Contrasting Japanese

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Rain poured onto Cambridge this Sunday morning as I stood at the edge of Market Square. I couldn’t tell whether I was being drenched by water tipping off from canopies of stalls or the skies – actually, both. E and I had talked about a sushi night ever since Michaelmas and with less than a week to go until I leave we finally decided to make it happen. So here I was, standing in the rain, eyeing up the fresh fish at the fish stall.

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“Let me know next Sunday how your sushi goes yeah?”  said the lovely fishmonger, handing me my swordfish and salmon. I won’t be here anymore. I’ve never bought fresh fish from a fish stall and made sashimi / sushi out of it – I was so apprehensive I’d checked to see whether there was diarrhoea medication at home. But the fishmonger said it was fresh so I guess there was nothing that a lot of washing couldn’t get rid of.

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Excuse my slicing efforts! I might add that I don’t know much about making sushi; I’ve just known how to eat it. So it was a lot experimenting and pairing ingredients we thought complemented each other. E came running into the kitchen at one point with excitement, proudly presenting the two jars below. Another case of east-meets-west? Garlic mayo, and truffle paste brought all the way back from Milan with love. I think we need more of that in this world.

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I had so much fun building blobs of rice and fish into little sculptures. Sushi has always been a father-daughter thing in my family. Mum doesn’t really like the thought of cold rice and raw fish. So whenever it was just Dad and I left to our own devices for dinner, we’d go to the sushi train that used to be down the road from where we lived. Dad always got the “Boston Maki’ and katsu prawn rolls.

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My flatmates and I also had sushi nights in university. Exam period is normally when I get so fed up with repeating the same mundane task for 16 hours that I get most creative. In  third year, I got back from an exam and decided I would take the afternoon off revision by making brown rice sushi. Sadly Sainsbury’s “Scottish Salmon Fillets” didn’t look “sashimisable”, so I used smoked salmon instead. I also added sea urchin cream which I had bought from Muji to make little seaweed-rice-salmon mini rolls. I was so bored I started making little pictures with the sushi-ettes, according to J.

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As I mentioned in “A Cultural Melting Pot”, Hong Kong is where all types of traditions are blended together and homogenised to recreate its own unique culture. On the contrary, in face of ethnic and cosmopolitan components, the Japanese are keen to retain its cultural identity by initiating stark contrast with the West (Hiroko, 2008: 12). For example, although sukiyaki and tempura are commonly identified as Japanese cuisine, they were in fact adapted from Western dishes as a result of Westernisation, but reinforced its Japaneseness through its serving practices and presentations (ibid.). As demonstrated in E and I’s little experiment with these rolls, sushi has even counteracted Westernisation to globalise and allow other cuisines to infuse their own complementing components, whilst preserving its representation of “being Japanese”.

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N.B. All the sashimi-slicing / sushi-rolling was part of a trial and error and the result of utilising everything in the fridge and I’m definitely not in any position to “teach” anything but here is a list of ingredients for inspiration: fresh salmon, fresh swordfish, avocado, cucumber, garlic mayo, truffle paste and wasabi paste.

Sushi Rice:

2 cups* sushi rice
3 cups water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar 1/2 tsp salt

1.     Put the rice and water into a pot and bring to boil, then cover with a lid and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
2.     Take it off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, mix in rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and cover the pot with a damp tea towel until you make the rice rolls** to stop it from drying up.

*This is a rice measuring cup. Apparently it’s 3/4 of a standard American cup. **When making the rice rolls, it’s useful to keep a small bowl of water at hand to keep your hands wet. This will stop the sushi rice sticking to everything.

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Reference: Hiroko, T. 2008. “Delicious Food in a Beautiful Country: Nationhood and Nationalism in Discourses on Food in Contemporary Japan”. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 8: 5-30.

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