The first time I was about to try sushi, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
It all seemed too fishy for me, you know? And to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember the taste. On the other hand, the texture, I remember very vividly – probably because it made me want to throw up.
It didn’t stop me from wanting to eat sushi again, though, so I guess it must’ve tasted amazing! Anyway, that’s why I know that the first thing all sushi-newbies want to know is:
What Does Sushi Taste Like?
The thing is, there’s more than one answer to that question – and none of them includes the word “fishy!”
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Different Types of Sushi – Different Flavors: What Does Sushi Taste Like?
Before I had the chance to try sushi for the first time, I had no clue there was more than one type of sushi out there. Now I know better, though. There are many kinds of sushi, and each of them offers something new and different taste-wise!
- The hand-pressed sushi – Nigiri – features nothing more than rice topped with a thin slice of fish, be it eel, octopus, tuna, or shrimp. The flavor is somewhat “basic,” too – and I don’t mean that negatively! It has a natural vibe to it, while the rice adds just the right amount of creaminess. Some chefs will add wasabi as the middle layer, so don’t let the tanginess surprise you.
Would someone who’s trying sushi for the first time like it, though?
I’m not sure. It’s only a step away from sashimi, and you’re probably not ready to dive in headfirst into the world of eating raw fish, huh?
- Maki, on the other hand, is rolled sushi. Rice, fish, as well as vegetables – and sometimes even fruit – are wrapped in seaweed – it’s pretty much what comes to mind when you think of sushi rolls. It offers the perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness, with just the right amount of crunchiness to it.
For that reason alone, I think Maki qualifies as beginner-friendly sushi.
- Now, my boys were still – and on some occasions, picky eaters when they were younger. So, if I wanted to introduce them to sushi, I had to be smart about it – that’s why I picked Inari. You can’t really find it in restaurants, and I don’t even consider it to be sushi per se – it’s just tofu filled with sushi rice – but it’s delicious, and it encouraged my boys to give sushi a try.
I know by now you’re probably thinking: Barbara, can you give me a straight answer? What does sushi taste like?
And I wish I could give you one, but here’s the thing:
- Sushi doesn’t – and shouldn’t – have one overbearing flavor. It’s meant to be a perfect harmony of tastes, where everything works together to create a balance of sweetness, saltiness, and savoriness. Sushi, in itself, is a very neutral-flavored food. I mean, if you think about it, the fish isn’t seasoned at all – the focus is mostly on the texture.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend going straight for the octopus – it will be way too rough and chewy, as well as strong-flavored for someone new to sushi. Stick to salmon, tuna, and shrimp. Instead – they’re light enough to give you room to get used to the idea of eating raw fish.
However, that is not to say that sushi lacks flavor. Although rice and sauces are essential components of sushi, there are many additional factors that contribute to the dish’s unique flavor and appeal. Again, the key is moderation; even with the addition of sauces, sushi never has anyone taste that dominates the others.
Don’t Overlook the Importance of Rice
When people talk about sushi, they always discuss the fish. Rarely do they mention one of the key ingredients – one that separates sushi from sashimi.
That’s right, I’m talking about rice.
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Sushi calls for white, short-grain Japanese rice cooked and seasoned to perfection – red rice vinegar and salt are the secrets to the authentic sushi experience.
You will find that most local sushi places add sugar, too. I can’t wrap my mind around it, but John and the boys seem to prefer their sushi sweet – even though I keep telling them it’s not the way it’s supposed to be!
If anything, I hope all this rice talk helped shape you into a customer that knows better than that!
Sides and Condiments: How Big of a Role do they Play?
Don’t think of condiments as fillers; their real purpose is to balance everything out – the saltiness, the sweetness, and the savoriness – and let all the individual flavors stand out with each bite.
1. Soy Sauce
If you’ve ever prepared – or tried – Asian dishes, chances are you’ve had soy sauce, too.
And guess what? It’s always served with sushi, as well.
Finally, a flavor you can recognize, huh?
Now, remember that sushi most commonly comes with Japanese soy sauce, which is a tad bit sweeter than what we’re used to since it contains sweet rice wine, known as mirin. Here is also a list of mirin substitutes and more information about mirin.
Wasabi will pretty much give your sushi a spicy kick – one you’ve probably never experienced before! Not only does it bring out the flavors in sushi like it’s nobody’s business, but it helps suppress the bacteria that cause food poisoning, as well.
Give yourself some time to adjust to it, though. I didn’t like wasabi right off the bat, and now I can’t get enough of it!
So, don’t give up after your first try – give wasabi a chance, and it’ll grow on you.
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Trying Sushi for The First Time: Tips for a Better Sushi Experience
Now, let’s see what you can do to ensure your first encounter with sushi goes as smoothly as possible.
Here’s some of the knowledge I gathered over the years:
- Don’t drown the sushi in soy sauce! A tiny amount is more than enough. Also, avoid dipping the rice part into the soy sauce because it will drastically disrupt the flavor.
- Never mix wasabi and soy sauce – that’s a huge no-no. If you want wasabi, add some on top of the sushi using your chopstick instead.
- Cleanse your palate between two pieces of sushi by eating pickled ginger, also known as “gari.” It’s spicy, tangy, with a somewhat sweet flavor that will allow you to savor each piece of sushi that follows in its entirety.
- To get the full flavor, place the sushi face-down (the fish side should be touching your tongue) in your mouth, and eat it as a whole – several small bites don’t work with sushi.
- Despite what you’ve seen in movies, you can eat sushi with your hands – especially Nigiri and Maki. That way, you won’t ruin the sushi’s shape.
- If you’re dining in a legitimate Japanese restaurant, forget about tipping. The best way to show appreciation and gratitude is to praise the chef and treat him with a glass of sake.
Since you’re already trying sushi, you can choose your personal quality chopsticks.
I hope this gives you a better idea of what sushi tastes like, but in reality, you won’t know until you try it for yourself.
It is a unique experience, indeed, and for that reason alone, you should give it a try as soon as possible. You’ll be hooked before you know it!
Are there any sushi fans reading this? Feel free to leave a comment below for fellow readers who are just discovering the world of sushi! 😉