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Nigiri Sushi

Whenever I see sushi discussed here, I personally want to know how good the nigiri(fish on top of rice)and ONLY the nigiri is. I don't care at all about the Godzilla roll, or the Titanic roll or the(fill-in-the-name-of-the-city)roll, etc. IMO, the only way you can judge the true worth of a sushi bar is by the freshness and quality of the nigiri. As far as I'm concerned, those who go for the "chef's creations" or to try the latest rolls aren't eating sushi, they are just being trendy. I only eat nigiri(with a very occasional california roll)and I don't even use soy sauce, just straight wasabi. Is anybody here of the same persuasion?

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  1. Well... I think it really depends.
    To be honest, I rarely even order NIGIRI and prefer to order sashimi or occasionally the chirashi zushi. And this works for most times I feel like having delicious fresh fish.

    Sometimes, though, I will admit it's nice to have a roll and there are some innovative chefs here in the US who are doing good and interesting things with rolls. I really don't think there's anything wrong with a cuisine being adapted to meet the tastes of locals in a country and sometimes this can grow to become a delicious thing of it's own.

    In general, though, I agree that when asking for sushi reccommendations, I would prefer to know primarily about the freshness of the fish.
    One thing, though, the fish ontop of the rice in nigiri sushi is generally referred to as the "neta," not the "nigiri." Just thought I would mention it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: linlinchan

      neta is just the fish. I was referring to the fish AND rice, the entire combination.

      1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

        Sorry. Rereading your post, I can see what you mean.

    2. Nope, not me, not of the same persuasion. I love to see what combinations the chef might use to give different flavors and textures. I love the Dragon roll and the combo of the eel and the tuna is great. i usually order a platter of sushi and a couple of rolls, one an old standard and one a new try-for.

      To your point of wanting comments on the fish. Maybe asking people comments on sashimi versus sushi will give you more desired results. Its the rice in the dish that's the sushi, not the fish.

      I do not understand why anyone who likes sushi orders a California roll. No guts no glory and eating cooked bottom eaters shaped and colored to look like a crab leg, a little avocado and some sushi rice is not my idea of dining.

      1. I'm with you. I generally judge a "sushi" restuarant by its sashimi.

        1. I base it on the combination of the sashimi & nigiri-sushi.

          Sashimi, for the fish itself; and the nigiri for how the rice is prepared (loose/packed tightly, amount of vinegar, how well the rice is cooked, taste of the rice, ratio of rice to fish).

          My mother goes one step further: she, like linlinchan, also considers chirashi sushi. Though in her 70s, she can still use her mojo to obtain samples of what the chefs are preparing amongst--and for--themselves.

          1 Reply
          1. re: OCAnn

            I too love chirashi and, when available, will usually order that on my first visit to a sushi bar. It lets me judge the quality of several fish types, the sushi rice, and the artistic sense of the chef. I also consider it a better deal as I usually get more food for the same money as I would with a nigiri combo.


          2. I am the same. If I am trying out a sushi joint the first time, I will definitely go for sashimi or the nigiri. After that, I may order a 'special' roll but I typically stick to the nigiri sushi. www.mishsplayground.com

            1. Since this has been debated before, here's another thread that discusses the same topic.


              1 Reply
              1. Maki sushi (the "rolls", though the traditional ones are MUCH more simplistic than California Rolls and its progeny) are also worth appreciating too. I love good nigiri but will occasionally order "modernized" rolls as well (it really depends which "Japanese" restaurants I'm going, if I get dragged by friends to go to places where I think the fish will be sub-par... I'll probably opt for the various avocado-laden, teriyaki sauce drenched rolls).

                I can never enjoy wasabi straight-up, I tried, but no can do.

                2 Replies
                1. re: AquaW

                  AquaW - Try real wasabi. Azami Sushi serves it, as does Sushi Iki and a few others. It is a completely different experience; it does not have the burn, like the green horseradish, but it does have a lot of flavor which nicely complements the fish.

                  1. re: liu

                    I have (@ Azami & other places), still a bit too pungent for my liking -- it's tolerable and I'll eat it alone sometimes, but my preference is still with the soy.

                2. Gee, I never thought of myself as "trendy" just for eating a roll of some sort. Given my hopelessly unhip orientation towards life in general, I thought I was just eating some flavors I enjoy. Of course the prime criteria for sushi should be the fish quality, but like burritos, Italian, and pretty much every kind of food that starts off as "ethnic" in America it gets corrupted and adapted and blended. If we were all such purists we'd still be eating roast leg of wildebeast cooked over a camnpfire.

                  1. Straight wasabi? I thought I was the only one - I think any amount of soy sauce disguises the taste of the fish.

                    However, for what it's worth, the Japanese go in for dozens of odd rolls, from spam roll to hot dog or even (no, please, no!) spaghetti. Call me a liar, but I've seen it.

                    Actually, a roll with genuine Smithfield ham is delicious.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: wayne keyser

                      The only rolls that REALLY annoy me are the ones that are just overloaded ingredients: the avocado, crab, and unagi rolls topped with maguro, salmon, and hamachi and deep-fried in tempura batter before being finished with a squirt of sriracha sauce. What's the point? It's not that it isn't authentic, it's that there's too many things going on and the flavors just get so muddled that you'd be better off just eating a fish trimmings sausage because that's what the whole elaborate construction ends up becoming in your mouth.

                      1. re: wayne keyser

                        I've been told that the real Japanese sushi chefs(not Koreans like you will find in some places)really appreciate it when customers eat sushi with straight wasabi, as its the "proper" way to do it. Not that that's my reason, I just prefer the taste that way.

                        1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                          We've been over this before in the link Eric E. provided above...After a long time living in Japan, never once through dining or watching food programs on tv there, did I encounter a Japanese person eating sushi or sashimi without soy sauce. Without wasabi, wasn't unusual, but soy sauce is always involved. It wasn't till I started reading Chowhound did I learn of people (Americans?) who eat plain sushi or with just wasabi. People here seem to think wasabi is a condiment...Not that there's anything wrong with it, but you're breaking new ground there in terms of customs...I agree with your OP above about nigiri-zushi. Regarding rolls, in Japan anyway, these are more or less considered filler items to keep the cost of your meal down and fill your stomach. Because the fish is surrounded by rice, there's no way you can really appreciate it. For the most part, it's just for texture and feeling than actual taste. That said, in the U.S., us traditionalists must acknowledge that there is a new school of sushi where rolls are a big deal and creativity and non-traditional elements are how one can judge a particular shop or sushi chef. A typical sushi place in Japan probably has a menu of 10 standard, traditional rolls. Cucumber, tuna, minced tuna-onion are usually there. These days, mayo-crab and natto-maki seem to have become standards as well....Never heard of hot dog, spaghetti, or spam. If someone saw this, it was just a novelty shop- there's one like this in Shibuya, Tokyo I believe.

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            I think the distinction is between soaking your piece of sushi or sashimi in soy sauce that has a big lump of wasabi paste dissolved in it (I doubt a Japanese person would do that) versus dipping a corner of the fish into soy sauce so that the salty soy enhances the flavor of the fish. Some kinds of fish benefit from that treatment more than others.

                            The condiment question seems more relevant when eating sashimi, which is served undressed with wasabi, ginger, shiso, lemon etc on the side. These seem to fit the definition of "condiments", meaning added to food by the diner at the table according to taste, so what is the objection to defining wasabi as a condiment?

                            In the case of sushi, the chef should add the wasabi (or whatever else) in an appropriate measure, so you shouldn't need to add extra, and I think he probably does appreciate if you respect his preparation and not add more. At Yasuda he recommends not adding soy because he prepares a shoyu and brushes the sushi with that, so it's ready to eat. It seems to me that his website summarizes sushi eating pretty well: http://www.sushiyasuda.com/traditions...

                            I am interested to know whether my approach to sushi and sashimi is hopelessly American so that when I am able to go to Japan I can get the most out of eating great fish there!

                          2. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                            I also prefer sushi with just wasabi and no soy. For me, the soy dominates and I can no longer taste the fish.

                            And if the fish is not worth tasting, then I will go elsewhere, rather than soak it in soy.

                        2. The true traditional way is to not add any extra wasabi. If a sushi chef is worth his salt, he will have put on the correct ammount for each piece. You would then slighlty dip one corner of the piece in soy sauce and then pop in your mouth fish side down. This to me is the best way to enjoy sushi.

                          The only time i eat those crazy rolls are when i get go to a sushi place with friends who are not sushi snobs like me.

                          1. I am not big fan of sushi, because I am kind of a cheapskate, and I think it is just expensive bits of rice with a touch of flavor. the flavor is usually so mild, that if I use soy or wasabi, that is all I taste. So, I usually do not use either one and just eat it plain.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: jerry i h

                              According to wikipedia (not always an authoritative source, but fairly accurate culinary wise) -- sushi dates back quite a while more--ranging from 19th century to even few more centuries back (depends on the definition of sushi). Refer to history of sushi article there.

                              And no offense--nowadays ethnic identity do not always confer a better knowledge of that ethnicity's cuisine (I'm Chinese, but I don't really consider myself an expert in Chinese food despite having much more exposure to it than most, and I have a "do whatever you want" mentality as far as eating customs go.) That, and food's always evolving and being influenced by other cultures... so I'm not a big fan of having to do everything the traditional way. Whatever works... works!

                              1. re: AquaW

                                AquaW -- I agree! Theoretical concepts like "pure" and "the best" and "authentic" and "traditional" sometimes just don't have meaning for me. Rather than approach food or a restaurant with a prescribed concept of what SHOULD be and try to label everything, I try to just go with the flow and experience what they have to offer.
                                I also concur with what you have said about food that is "...always evolving and being influenced..." Nothing, including food, is experienced in isolation...and that just adds richness to the experience!

                              2. re: jerry i h

                                "Sushi is an odd dish invented in the 1960's in Tokyo by restuarants that served American tourists. It was so good, in fact, that even Japanese natives ate and loved it, so much so that traditional "masters" of traditional japanese cuisine became "masters" of sushi, something about as old the Ford Thunderbird."

                                This is quite possibly the silliest thing I've ever read here. The making of sushi rice goes back several hundred years in Japanese history, as it was originally used to preserve fish (like nare sushi). Nigiri sushi was invented as a street food in Edo (Tokyo) in the early 19th Century. There are several sushi-ya in Tokyo today that go back quite a bit further than the 1960's.

                                To say that sushi was invented to feed American tourists is even crazier. I lived in Japan in the late '60's and early '70's and most Americans in Japan (and elsewhere)in those days wouldn't touch sushi with a ten foot pole. The big Japanese dish for Americans and other foreigners to eat in those days was sukiyaki and other meat-based dishes. U.S. military were not even allowed to eat most "local food", and most particularly sushi and sashimi, due to fears that it could make them sick and compromise their readiness. But most of them would've never touched the stuff anyway.

                                Sushi restaurants in Tokyo then were entirely patronized by Japanese -- mostly businessmen and the well-to-do. And this would remain true until sushi became popular in the U.S. in the 1980's. I still remember the surprised looks on the faces of the sushi chefs when I would actually eat the stuff back in the late '70's. Most of them had never seen a non-Japanese person eat sushi before, and were shocked that I actually liked it.

                                Edit: the earlier post that I refer to here has been subsequently edited to remove the paragraph that I quote at the beginning of this post. But someone did actually post this assertion, so I am not making up an argument out of thin air.

                              3. Here here, my sentiments exactly. Thank you Calabasas Trafalgar.
                                Those damn rolls? I call 'em Monster Truck Rolls because that's the audience they appeal to.

                                1. I should add that I discovered my favorite sushi bar when it was actually closed. But it had a huge sign on the door: WE DON'T MAKE CALIFORNIA ROLLS. WE DON'T MAKE ANY SUSHI ROLLS. I knew I had to come back when it was open and try it. To my tastebuds, it is superb.

                                  I do like a touch of soy, but only a touch. It has gotten to where it bothers me if friends bathe their sushi in soy/wasabi, and I have to bite my tongue. I just don't understand how someone can spend money on sushi and then prepare it in a way that keeps them from tasting it.


                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Phoo D

                                    OOOhhhh, that sounds great! What is this place, and where is it?

                                    1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                                      Izakaya Sakura (AKA Sakura 1) in San Diego. The owner & chef has taken down all his signs and only advertises in Japanese language press. You have to know about the place to find it. Really excellent cooked dishes as well.


                                  2. I like sushi bars that have a nice comfortable atmosphere, have my standard choices always available (salmon, yellowtail, salmon roe, mackeral, sea urchin) and of good quality, and have good special items (fatty tuna and yellowtail, abalone, maybe kobe beef).

                                    One thing about nigiri that is diagnostic for me is the size of the nigiri, I have come to like the smaller sizes as they are easy to manage and seem to increase the "healthy feeling" I associate with sushi.

                                    I use soy with some things as I like the flavor and it enhances flavors as well, I don't mix the soy and wasabi but occasionally will dab wasabi on things (salmon for instance, maybe because it's such a nice color combination), I might nibble on the wasabi and ginger between pieces for a thrill or just at the end more as a dessert.

                                    I used to like sitting at the sushi bar, now I'd just as well sit at a table in a quiet corner.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: steinpilz

                                      Oh, yeah... I don't eat the rolls as sushi bars much. Sometimes a cucumber roll to start, but never the big fancy ones. I usually get nigiri or sashimi, never chirashi - porbably just haveny gotten into the habit. In the winter I'll also get miso soup.

                                    2. I do agree that nigiri is a much better way to judge a sushi chef...the amount of fish per the amount of rice and how fresh the fish is...and sashimi is an even btter way to find out how fresh the fish is, but there are many times when a roll is just better to fill you up, or has an interesting taste to it...I personally don't enjoy philadelphia rolls and California rolls aren't really real, but for luch a spicy tun roll fills you up for a lot less than nigiri would, also special in-house rolls are usually quite interesting to try.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: gdtmsailor

                                        I guess maki does have a valuable role as filler. There are probably few foods that could use filler as much as sushi, given how easy it is to run up a monstrous bill on sashimi and nigiri alone. At any other type of restaurant I always abstain from the white rice and mashed potatoes and only delve into the bread basket if there's something particularly tasty or unusual, but in a sushi bar, I always leap on anything that is stomach filling but easily on the wallet like gari or tamago nigiri.

                                      2. I appreciate nigiri sushi on a visual level, but it usually ends up being tons of rice, so I tend to order sashimi. As for having NO soy sauce at all, I think a touch of salt does a lot for the fish. (Something like unagi, typically doused in teriyaki sauce, or an easily spilled package like tobiko, is an obvious exception.)

                                        As for the bigger question of "how to judge," how can you not consider both the nigiri and the maki? If I'm out by myself, I look for where the fish shimmers with freshness, but eating with others it's different. A significant number of the people interested in going out for "sushi" or "Japanese" turn out to be "I don't eat raw fish" types. So I need to be able to accommodate them at a place where I don't have to apologize for the California rolls.

                                        But I certainly would agree that in maki, as with burritos, the chef's or the corporation's creativity in concocting novel combinations is no substitute for quality and tastiness of ingredients.

                                        1. I like to finish a sushi meal with palate cleansing ume maki.

                                          i believe there is a serious, classic art to making a good roll; once had a roll where the cross section revealed three symeetrically located ruby-coloured gobo dots with a centre of circle of beautifully marinated saba, of the same shade of ruby. Such aesthetics.