Review: The Story of Sushi

Well, I have to hand it to my husband. This year, he batted 2 for 2 in the Christmas present department, at least when it comes to which books he gave me. I already blogged about the great bento book he presented me with on Christmas morning, but it took me a few weeks to get around to his second gift – The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson.

sushiThe Story of Sushi was actually originally titled The Zen of Fish and is written by Trevor Corson, who is America’s only Sushi Concierge. Who exactly bestowed that title upon him is something I have been unable to determine, but Corson is a recognized food expert (and Iron Chef America judge) and has spent a good many years studying sushi from sea to table. In his book, he presents readers with two main themes – a history of sushi from its earliest form (fermented freshwater fish) to its current incarnation and the tale of a trio of students at a sushi academy in California, as they struggle through the three-month course to graduation day.

In a nutshell, I loved this book. I learned a TON from this book, and I have been eating sushi (and attempting to learn about what I am eating) in Japan for nearly 7 years. Laugh all you want, but around page 62, I actually went and got a highlighter – university-style, baby – and started noting the things I wanted to remember. I’ll share some of those things with you all now.

Fun Sushi Facts I NEVER Knew:

  • By 718 AD, according to a government document of the time, Japanese citizens were allowed to pay their taxes with sushi, then a type of freshwater fish packed in a box of fermented rice.
  • Much of Japan’s nori (seaweed, or laver) is grown on the coasts of the Ariake Sea (surprisingly not far from my home in Kumamoto).
  • Inside out rolls (where the rice is on the outside, like a California roll) were invented by Japanese chefs in America to hide the seaweed from their squeamish customers.
  • Otoro (fatty tuna) can be as much as 40% fat.
  • Most wasabi served at sushi bars doesn’t contain real wasabi at all, but is a mix of mostly mustard powders and food dyes.

Were there shortcomings to this book? Sure, in a way. Corson’s style of presenting facts is readable and entertaining (although sometimes you have to examine a sentence carefully to get the tongue-in-cheek fish sex humor). His fiction-like following of the students at the sushi academy was less so. Perhaps because he relied entirely on first person accounts or what he actually witnessed to inform the entirety of that section. He took no liberties with inserting his own opinions or feelings onto his “characters” which, at times, made for a frustrating read. Not because he was entirely in the right as a nonfiction author to keep his personal thoughts out of the narrative, but because the “story” of the sushi academy felt more like a story than an actual recounting, only the characters weren’t always very likable. And yet, I understand why he used two drastically different approaches in the same book – despite his way with words, I would have been slogging through the middle and end of this book if it had ONLY been a textbook-like approach (however humorous) to sushi. Inserting an actual storyline broke up the parade of facts and made me really pay attention when the history passages came along.

This book has permanently changed the way I look at sushi, but not in a “holier than thou” sort of way. I think now I have a better appreciation for what a chef does to make the things on my plate taste so amazing and I better understand what those things are (and what I should be ordering …). If you have even a passing interest in sushi and its origins (or want to know more about what to expect at a sushi restaurant in Japan as opposed to the US), this is absolutely the book to read.

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