many subjective and objective factors to consider in order to ensure a great sushi restaurant experience. The following suggestions will help you to coin an enjoyable personal sushi experience.
1. Find a personable and professional sushi chef
It takes years of discipline to become a bona fide sushi chef. I love to sit at the bar and interact with the sushi chefs. A good sushi chef knows his customers and offers great advice and guidance. For example, I have learned that the order in which I decide to eat my sushi pieces will help to guarantee that I enjoy every bite. I have been told to start with more bland white fish and end with rich fatty tuna.
A friend of mine learned from a chef at Shiro’s that some nigiri pieces do not need dipping sauce and should be eaten as is. Some sushi restaurants provide customized dipping sauce rather than the regular soy sauce. Certain types of fish slices are flavored when the sushi is prepared, and customers should not use dipping sauce to ruin the intended taste.
2. Understand that rice is the backbone of sushi
Sushi is defined as cold, cooked rice dressed in vinegar and usually topped or rolled with fish. Rice is the foundation of good sushi. Some sushi experts suggest eating an omelette nigiri as the first piece to assess the vinegar mixture. The proportion of rice and other ingredients is also important. Some say the topping of a nigiri should completely cover the rice; others claim that you need to be able to see the rice underneath the topping to observe the integrity of the rice ball. A golden ratio of rice and fish varies based on the ingredients used. A good piece of sushi offers an integrated experience: the final swallow should never be rice or fish alone. In addition, the size of sushi is important – it cannot be too big to put in the mouth. A big piece might make you feel like you got your “bang for your buck,” but in my opinion it kills the integrity and therefore sacrifices the continuous sensation.
3. Let every ingredient talk
While good sushi offers a united front, a basic principle of Japanese cuisine should always be present: let every ingredient talk. All the ingredients have a stance and they collaborate with each other to deliver the finest balance. For example, the seaweed paper is toasted to maintain the crispiness and enhance the aroma. No ingredient can dominate and impede on the presence of other ingredients. For example, avocado is an excellent addition to the sushi family. It has a smooth texture similar to the creamy taste of fatty fish but it does not have a distinct flavor to compete for the leading role. Excessive jalapeno and thin lemon slices on top of a shrimp tempura maki is definitely a fusion failure. The setup of sushi allows infinite possibilities of a creative fusion; however, each participating ingredient needs to have a voice.
4. Don’t overlook the accompaniments
Pickled ginger slices and wasabi are the typical sushi accompaniments. Be sure to eat a slice of pickled ginger between sushi pieces. Ginger sweeps out the residue from the previous piece and refreshes your taste buds to welcome the next enjoyment. Wasabi was introduced as a sushi accompaniment because of its antibacterial quality. With just a small amount, it can enhance the sushi experience. Most sushi restaurants use wasabi paste or wasabi powder; however, if you stumble upon a sushi restaurant which uses freshly grated wasabi, you will be impressed by the obvious difference. Fresh wasabi is often a good enough reason for me to become a regular customer at a sushi restaurant.
Great sushi is a fine balance achieved by the right distribution of solid individual ingredients. Use the right amount of condiments to enhance the flavor. Follow the guidance of a trustworthy sushi chef. Allow every encounter with sushi to be so fulfilling that you have to close your eyes to fully comprehend the experience.