Sushi 101: Understanding Sushi

written by Wendy Watta 18th June 2019

For many, the idea of eating raw fish is just too much to get their heads around. Couple that with the common misconception that sushi has to be eaten with chopsticks and there are those that will simply avoid even trying. Across the world though, there are people of all races and creeds that are crazy about this Japanese food; they can’t all be insane, right?

Few things taste more amazing than a piece of fish that just a few hours earlier, was swimming around in the sea and has now been cut into a perfect rectangle that sits elegantly on the plate in front of you. There is nothing better in this world than a piece of raw wild Alaskan salmon, delicately placed on a sitting pillow of sticky rice, coated with a smear of wasabi to get the taste buds tingling.

Really good fresh tuna has a firm texture that allows you to savour it gently, the aromas washing through your mouth before you bite down and release its intense fishy flavour. A commonly held assumption, however, is that all sushi is made from raw fish. Far from it: omelette, cooked octopus, crab and shrimp, avocado and cucumber are all common ingredients that can be found in sushi. Next time you’re invited to one of Nairobi’s many delicious sushi establishments, muster up your courage and dive right into the deep end.

Before doing so though, best brush up on what it all means, so when they present you with the menu, it’s not all Japanese to you.

Sushi is typically served with three condiments:


First is wasabi. A green paste made from Japanese horseradish root. One drop will clear sinuses you never knew you had. Authentic wasabi root is however expensive so you can expect to find a version of it that mixes mustard, horseradish and food colouring in most establishments.








There is a big debate over whether to mix wasabi with your soy sauce in the little bowl provided. Purists say no, that it’s an insult to the chef; others wouldn’t have it any other way.






Sushi 101

In order to cleanse your palate between one sushi and the next, your typical sushi dish will also feature thinly-sliced sweet pickled ginger known as gari.










This refers to layers of raw or cooked fish, vegetables and vinegar rice rolled in a sheet of dried nori (roasted seaweed). There are many variations of this roll: the hand roll, for instance, is made by wrapping sushi rice and other ingredients into a cone shape. The popular Califor- nia roll is made inside out (with the rice outside the nori) and contains cucumber, avocado and crab meat. Different restaurants also often have in-house specialities like black dragon and rainbow rolls.





This is sushi made by rolling sushi rice into oval balls and topping them off with a rectangle of your ingredient of choice. When eating nigiri, just grasp the shari (rice ball) between your thumb and index finger; chopsticks are really not a requirement. A small dollop of Wasabi will have been smeared underneath the fish. Traditionally, it is offensive to add more, because it shows that you don’t trust the chef. Always dip only the fish side into your soy sauce; dipping the rice side risks crumbling the ball over the tablecloth before it reaches your mouth.




Sashimi is made of slices of raw fish, but don’t smell the meat because it shows that you don’t trust the chef. Besides, if you’re at a great restaurant – and you can refer to our guide – it will most certainly be good. Quality depends on the freshness of the fish, the way it is sliced, presented and garnished. Make sure you use chopsticks here though, this is the one exception where hands are strictly not allowed.



In many ways, sushi is the ultimate quest for perfection: the perfect fish, the perfect freshness, the perfect cut and the perfect presentation. So if you’re on a quest for perfection, make like the Japanese and get zen in front of a plate of perfect sushi!

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