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is it just my sushi restaurant?

j
jujuthomas Jun 24, 2007 07:16 AM

Hey all,
friends and i ordered a variety of sushi from a local place yesterday, and i noticed on the menu that many of the maki and special roll descriptions say they contain avacado. (they were ALL delicious) this morning i'm thinking and wondering. it doesn't seem that avacado is an asian fruit - or is it? Is it a traditional ingredient in sushi, or is it just something that this particular place uses a lot?
have a great day!

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  1. g
    GrillingGreg Jun 24, 2007 07:30 AM

    Avocado -- mainly from the California roll -- is an American addition to sushi. Avocado is native to Mexico and Central America and is a big part of Latin cuisine.

    I've never seen avocado with sushi on the other side of the pacific. But I've never seen an American sushi restaurant that didn't have a California Roll on the menu.

    3 Replies
    1. re: GrillingGreg
      d
      dtud Jun 24, 2007 12:52 PM

      i guess i don't know about the rest of the country - but in LA, there are a number of sushi places that refuse to serve California rolls and there's one that you'll be asked to leave if you ask for it. most of the places that do not serve California rolls have a sign warning customers in the front or on the menu. there are also the places that will not serve a bowl of rice.

      1. re: dtud
        Velma Jun 24, 2007 04:29 PM

        What is their rationale for asking a customer to leave?? I can understand being offended by the request and refusing to serve the item but further refusing to serve the customer if they are willing to order something else seems a bit harsh to me.

        1. re: Velma
          b
          bulavinaka Jun 24, 2007 04:48 PM

          In LA, there are a generous handful of sushi places, where the itamae (sushi chef) can be very old school to a fault. Anything they view as "new wave" has no place in their establishments. I can see their point, but as you mention, the term, "harsh," immediately comes to mind...

          As many refer to these itamae as "sushi nazis," replay the "Seinfeld" episode with the soup nazi... it translates over well...

          If you pull up "Hiko Sushi" in either this blog, or Jonathan Gold's review from the LA Weekly, you will be introduced to the man who has no equal...

    2. bitsubeats Jun 24, 2007 07:40 AM

      avocado isn't a traditional ingredient in sushi, its just a western invention.

      yeah, I don't think I've seen a sushi place that doesn't have a california roll or something with avocado in it

      4 Replies
      1. re: bitsubeats
        inuksuk Jun 26, 2007 01:22 AM

        "avocado isn't a traditional ingredient in sushi, its just a western invention."
        To be fair, sushi does not have a deep or lengthy tradition in Japan or anywhere else and western innovations like avocado or inside out rolls are as much a part of the "canon" as anything. Avocado in sushi is as legitimate as cinnamon in Cincinnati Chili. But it seems to have caught on a little wider.

        1. re: inuksuk
          Eat_Nopal Jun 29, 2007 11:08 AM

          Interesting point.... can you corroborate what I read that the Sushi tradition only goes back about 150 years?

          1. re: Eat_Nopal
            inuksuk Jun 29, 2007 12:43 PM

            http://sushi-master.com/usa/whatis/hi...

            You can argue about what truly defines sushi and when it's history starts but sushi as we recognize it today, sushi as relevant to the original post, I would say starts 150 (well, maybe closer to 200) years ago when sushi becomes restaurant food and subject to the innovations of various chefs.

            1. re: inuksuk
              Sam Fujisaka Jun 29, 2007 01:55 PM

              You may be right about modern sushi, although origins may date back to 2nd century China.

              http://www.sushiman.net/sushi/history...

      2. Silverjay Jun 24, 2007 08:03 AM

        There is no avocado in Japanese cuisine. In Japan, nearly all avocados are imported from Mexico and are relatively expensive.

        "Special rolls" with avocado, mayonnaise, cream cheese, anything remotely spicy, even eel, salmon, or yellowtail, are all Americanized sushi. Standard sushi restaurant rolls would be either simple red meat tuna or cucumber or natto or a few other varieties. They are generally eaten at the end to fill up your stomach. So not only is avocado not a part of traditional sushi, but rolls themselves are typically considered an afterthought to the main meal.

        Your restaurant sounds like part of the menu is an "Americanized" sushi place- which of course doesn't mean they don't have more traditional fare.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Silverjay
          ccbweb Jun 24, 2007 08:18 AM

          I agree with you until the last part...plenty of places that also serve traditional sushi serve the "Americanized" dishes because they still need to make some money and that's what a lot of people eat. As you note, rolls are an afterthought, so playing with those doesn't seem to me to be dismissing the nigiri and sashimi offerings.

          Further, avocado really does complement some items and elements in sushi quite well.

          1. re: ccbweb
            cgfan Jun 24, 2007 08:46 AM

            Regarding making money, it is in fact the non-traditional rolls that brings in the higher margins at the sushi bar. So although I only eat traditionally at the sushi bar and regret the way that sushi has almost lost its meaning with the excesses of ill-trained chefs exploiting the crudest taste fashions of the current sushi scene, in a sense my meals are being subsidized by the bar's roll customers.

            And the margins are high not only because the prices on the rolls are higher than their traditional nigiri counterparts, but the protein items used, where traditionally most of the ingredient costs are in a restaurant, are guaranteed to be of the lowest grade. For instance in spicy tuna, just the otherwise unusable scraps of tuna are used, the inferior taste being obliterated by the chili sauce, and the sinewy texture hidden by the maceration of the tuna.

            Regarding the use of avocado, in the now oft-told tale it was introduced by a sushi chef at L.A.'s Tokyo Kaikan in Little Tokyo as a substitute when they could not procure reliable shipments of toro. (I believe Tokyo Kaikan was amongst the first three sushi bars to open in the U.S., all of which were in Little Tokyo...) And for sure there are similarities between avocado and the fatty taste and texture of toro.

            I still remember coming across in one of my mother's Japanese magazines a full page glossy ad with high production values, probably taken out by the California Avocado Growers, of a plate of avocado presented exactly as if it were maguro sashimi. Presented with all of the traditional decorations and ceramic plateware, the ad carried the powerful implication that that is the way that avocado should be viewed, as a classy, alternative, high-end ingredient.

            Obviously it never really took off in Japan, but I remember growing up in L.A. well before the sushi craze hit, long before there was even a California Roll invented, that we would eat our avocados halves with a spoon, with soy sauce poured into the pit. This was just one step removed from the "serving suggestion" shown in the Japanese magazine ad, which is to eat avocados in sashimi-like slices with chopsticks, garnished with soy sauce and wasabi.

            Though a small difference in presentation, in the Japanese mind it's a huge perceptual jump, especially given the Japanese practice of segregating non-Japanese food items (Yoshoku) in a separate section of the menu and written in Katakana (a phonetic equivalent to Hiragana, the latter being used for native words, the former used for foreign words) or in Roman characters, and the practice of serving Yoshoku only on Western plateware and utensils.

            1. re: cgfan
              ccbweb Jun 24, 2007 08:56 AM

              I agree completely. Every so often my wife and I will go for a shrimp tempura roll, or even a spicy tuna roll...though we're never quite sure why that is.

              Hard to argue with a place that uses up what would otherwise be garbage in dishes that so many people enjoy so much. Thanks for the oft told story...I hadn't seen it.

              1. re: cgfan
                MVNYC Jun 26, 2007 10:01 AM

                I am a white guy from NYC and that is exactly how i eat my avocados. Usually cut in half with a spoon and some soy sauce and a splash of rice vinegar. Sometimes i will cut it into slices and drizzle it with the same mixture.

                As to the rolls, i get them at the end of the meal when I realize i am spending way too much money and can eat nigiri unitl I am poor. I usually finish up with eel and cucumber and kampyo. both are sweet and like dessert.

              2. re: ccbweb
                j
                jujuthomas Jun 24, 2007 08:49 AM

                thanks for the clarification. we did have several items of nigri as well, but like you say, those rolls are quite filling, and they were certainly tasty. sharing them with my friends was a great way to see what they enjoy, and to try new things. :)

              3. re: Silverjay
                q
                queencru Jun 24, 2007 05:29 PM

                In my 2 years in Japan, I had trouble finding sushi without mayonnaise. It's so ubiquitous in Japanese cuisine these days that it can be hard to find dishes without it- pizza, shrimp dishes, sushi, okonomiyaki- all come with mayo. Eel is also very big and salmon is not that irregular.

                1. re: queencru
                  Silverjay Jun 24, 2007 06:14 PM

                  Agree on the ubiquity of mayo. It's gotten worse. But in sushi, it's extremely rare- one or two rolls at cheaper places. I've never seen eel or salmon in maki-zushi except in depachika in the more cosmopolitan parts of Tokyo. Sushi in Japan is an artisan craft. The middle to fine Italian restaurants in Japan take the same kind of traditional approach to the craft of pizza making as well and would never use mayonnaise. I would be surprised to hear from any serious chowhounds that they had trouble finding sushi without mayonnaise in Japan for two years.

                2. re: Silverjay
                  t
                  tokyorosa Jun 25, 2007 11:48 PM

                  I could always find avacados in central Tokyo as easily as I could in New Mexico--and for about the same price! (Though not, sadly, in sushi joints.) New Mexican sushi often includes avacado as well as green chile, which is a joy in anything really.

                  Someone below mentions salmon as being an odd sushi ingredient, but in Tokyo anyway, salmon sushi was *always* available.

                  I'm down with "odd" sushi combos--just as I'm happy to eat a hamburger on a rice bun, or pizza with octopus, corn, and mayo on it. No reason to get stuffy about things!

                3. b
                  bulavinaka Jun 24, 2007 04:22 PM

                  As with alot of cuisines that appear in regions outside of their motherland, the spirit of innovation (necessity is the mother of invention, as well as the other way around), will often result in foods that may appear to be very similar to that of its origins on one hand, while the ingredients may be locally sourced (avocados and blue crab) or the combination of traditional ingredients might be unique (shrimp tempura rolls).

                  But you'd be surprised at how many Japanese immigrants embrace things like avocado in their rolls... maybe it's one of those guilty pleasures that no one wants to admit to, but my mother who emigrated to LA from Japan in the early 50s along with her buddies drop off rolls to each other all the time, and when someone's tree is dripping with ripe avocados, you'd better expect those to be laced into their version of makizushi... when most in this JA community tried a california roll for the first time, it was like a series of epiphanies sparking one after the other, and this dish was embraced by many because of their already strong affinity with crab, cuc's, rice and nori, all readily available ingredients in So Cal...

                  The flow of influence goes the other way across the Pacific as well... while my mom has made Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki ever since I was knee-high to a bun-bun mushi (June bug), she would never have considered putting mayo on as a condiment - this thought creeps her out even to this day... however, this is pretty standard now in Japan. In fact, ingredients like cream cheese (or any cheese for that matter) disgusted most of the older generations in Japan, but it's so common now to see cheeses introduced into various foods, even premium rolls that you can get in the basement section of the various upscale department stores, as well as other "gifts" from the West, including avocados, but these are somewhat of a luxury item as others have mentioned. My relatives who are familiar with them usually cut them in half, remove the pit, and pour a little shoyu in the "bowl" of the pit, sprinkle some sesame seeds and scoop out the creamy flesh with a spoon. Some who have been to Hawaii mix it mayo and a small amount of diced onions and spread it toast...

                  I think the thing not lose sight of when it comes to Japan is the fact that with its opening up to the West, Japan was very quick to embrace new things. This has always been the case by the population at large. But at the same time, most can draw a line between what is traditional, what is introduced, and what has been fuzed. You will always have your ethno-centrists who will curse and belligerently correct you for what is and what isn't supposed to be a certain way. That's okay, as they have their place in preserving what is traditional, but all you have to do is look back throughout Japan's history, and one will often find things that were introduced to Japan but have been considered to be traditional to Japan. Case in point - the basis of the written language is Chinese...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: bulavinaka
                    Sam Fujisaka Jun 24, 2007 06:32 PM

                    My family on my mother's side arrived in California in the late 1800s. None of us ever changed our Japanese cooking from that time. Same with my father's side--emigrated to Hawaii and later to the mainland. Couple of cousins had/have Japanese restaurants (in Fresno and Japantown in SF)--they don't make any "modern" versions of Japanese food, including sushi. If any of us put avocado in our sushi, the ancestors would be sure to mete out some dire punishment.

                    On the other hand, people in Japan laugh at the old, quaint way we speak. We are shocked at how little rice they eat and at their use of mayo.

                    Also, people shouldn't think that use of avocado is just an American (US) phenomena: Japanese chefs whose families arrived in Brazil, Peru, and Argentina in the 50s or 60s use avocado and mayo--but in very traditional fashion.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                      b
                      bulavinaka Jun 25, 2007 11:29 PM

                      My great grandfather on my father's side also arrived around then... let me guess - Stockton? Sacramento? My mom's aunt and uncle moved to Hawaii back at the turn of the century as well - started up a confectionary store/factory called Fujiya, making and selling manju, mochi, arare, and okaki... Both sides of the family are from Hiroshima... thus the okonomiyaki... I hope to never be visited by your ancestors - our family will pay dearly...

                  2. a
                    ashes Jun 26, 2007 09:22 AM

                    I read an article online yesterday (http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/06/2...) about the growing tuna shortages in Japan. The article talks about some of the alternatives that chefs are trying to come up with. One offered solution was to turn to avocado (the americanized sushi). Others involved deer and horse, which might be a little much for me.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ashes
                      b
                      bulavinaka Jun 26, 2007 09:49 AM

                      I'll pass on those latter alternatives as well... avocado is looking better all the time...

                    2. nyc_cravings Jun 29, 2007 07:41 AM

                      in reading the posts, one question comes to mind: it's interesting that sushi is paired w/avocados since their textures are so similar. i thought that contrasts in textures led to better/more complex dishes. is this pairing due to japanese preferences for matching textures in their foods?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: nyc_cravings
                        cgfan Jun 29, 2007 09:33 AM

                        The point being made regarding the texture of avocados and it's new-found use in American sushi is the similarity in texture of the avocado to tuna, and in particular, toro. In other words the avocado can be thought of by some as a substitute, of sorts, to toro.

                        Regarding texture, contrasts in texture are always a feature in the formal Japanese meal, which explains why some food ingredients are so highly regarded even if they do not offer much in the realm of taste. In fact contrast (and ironically harmony as well) is prized in ways way beyond texture alone. Contrast in shape, color, temperature, and in cooking styles, are other qualities that are appreciated by the Japanese diner.

                        Now how can harmony play a part amidst all of the contrasting elements? Well consider that often the plate is decorated with contrasting shapes, colors, and textures often in order to conjure up a harmonizing scene in a landscape, be it land and lake, sea and shore, or sky and land. In the most harmonious of natural settings, there ironically exists great visual contrasts... In the same way the Japanese meal is composed in order to offer both harmony and contrast to the diner.

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