The edible Zen garden
Amitabh Sharma, Contributor
It's as austere as its land of origin, yet complex and intriguing - pressed, meticulously laid out, rolled and neatly cut - sushi is often referred to as a Zen Garden, savoured not only by the taste buds but its neatness, presentation and colours are relished by the eyes.
"Making sushi, like any other Japanese tradition, is made with utmost care, love and perfection," said Yasuo Takase, ambassador of Japan in Jamaica.
The ambassador's resident chef, Mitsuki Inoue, gave a first-hand demonstration of turning nature's abundant delights into an intricate, delectable platter.
Transforming the kitchen into a sacred meditation space, the process taking one's senses to a divine level. Chef Inoue laid out the ingredients - the vinegar rice, from which the dish derives its name, sushi - dried seaweed, an assortment of fish in various tints, wasabi paste, a mat on which to assemble the dish, and a container of vinegar water.
"The rice used in the Japan is unique to sushi," Inoue informed, "a good substitute is the Korean rice, which is widely available."
The process of making sushi begins with the chef dipping his hands in vinegar water, "this is to ensure that the rice doesn't stick to the hands," the chef explained.
Inoue put the dried seaweed on the mat, and carefully layered it with the sticky rice, alternating with dipping his hands in the vinegar water - like poetry resonating from a Japanese garden.
The possibilities of toppings are endless, from seafood to vegetables - sushi is a diverse mix of the minimalist and the opulent - the colours of nature transformed in a gourmet dimension.
Chef Inoue then firmly rolled the sushi mix into a cylindrical shape, the seaweed encapsulating the flavours and hues of ingredients, culminating with cutting the sushi into equal proportions.
The sushi knife, like the dish, is handcrafted and is extremely sharp, like the katana, to give a clean cut.
"The cut has to be made by pulling the knife in one direction, this produces the best cut," Inoue said, as he gently held the sushi roll and made slow, precise cuts.
The most common and popular variant of sushi, is called norimaki - sushi rice, seafood or vegetables rolled in dried seaweed sheets. Chef Inoue said that there are numerous varieties of sushi rolls made with different ingredients and varied thickness.
No garden is complete without a diversity of colours - the chef went on to create nigiri, meticulously rolling small rice balls and topping them with tuna, eel and shrimp. "This sushi," Ambassador Takase said, "is popular in Japan."
These splashes of colours came alive on the plate and were completed by the gunkan, which was made by creating small cups made of dried seaweed, which are then filled with sushi rice and topped with fish eggs, like drops of pearls floating on the platter.
This array of deliciousness was laid out to be savoured - opening up the umami (a delightful, savoury flavour considered to be the fifth taste) in the taste buds.
"The idea is to bring out the colours of nature in their original form," said Ambassador Takase, "what you see in the natural state is presented on the plate; it is both beautiful and tasty."
Sushi is not only a dish to savour and relish, it is a work of divinity.