A Beginner's Guide to Sushi for the Picky Eater
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
You know that feeling when your food arrives at a restaurant? Now imagine it happening six times in one meal. That’s the all-you-can-eat sushi experience.
Have you ever been invited out for sushi and then avoided it because you were freaked out by raw fish? What about when you’ve seen pretty bright colours of the rolls or sashimi across Instagram or Snapchat stories and wondered if you’re missing out? Well, here’s a beginner’s guide for all the hesitant, picky and now generally curious eaters.
Many all-you-can-eat (AYCE) sushi places feature tablet ordering: you get to pick what you wish to order and the quantity of each item. Side note: contrary to the early on belief of Lindsey Feltis, Founder of Laurier's Sushi Lover's Association, AYCE is not a mass conglomerate of sushi franchises. This is great because you can test out the minimum quantity and then get more of what you actually enjoyed. Be careful not to order too much though! It’s always best when each person only orders what they actually want and has room in their stomach to eat. This is to prevent leftovers, since most places will charge you per item if you do not consume them at the restaurant. You can almost always order more, so just get a few things at a time!
Here’s what you’re really here for … the food breakdown.
Seaweed – It is usually chewy and gives the sensation of breaking through a light papery flake. Very satisfying, if you ask me.
Raw Fish – The flavour itself depends on the fish, but generally it is soft and breaks apart easily. Some types are a little bit tougher, but eating it is overall similar to the sensation of a very smooth gummy candy with less chewing required to break it up.
Sticky Rice – It is chewy and because it primarily sticks together in a roll or little bundle, you avoid the little granule texture feeling that weirds some people out.
Fish Roe – Yep, these are fish eggs. Let me calm you down though: they’re essentially red tiny Boba balls in texture. They don’t have much flavour, but can be fun to pop in your mouth.
Maki – “Maki” means roll and usually comes cut into four to eight pieces. My favourite ones are Red Dragon Rolls with tempura crab, spicy mayo and avocado, rolled with rice and seaweed, plus fish roe on top. However, Maki come in a variety of combinations. Depending on what is inside and on top, you can have crunchy, spicy, smooth, sweet or salty experiences. These range from fruit and cheese-filled rolls, to fried and saucy. You can also get vegetarian rolls that do not include meat or fish.
Sushi – This is actually the small bundles of rice with fish or fruit placed over top. There is sometimes one band of seaweed to hold it together. Salmon is my ultimate favourite for sushi and maki, but this is a North American custom that resulted from a fusion of food from different places and is not typical of sushi found in Japan. I also enjoy red snapper, a tougher fish; white tuna, which is salty and smooth; as well as salty red tuna. Crab is more challenging to fit in your mouth due to the length of the cut, but I love the buttery taste.
For when there seems to be some interesting stuff already on the table:
That extremely dark liquid stuff that people pour into a small dish is simply soy sauce. Some people dip everything in it, while others don’t use it at all. I personally dip basic rolls and sushi in it, but if the maki has sauces or many flavours inside then I just skip the soy sauce.
The green paste is actually wasabi. Some sushi-goers will take a pea sized amount and mix it into their soy sauce dish. It is spicy, so I personally avoid it.
The pinkish golden fibres are pickled ginger. I still have not tried this, but many people like it.
Trying to keep away from the sea? Cheese wontons, beef short ribs, chicken or beef skewers, edamame and dumplings are all common picks. Many sushi restaurants also offer other cuisines to help the pickiest of eaters and provide a well-rounded dining experience.
No matter how full you seem, dessert is a must-have. The cakes and other sweet treats are often mediocre, but the ice cream is the real deal. Green tea and red bean are AYCE favourites, but many places will carry the standard strawberry, vanilla, chocolate and even mango.
Wondering about chopsticks? The easiest thing to do is grab on the lower half of the chopsticks in order to have more control. When picking up a piece, use the top stick to press into the food and push it against the bottom stick or the one closest to you. The bottom one can kind of rest on your thumb then just use the other side to adjust the space between the two. In order to grab an item, grab the widest and lowest part to ensure the piece stays all together. It all just takes practice and after you use them a few times your fingers will adapt to the chopsticks and get the food in your mouth faster than you could have ever imagined.
Another important tip: Rice will fill you up. If you want to get more bang for your buck try getting items with less rice, so you can try a greater variety of items.
Going for sushi is the most fun with a small group because people often let you try some of their items without you having to commit to six pieces. The table gets filled with a variety of delicious food and many items will be bright and colourful. It’s a perfect bonding activity with friends and the excitement of seeing what everyone ordered makes eating with a new group of people a fun experience. Gather up some friends and take the plunge; even if you don’t love it, you won’t know until you try!
*Originally posted by Her Campus Wilfrid Laurier on November 25, 2018.