I can vaguely recall the first time I went to a Japanese restaurant with a friend and they ordered sushi. It was eons ago. I think the only reason it vaguely stays in my head is because I decided to give something foreign a try. Unknowingly, I took the chopsticks and grabbed a chunk of the pretty green paste, placed it on top of a tuna roll slice and took a bite.
“Holy crap, my tongue is on fire what is that stuff?”
“It’s called wasabi,” my friend replied. “And you only use it sparingly unless you want to burn your throat and stomach.”
With my mouth on fire, tears streaming from my eyes and nose sniffling, I thought my experimentation with sushi was over. It was, at least for that day, since my taste buds were fried.
Throughout the years, however, I have become somewhat of a sushi connoisseur in my own right. I started by dipping my toes in the shallow end of the sushi pool, eating the rolls that I considered safe at the time, like a California roll. That is basically rice, imitation crab meat and avocado held together with nori, the edible seaweed sheets that form the basis of most sushi.
In those early days, most of what I ordered was cooked sushi, like eel or shrimp.
But the thrill of sushi is when you start diving into the deep end to try the raw fish.
Once you cross this threshold, the most important aspect is trusting your sense of taste and smell and finding a restaurant you can trust to always serve the freshest cuts of fish possible.
In Hinesville, I often trek to Kyoto, Sushi House 2, on Highway 84, when in pursuit of calming my sushi craving. As the name implies, there was a Sushi House 1 that was on Gen. Screven Way. But that location closed and has since reopened as Teriyaki Bowl. They serve sushi, too, but I have yet to visit. I will keep you posted.
Kyoto epitomizes the old-school sushi and hibachi diners I’ve grown accustomed to. Their freshness, selection and flavors are what keep them No. 1 on my list of local places to go. (My absolute favorite sushi place is the Dragonfly in Orlando, Florida.)
If you’ve never tried raw sushi, you should. You can either order sushi rolls or sushi nigiri. The first are exactly what they sound like. The raw fish is rolled with rice and the nori sheet and cut into bite-size pieces. The nori can be on the outside or the roll can be done in reverse, with the rice being on the outside and the fish and seaweed in the middle.
Nigiri is when they serve a slice of raw fish nestled on a small clump of pressed rice. Sometimes, a sliver of seaweed is used to hold the fish in place.
If you feel like venturing into sushi and you are a novice, start out with the pieces that are the most palatable and, therefore, most popular. Pieces like tuna, salmon and hamachi (yellowtail or some type of snapper) have the smoothest texture. They breakdown easy when chewed and don’t have a hard texture can be a turnoff to some. The taste and texture are subtle and pleasant. I suggest you try it with and without dunking it into soy sauce or added wasabi at first.
Hint: While you are eating raw fish, fresh sushi should not have a strong fishy taste or odor. If it does, it’s not fresh and that, my friends, can spell trouble later on.
Once I got the taste for the easy stuff, I started venturing into the more exotic. Octopus is definitely a refined and acquired taste, as it can be quite chewy. Same with conch.
Kyoto has a large variety of rolls and sushi dishes to choose from. They also have an amazing appetizer called the spicy seafood salad. It is sliced octopus, fish, shrimp and crabmeat mixed in a spicy mayonnaise and covered with roasted panko bread crumbs.
It was delicious and unique.
My favorite staple when at a Japanese restaurant is a dish called shumai. It is a steamed dumpling that is either stuffed with shrimp or pork. Another classic favorite is a pile of seaweed salad. I am happy to say that Kyoto has both.
In fact, the hardest thing about Kyoto is avoiding the temptation to order too much.
Ha! Who am I kidding? After all, it’s me we are talking out. One of each, please, and thank you. Oh, and I’ve also found my perfect combination of soy sauce with wasabi mixed in. Enough to feel the heat AND clear the sinuses, but still taste the food. Go out and experiment. you may never know if you like it or not unless you try it.