The nigiri sushi are very well known in France thanks to the Japanese restaurant established, but in Japan these dishes are eaten occasionally, presentation :
- The nigiri sushi, very popular in France
- The origins of nigiri sushi
- The varieties of nigiri sushi
- How to eat nigiri sushi ?
- Nigiri sushi to try in Japan:
The nigiri sushi, very consumed in France
The nigiri sushi “握り寿司” are very well known in France thanks to the Japanese restaurants established, but remain occasionally consumed in Japan. The nigiri sushi “握り寿司” literally“sushi held” in French is composed of a ball of vinegared rice called sumeshi on which is put a little wasabi and a “neta“, a slice of raw fish or seafood. The most famous “neta” are tuna, salmon, sea bream and shrimp in France.
The origins of nigiri sushi
Originally, Japanese rice was only a means of preserving marinated fish. They alternated layers of rice and fish in a jar, the whole being closed by a lid and fermented for 1 year. In the end the fish was eaten but the rice was thrown away! Then, little by little, the Japanese invented vinegar rice to accelerate the fermentation process. The combination of fish and vinegared rice was much better. This is how sushi was born. At that time, the rice surrounded the fish. At the end of the Edo period, the presentation of sushi evolved thanks to Hanaya Yohei. The fish was then placed on top of the vinegar rice, which gave birth to nigiri sushi.
The nigiri sushi was sold in the street, in “yatai“, a kind of small fast food. The nigiri sushi quickly became very popular in all Japan because it was eaten quickly in one bite and by hand. After the Second World War, the sale of sushi was more regulated, the street shops were replaced by restaurants. This is why today in Japan you can find sushi in most Japanese restaurants, or in restaurants specializing in sushi : the“sushi -ya“.
The varieties of nigiri sushi
1 The nigiri sushi “握り寿司”: You will find nigiri sushi with a thin leaf of nori or spring onion surrounding the whole thing. This helps to hold it all together.
2 The gunkan maki “軍艦巻”: a large sheet of nori surrounds the vinegared rice on which food such as fish roe for example is placed. This is similar to a nigiri sushi but surrounded by a large nori sheet. This one allows to keep the fish roe or to work higher. The taste is similar to maki sushi.
3 The temari sushi “手まり寿司”: This nigiri is very rare in France but very popular in Japan. It is a round nigiri that is eaten in one bite. They are very cute and are very popular with women and children. There are a lot of variations as appetizing as tasty. It is traditionally eaten for the girls’ day hina matsuri on March 3rd.
How to eat nigiri sushi?
You are of course free to eat it as you want, but we present here the way to eat it in Japan:
1 You can eat nigiri sushi by hand or with Japanese chopsticks.
2 You have to start with the lightest fish and finish with the darkest ones because they have a stronger taste. Then dip the nigiri sushi in a little shoyu soy sauce, only on the fish side because otherwise the rice will absorb too much soy sauce and you will avoid dropping rice in the sauce. If you wish to add a little wasabi, avoid putting it directly on the bite, which could mask the subtle taste of the fish. Instead, mix a little into the soy sauce.
Moreover, if you have the possibility to have real wasabi, you will appreciate even more your nigiri. Indeed, fresh wasabi is not comparable with its counterpart in powder or tube. It is powerful while being delicate and without going to the nose. The nigiri sushi is eaten upside down. Indeed, you must first put the ” neta ” on your tongue to get all the flavors of the fish. Be careful, nigiri sushi is eaten in one bite.
3 Then, take some pickled ginger “gari” to refresh your palate and enjoy another nigiri sushi with a darker “neta”.
Nigiri sushi ordered a la carte are served in pairs. They can also be served on a platter, accompanied by maki and miso soup. You will also find “saizukaza”, decorative leaves, artistically cut to embellish the nigiri sushi. The“saizukaza” are chosen according to the season and of course are not eaten.
Nigiri sushi to try in Japan:
There are many varieties of nigiri in Japan that do not exist in France. And even the ones you think you know are much better there, so it is interesting to taste them on the spot. Here are some of them:
- Ikura: salmon roe
- Uni: sea urchin
- Ebi: pink shrimp
- Toro: tuna
- Tamagoyaki Japanese omelette
- Unagi: grilled eel
The best nigiri sushi in Japan can be found in Japanese restaurants specializing in sushi sushi-ya. They are much more expensive of course but the freshness and quality of the products are priceless. The most famous one which has 3 stars in the Michelin guide is the restaurant of Jiro Sukiyabashi ! A movie has been released about him here is the trailer: Jiro Dreams of Sushi (a must see!). This movie is currently available on Netflix.