Sunday, April 13, 2008


Delving into the world of Japanese cuisine can be intimidating. To begin you have sushi which refers basically to some type of raw food. However, thanks to commercial distribution many think that sushi comes in rolls. This is not necessarily the case. Sushi is really just some type of food placed over rice. There are many variations on sushi though. The sushi rolls (made by wrapping sushi in Nori, a seaweed wrapper) that we are more familiar with are called Maki and Tamaki. Maki are basically just Tamaki rolls, cut up into smaller servings.

Maki come in an almost endless variety (e.g., California rolls, Spider rolls, etc.) depending on your location. Also, each Japanese eatery has its own various styles and selections.

Now, to make life easier and less intimidating: All the types of rolls you could get are widely discussed on websites such as Wikipedia. Yet, without having to do research before you go out for an enjoyable dinner... I have found most Japanese eateries in the Twin Cities have very helpful staff. Even so, here are some helpful etiquette tips if you go our for sushi.

  1. Sushi may be eaten either with your hands or with chopsticks. There some good news for the few of us that are not coordinated! Nigiri (the most common sushi) is typically eaten with your hands because chopsticks would crumble the rice it is wrapped in. If you get a roll (maki) and you want to impress your friends with your skills, use chopsticks.
  2. The soy sauce is meant to flavor the fish, not the rice. Also, mixing wasabi (the spicy green stuff) with soy sauce is typically a no-no. In fine restaurants, every morsel of sushi should have a dab of wasabi in it already. The mixing of wasabi and soy sauce is really just a matter of taste though. If you like it, guess what... DO IT! You are paying for it, get what you want. If you really want to sound sophisticated call the mix of wasabi and soy sauce by its name, Wasabi-joyo.
  3. Now, if you have seen the movie The Last Samurai, you will recall the scene where Tom Cruise's character called out "SAKI, SAKI!" as he was laying captured in the enemy samurai's house, well don't you do that the next time you dine on sushi. The rice flavor of Saki (a type of Japanese liquor) is not considered a natural pairing of sushi. In fact, neither is wine (for the most part). The traditional pairing is beer - did the Japanese know the Irish?
Here's to the restaurants in the area. My wife and I have tried two restaurants in the Woodbury area lately. The first, Sushi Tango, is a satellite of the uptown Minneapolis restaurant. The second we visited was Akita - sushi and hibachi. Overall impression: Sushi Tango wins out by a landslide.

Both of the restaurants offered sushi, sashimi, maki, temaki, tempura, various soups and limited deserts (green tea ice cream). Both also had a full bar, but Akita also offered a hibachi style of dining (what Benihana's does). The short story was that Sushi Tango had fresher tasting ingredients and a more enjoyable atmosphere. I had a spider roll (a maki roll with deep fried soft shell crab) at both locations for a comparison, as well as spicy tuna. The spider rolls at Sushi Tango were crisper and sweeter and the spicy tuna had a fuller taste. The sushi at Akita had a "rubbery" texture. The presentation at each restaurant was compatible. One feature that I did like about Akita is that they had a "buffet" option, where you ordered anything off the menu and paid a base price. This way you could experience a lot of different options, for less "green". However, Akita's layout reminded me of a combination between Olive Garden and Hollister. Now, I didn't do the Hibachi at Akita, but just looking over at it, I thought Benihana was better. In the long run, I will be going back for seconds at Sushi Tango, but not Akita.