This Sunday (June 18) is International Sushi Day—and I’m betting you didn’t even realize that was a thing. This special event was launched in 2009—an announcement, unsurprisingly, via Facebook. The sole activity to celebrate International Sushi Day: Eat and appreciate sushi (for bonus points, introduce someone to sushi).
My own introduction to sushi happened 10 years ago at the Loews Lake Las Vegas (now Westin Lake Las Vegas)—so if you’re in Vegas for MPI’s World Education Congress next week, know that sushi options abound even though you’re in the Mojave Desert.
‘Fish in the Desert’
[This tale into my first dip into sushi was originally published in the September 2007 issue of The Meeting Professional.]
I sake-stumble—a gait observers surely recognize as well-rehearsed Tai Chi—up to my room at the Loews Lake Las Vegas, get comfortable and voraciously rip into Nick Tosches’ June Vanity Fair masterpiece, “If You Knew Sushi.”
How serendipitous that I’d land at the table of one of the nation’s finest sushi chefs while newsstands hold a 12,000-word tome on the cuisine by one of America’s finest authors. I hadn’t considered the circumstances, but in hindsight, I really had no choice—I was visiting the desert and I was going to eat sushi, this much was certain.
“Trust Chef Fuji,” my hosts say.
“But…but…but…I don’t really like fish,” I squeak.
I taste a variety of sake and select one to accompany the meal.
“Is there anything you absolutely do not want?” an amused waiter asks.
“No eel. Wait, no. I’ll take whatever Chef Fuji wants to make,” I say in overly dramatic tone.
Master Sushi Chef Osamu “Fuji” Fujita’s signature Tuna Cocktail visually pervades the table—an orb erupting with dry ice vapors beneath chunks of sumptuous tuna swimming in a spicy sauce that celebrates the fish’s flavor.
I place the first piece of tuna in my mouth, trying not to taste. I finally breathe, and experience a stunning delight. A sip of sake created a fuller experience—the two tastes mingle and temporarily take over. I shake my head. Whoa.
Moments later, the tuna is gone and the dry ice cloud has diminished. And then? A large plate of indeterminate seafood ingredients appears.
“There’s more?” I thought.
The waiter is a swell guide, and my taste buds find a favorite flavor in the exotic unagi. I take more sake and in a near-out-of-body experience realize that I love the taste of freshwater eel. If you knew sushi…
Sushi knowledge nuggets
As one of the F&B trends showing no sign of letting up, meeting and event attendees love to be educated about what they’re eating, where it came from (geographically and culturally) and any associated factoids that can make dining a memorable experience—something more than just gobbling down sustenance in between education sessions.
Following are some sushi facts, courtesy of Benihana.
- The term sushi means “vinegared rice” not “raw fish.” Vinegared rice is the base ingredient to every piece of sushi.
- Sushi is estimated to have started as early as 500 B.C. but it didn’t transform into the bite-sized sushi everyone knows until the 19th century.
- Traditionally, sushi chefs use special Japanese carbon steel knives. These knives are only honed on a single side to create the sharpest possible cutting edge for prepping sushi.
- Sushi is as much of an art form as it is a delicacy. In Japan, sushi chefs must undergo 10 years of professional training before earning the stamp of “Sushi Master.”
- Sushi is meant to be served in a particular way. In order to achieve the rice’s ideal “stickiness,” chefs aim to keep their rice around 110 degrees Fahrenheit before adding the cold fish. Once served, soy sauce is meant to serve as a complementary condiment rather than a dipping sauce.
- There’s more to sushi than rolls and maki. Nigiri (pieces of fish on top of rice), sashimi (sliced fish only) and temaki (hand rolls), are all more common in Japan.