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How To Start Liking White Fish Sushi (Asahiya)

Updated: May 17, 2019

A Sushi selection from Asahiya Restaurant's chef
Quick sushi vocabulary:

-Nori: Japanese seaweed used in Japanese cuisine

-Nigiri: a piece of fish, shellfish, egg, or any other kind of topping molded on a block of vinegared rice

-Maki: a roll of rice with fish or other kind of filling in the middle and wrapped in nori, can be cut in small pieces or eaten as a roll

-Gunkan: a rice block wrapped in nori, topped with fish eggs, minced fish meat, shell fish, or else

-Sakuramasu: a Japanese salmon/trout endemic to Northern Japan, a fish often used in Shonai region's cuisine

-Madai: Japanese red seabream. The flesh is white, framed with a reddish pink layer

-Amaebi: Sweet shrimp. A delicate, melt-in-mouth little shrimp

-Buri / Hamachi : Japanese amberjack. The inside of the flesh is white, but the outer part of the meat is red.

-Shiromi : White fish flesh

-Akami : Red fish flesh

For a couple of years, I've never been able to eat sushi other than salmon nigiri, red tuna-nigiri, maki filled with an undefined fish paste, or some Californian rolls that contained more mayo than fish itself. And I figured out by talking to my European friends that I was far to be alone.

But when it came to white fish, I had an instant gag reaction, I was disturbed by the strong smell of the fish and the sticky, chewy texture of it. Let's face it: it is hard to find a good sushi restaurant outside Japan that doesn't cost a liver. So the safest choice one can make when going to one of those "restaurants" is to go for fat, sweet taste fish, that is to say: salmon and tuna.

If like me, you have been traumatized by the disappointing taste of white fish sushi in your country, don't be defeatist. That is something you can heal from.

Tsuruoka faces the Sea of Japan, known for being rich in oxygen thanks to the strong currents circulating from the south, which leads to a high diversity of the sea's fauna. That allowed Tsuruoka's people to have a rich seafood-based cuisine.

Sunset on Tsuruoka's coast

So why limit yourself to over-known sushi when you can have Japanese sole, Red sea bream, Japanese squid, Japanese amberjack, oysters, and so on..?

I admit it is not easy to accustom yourself to the taste of white fish flesh. The texture is much less "melting", "soft" than salmon. But don't make the same mistake as me! Don't say your favourite sushi is salmon, or you'll get scolded like I was, by the Sushi Chef Satô Takenori from Asahiya Restaurant (in Nezugaseki village). Quite an

Sushi Chef Satô Takenori and I at the Karaoke

exceptional man with a very uncommon personality (if you know many sushi chefs dressing up as Hatsune Miku, let me know). He'd welcome you by literally screaming "welcome", and would refuse serving foreign salmon flesh.

The reason?

"Salmon are big chunks of medicines and polluted substances imported from foreign farms".

I don't exaggerate when I say I was severely scolded. "But I like the taste of salmon", I said.

"Then you'll die of happiness when you'll try sakuramasu", he told me.

I went to his restaurant not so long ago, to try the famous sakuramasu, the "cherry salmon" that is mostly found in Northern Japan.

Tuna, Sakuramasu, some shellfish, Amaebi, Crab

How delicious was it. The fragrance of the fish is much more subtle than Norwegian salmon, the taste slightly sweeter, and the flesh has more consistence in the mouth.

Sakuramasu is a fish widely used in Shônai's cuisine, grilled, in soups, dried...

It is definitely worth a try.

But let's go back to our first problematic: how can you start liking white fish?

Whether you are a child or an adult, if you are not used to eating raw white fish, there are high chances you'll have trouble eating it at first.

This is mostly because in most cheap sushi restaurants outside Japan, the fish used is bad quality fish, not so fresh and cut too bold so it easily becomes sickening. The keys for good white fish sushi are: 1) FRESHNESS and 2) the cutting technique.

In Tsuruoka' restaurants though, especially in Nezugaseki and Atsumi regions, that open directly up to the sea, the fish products are fresher than fresh. The cutting techniques of our sushi chef is also so excellent you won't feel disgusted by a badly cut fish piece of sushi that takes all the space in your mouth.

If you are a salmon/tuna lover, I would suggest you to try Hamachi (also called buri) first to acclimate your palate to the taste of white flesh, because even though the flesh looks white, in terms of texture and taste it is very similar to red tuna, and since it is very rich in (good) fat, it will remind you salmon in the way it melts in the mouth.

Once you get used to hamachi, you should try Madai. Madai is a local red sea bream. It is extremely delicious, and very low in fat, which makes it a perfect fish for dieting.

At the front: a set of white fish sushi selected by the chef (Asahiya)

Madai is the fish in the middle of the picture. As you can see, it is pretty white. But it is by far my most recommended white fish. White fish tends to be harder to chew that red ones, they might contain more fibers and they may not cut at the first chomp.

It's not the case for madai.

One who knows how to like madai can eat any kind of white fish.

So to sum up, to start liking white fish, you will first have to "trick" your palate in making it think the white fish you're eating is similar to salmon/tuna: hamachi is perfect for that.

Then train your palate with madai, and then you'll be able to try any kind of white fish : soi (rockfish, a bit harder to chew than the others), hirame (flat fish, with a very subtle taste), karei (flounder, which is between soi and hirame)...

Try this method with your kids reluctant to white fish, and maybe, in a matter of time, they'll be asking for raw squid or even raw octopus.

The fish of the Sea of Japan are too diverse and delicious to only eat salmon sushi..!

And you, what is your favorite sushi? Can you eat raw white fish? Do you have another method to recommend? Share your experience in the comment box below!

Go to Asahiya Restaurant

DEGAM Tsuruoka Tourism Bureau (General Incorporated Association)

Address: 3-1 Suehiromachi, MARICA East Building, 2nd floor, Tsuruoka, Yamagata 997-0015, JAPAN

TEL: (+81) 0235-26-1218

E-mail: tsuruoka@degam.jp

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