A Japanese tradition dating back thousands of years, these rolled treasures are now popping up in Cayman’s supermarkets as a quick and healthy take-out treat. Karma, Yoshi Sushi, Thai Orchid and Taikun at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman are among the top spots to sample them.
A relative newcomer on the scene is Mizu, a stylish Asian-inspired restaurant in Camana Bay that features a dedicated sushi bar.
Scientists believe the nutritional benefits of the traditional Japanese diet – typically fresh, unprocessed foods such as fish, vegetables and rice – is one reason Japan is among the healthiest nations in the world.
Those staples are the stars of these compact little rolls. Many of the ingredients that go into sushi – coupled with items typically accompanying them such as green tea – are bursting with health benefits. For example, fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lauded for its cardiovascular benefits. The nutrients in pickled ginger, known as gari, can aid the digestive system. And nori, the dried seaweed that wraps around sushi, is rich in vitamins and minerals.
An ancient tradition
Sushi’s origins date back to 4th century Southeast Asia. Raw, salted fish was preserved by storing it between layers of rice. The rice eventually fermented, producing a lactic acid, which kept the fish from spoiling. When the fermentation process was complete, the rice was discarded and the fish – known as nare-sushi – was ready to eat.
Over time, this method of fish preservation spread and it is thought to have been introduced into Japan around the 8th century A.D. Faster pickling processes were later introduced, cutting down the fermentation time while including the rice as part of the meal.
The introduction of rice vinegar during the 17th century shortened the fermentation process further, while also adding a pleasant flavor of tartness.
In the early 1800s sushi became popular in the Edo region – known today as Tokyo – when street vendors began forming the rice into small pockets by hand and pressing toppings onto the rice as a type of fast food.
When they started blending the rice with fresh, raw fish (sashimi), these bite-sized morsels grew in popularity over the traditional fermented sushi toppings – and modern-day sushi was born.
Sushi in North America is decidedly different than in Japan, however, since the ingredients were originally designed to please the Western palate. Westerners, for instance, were not used to eating raw fish or seaweed. Legend has it that the now-ubiquitous California roll was invented when the chef substituted raw tuna with avocado and hid the seaweed inside the roll so the rice was on the outside – the opposite in Japan.
Today, the sheer variety of ingredients in these artfully made rolls is staggering as contemporary chefs come up with innovative combinations to tempt the taste buds.
Reymond Borromeo is the sushi chef at Karma in West Shore Plaza. The Philippines national has more than 12 years of experience working in high-end Japanese kitchens around the globe, and enjoys experimenting with new ingredients.
Among the more popular creations at Karma is the Mount Fuji Roll made up of panko-breaded prawn, mango, avocado, crab stick tempura and seared spicy crab, and the Dynamite Roll, which features tempura prawn, crab, avocado, teriyaki and Karma’s homemade “dynamite sauce.”
Reymond says the most important ingredient in sushi-making is the rice. First and foremost, use the right stuff: Japanese short-grain sushi rice, known as shari, which has the right texture and consistency. Cooking it properly is another vital step, and one of the most difficult parts to master, he says. A common mistake people often make is overcooking the rice, making it too soft.
“When you have good rice, anything you put in the sushi will taste good,” he says. “Without good rice, you can’t make the roll properly.”
Sushi is often accompanied by pickled ginger, soy for dipping, and wasabi – but most restaurants use colored horseradish. The real wasabi is a root vegetable. It is difficult to cultivate and extremely expensive. In Cayman, the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, is the only venue importing it in to accompany its gourmet sushi, where it is grated tableside against sharkskin in the traditional Asian fashion.