Disclaimer: If you are the sort of person that eats to survive, then you should stop reading, now! This is not the place where you will find the sort of budget-restricted, buffets are best, and mommy’s-home-cooking discussion about food. This is like an art gallery with fine and expensive works that require a certain level of refinement, civility, and sophistication to appreciate. You have been warned!
This is the first in a series of articles titled You Are Doing It Wrong!
In this series, I will help to close the gap between the common person
and the not so common food we all have access to thanks to globalization
and proliferating wealth (the world, after all, is getting
richer.. imagine that). Perhaps you have started to develop a taste for
Sushi, blue cheese, whiskey, or you are finally starting to realise that
a medium-rare steak actually does taste better than a medium one. You
are now at the precipice of a whole new world that lays before you, and I
will tap my years of experience doing fine dining in Singapore—the
Paris of Asia when it comes to food—to be your guide and help elevate
your experience with quality food to new heights!
Of course, I
have a reputation to uphold as a controversialist, so, rest assured
these articles will not be the boring, adjective-deprived magazine
fodder that we are all forced to read every god-damn day of our lives!
Some poor moron(s) will ALWAYS get the finger in one of my articles, and
I’ll try to spice up the writing and language to match the intricate
foods and traditions they aim to describe. So, whether you are on a diet
or simply getting yourself in shape for one, come with me on this
culinary journey and see what fine dining is all about!
can be fanatical about the standard at which they perform mundane
tasks, and the Japanese are, perhaps, the best example of this distilled
fanaticism when it comes to their international food sensation, Sushi.
There is a level of attention to detail in what they do that simply
flies over the heads of many a westerner. For those who can detect and
appreciate this endless pursuit of perfection, Asia becomes a wonderful
place to sample diligence in its finest form!
While Sushi is,
perhaps, the most renowned and easily recognized Asian food in South
Africa, next to sweet-and-sour pork, it is definitely one of the most
misunderstood Asian foods, also! First-world western countries, such as
the USA, UK, parts of Europe, and even Australia and New Zealand, have
had excellent Sushi restaurants for decades. Master Sushi chefs have
found wealth and fame in these countries while their affluent customers
devour every piece presented on the menu.
South Africa is new to the Sushi craze that has swept the world, and, sadly, it shows!
Get your facts straight!
inspiration for this article came from a shocking prevalence of
ignorance I experienced as a budding Sushi lover in South Africa. I can
tell if someone knows nothing about Sushi usually by just asking a
simple question: Do you like Sushi? When they answer, “Oh yes, I love
Chinese food,” that is when I wish I had a Katana at my side to fall
into and end my misery!
Sushi is ***JAPANESE***
for those of you too lazy to even bother with the convenience of quickly
looking it up on the internet! There is a tremendous amount of
cultural, culinary, and racial diversity in Asia, and it is insulting to
me as a resident of Asia to still see that most westerners, despite the
internet and globalization, still think of everything Asian (Sushi
included) as being ‘Chinese’ in some way.
But the desecration
does not stop there, when people get Sushi wrong, they even get the name
wrong. Sushi does not mean raw fish! The word Sushi is the name given
to any ingredient wrapped in rice and seaweed and which has that
distinctive Sushi-roll appearance to it. Sushi is a presentation style!
Raw fish, on the other hand, is called sashimi in Japanese.
A bit of history
Sushi has a central flavour theme to it that is called umami.
Umami is the sort of sweet, sour, and slightly fermented taste that
develops in foods that are preserved in a certain manner; however, in
today’s world of ‘express’ Sushi, the umami flavor is contained almost
exclusively in the soy sauce that always accompanies Sushi dishes.
Sushi was not served as it is today: The fish was fermented or
otherwise preserved and then plastered with short-grain rice and wrapped
in seaweed (raw, not processed). These were either already created in
bite-sized chunks or cut to size (as is the case with Sushi rolls).
are still Sushi restaurants in Japan that serve this traditionally
accurate Sushi, but a single platter will probably rob you of your
annual bonus. Gourmet Sushi is not cheap—especially not if you
absolutely insist on eating the best! I won’t spent more time on the
history of Sushi because the real tragedy and ignorance is unfolding in
the here and now.
And the middle-finger award goes to…
is, as you may have guessed, no point in talking about these facts and
refinements to somebody who has had malaria more times than they have
had a warm dinner. It is therefore not surprising that the southernmost
part of Africa’s recent exposure to Sushi has been met with
incomprehension while many Sushi lovers show but a shallow and mutant
form of appreciation for this culinary art form.
Too many South
Africans think that Sushi is some sort of affluent lifestyle
statement—much like Gucci handbags and Armani clothes are in Singapore.
Sushi is now the lunch and dinner of those who readily have access to
more credit than the rest of us.
I’m talking about those
Sandtonian ‘executive’ types—the sort of people who laugh at you when
you mispronounce nicoise salad (it’s pronounced nii-kwaa, by the way);
the sort of people whom you see in the mornings doing yoga in groups
next to the highway in their R3,500-a-pop unitards; the sort of people
who claim to be Buddhists (because it is fashionable in the corporate
world) and who pay more for a set of croquet clubs than their parents
evidently paid for their education.
These are the artificial
and pretentious people who give Sushi and other fine foods the
repulsive, opulent visage that puts most people off fine dining!
Snobbery and pretentiousness have never been the equivalents of
sophistication; let us be clear about that! Fine food is almost
exclusively the invention of the peasantry! When you enjoy the finest
pasta dishes at the R380 a plate at the Italian haunt near your crib,
instead of feeling classy, you should reflect on the sweeping poverty,
the scarcity of ingredients, and the near alchemical culinary diligence
and obsession of the mamas in the kitchens of Italy who created these
That, my dear snob, is the part of fine dining that is beyond and, frankly, above you!
am sick and tired of seeing celebrity chefs, opinionated food critics,
and CEOs who want to look cultured get to represent classical foods that
were never invented by them nor for them! The finest food comes from
the peasant mothers and daughters of yore who had to make due with
limited resources, and who put their love and dedication into every
dish, to give their family the only joyful experience that peasants in
previous centuries could look forward to: a satisfying meal!
there are restaurants the world over that aim to give you the very best
Sushi with the very best ingredients and preparation, at prices that
will make the Queen of England gasp, do not let this fool you! Sushi, in
its origin, is as humble as Italian pasta is, and in Japan, Sushi has
always been food for the commoner! You impress nobody with your R680
platter of Sushi when you show such a clear level of ignorance about
what you are eating the moment you ‘dig in.’ In fact, so unrefined are
your manners that I can see your pretentious face the moment you walk
through the door of the Sushi restaurant!
Which brings me to the next section:
Sushi done the right way
Please learn how to use chopsticks
before you enter a Sushi restaurant. While Nigiri Susi can be picked up
with your fingers and placed in your mouth (fish side down), almost all
the other Sushi types need to be picked up with chopsticks.
you have never eaten with chopsticks, here is how you practice the art
without embarrassing yourself in public. I always recommend wooden chop sticks
for beginners because they have more friction and thus a better grip on
food than the plastic variant. Then just eat your everyday meals with
chopsticks until you can manage a mince ball, slice of carrot, cube of
lamb, scoop of rice, etc. with ease. Eventually you will be able to pick
up individual grains of rice (I still impress people with this trick).
With the exception of steaks and other unwieldy foods, I now almost eat everything using chopsticks!
If you don’t bring your own chop sticks to a Japanese restaurant, do not clean the wood splinters off the chopsticks
they provide. This is considered rude. If you have dangerous splinters
on your chopsticks, hold them under the table and clean off the
Sashimi (the raw fish slices) is always eaten
first. You will notice in fine Sushi restaurants, that the chef always
serves your Sashimi order first.
Handrolls are to be
dabbed with a ginger slice that has been dipped in soy sauce. Do not
pour the soy sauce from the vessel onto the roll! You will oversaturate
the roll, ruin the taste, and make a mess of things, which in Japanese
culture is like letting one rip at the dinner table!
NEVER add wasabi
to the sushi itself, always add it to the soy sauce instead, and make
sure the chef does not see you doing this, because he has already placed
the appropriate amount of wasabi in the piece.
is not a salad! Ginger is to be eaten before your first piece of Sushi
enters your mouth. It is a cleanser used to remove any aftertaste you
may have in your mouth from other food or your festering halitosis. When
switching between different types of Sushi / Sashimi, the ginger can be
used to ‘reset’ your palette, so you taste each type of sushi without
the aftertaste of the previous type muting or altering the flavour.
Never EVER mix the ginger with the Sushi, a good chef will kill you, and
he will have my full support.
Each Sushi / Sashimi piece is to be eaten whole
(Handrolls being the exception). Do not try to bite a sushi piece in
half, raw fish is a tricky thing to bite through. If you are in a
higher-end Sushi restaurant, the chef will create the appropriate size
for your build and gender. Again, expect to pay a premium for this
attention to detail.
Soy sauce is artificially salty in the west
because our foods are very salty by Asian standards. You will impress
your Sushi chef and earn his respect if you politely ask for less salty
soy sauce (they usually have it because they too eat their sushi, but
using the original Japanese soy sauce).
NEVER rush the Sushi chef and NEVER tell them how to make the Sushi!
Sushi chefs train years in Japan just to learn how to make the perfect
Sushi rice, only once they master this skill (it usually takes 2-3
years) are they allowed to start working with the fish. Moreover, each
piece of sushi is handmade and requires the perfect construction. You
will get your Sushi when it is ready! If you can’t wait, go express
(walk in, walk out Sushi joints). Remember, every true Japanese chef is a
master at their craft, and just as you don’t tell a famous artist how
to paint, you don’t tell a Sushi chef how to make Sushi!
that’s about it—no books, no nonsense, just some everyday facts, a bit
of history, and a dash of etiquette! You are now ready to look like a
competent Sushi fan while you enjoy Sushi the way it was meant to be
As a follow-up, I will maybe do an article on the various
types of Sushi / Sashimi and what is best to start with when you are a
beginner. If anyone is interested in that, do post your comments in the
closing, I have to mention that Sushi is fast becoming popular with
vegetarians, as well. We all know, quite well by now, that fish and
chicken aren’t actually considered meat by many ‘vegetarians.’ Ask a
vegetarian to take you to the farms where they grow chicken and fish
trees…. Seriously, you vegetarians are ridiculous! If we really are what
we eat, then I’d rather eat animals, because they are much smarter and
more lively than stupid, passive plants, which may explain your
condition! But, this article is not about giving vegetarians more
attention (something they seem to crave and feel entitled to).
Time to share
it is your turn to tell me about your adventures with fine food. You
can also suggest a food topic that you want me to write about later in
the series, and I may just go out, sample it, review it, and write about
my experience—you getting the credit for the suggestion.