If you ever find yourself in Abu Dhabi, you will be surprised to know that Japanese food is quite beloved here. In fact, it is even home to an world-famous contemporary Japanese restaurant that also has branches in Bangkok, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York, which locals, expats, and tourists love.
Sushi, particularly, is a favorite among locals and expats who frequently dine out in Abu Dhabi. Why? First of all, it’shalal – meaning it is lawful for Muslims to eat according to the Quran because the most common types of fish for sushi have fins and scales.
Secondly, it has rice, which is a dietary staple for Emiratis and most of the expats living in Abu Dhabi. Also, most sushi restaurants use a special type of vinegar instead of mirin (Japanese cooking rice wine) to keep the food halal.
Thirdly, sushi has evolved greatly over the years. It brings people much excitement to discover the new available flavors of sushi, which contemporary Japanese restaurants in the capital specialize in. Plus, most people simply appreciate the artistic new presentations of this food.
So, if you are a sushi lover, Abu Dhabi will not disappoint you. It has top-notch Japanese dining establishments, both traditional and contemporary, ready to cater to you. You can be sure to enjoy this dish as if you were right in Japan.
And, since you love sushi, you may enjoy learning more about this dish. As you are savoring the cuts of raw fish expertly arrayed on bite-sized morsels of rice that you have ordered, appreciate them more as you read the 12 sushi facts listed below.
1. It is a healthy dish
Traditional sushi only uses the freshest ingredients. Nothing is processed. In fact, freshness is the most important quality of traditional sushi. Expert sushi chefs prepare sushi in the height of the fish’s flavor.
Plus, they serve everything in beautiful and small portions to encourage appreciation for every bite, which is known to help control food intake.
2. Sushi has always been “paired” with rice
In ancient Japan, cooked rice was used to preserve raw fish. However, it used to not be eaten with the fish. After the fermentation process, rice was thrown out right away and only the preserved fish was eaten.
This only changed when Sugato sushi was created in Kochi Prefecture. The people here stuffed vinegary rice in cleaned and vinegar-seasoned barracuda and ate them together. Before this method came about, rice was always discarded.
3. The “idea” of sushi did not originate in Japan
Historical findings reveal that the original method of preparing sushi actually came from Southeast Asian countries some 2,000 years ago. It just traveled its way to Japan as the country bartered goods with neighboring countries.
4. The sushi world knows today only came into being in the early 19th century
The bite-sized sushi served in Japanese restaurants, be they traditional, contemporary, or fusion, is actually called nigirizushi. This “form” came about as Edo or Ancient Tokyo became a busy economic district where people needed something easy to eat on the go. Nigiri sushi is Japan’s original fast food.
5. Shari is the rice used for sushi
This is steamed rice blended with vinegar that is prepared from grain that is fermented and acetified. The vinegar is vital to the sushi because of the tart flavor it adds to the rice as well as its antibacterial properties.
6. It takes skill to prepare shari for sushi
If you want to become a sushi chef, learning how to properly makeshariis the first lesson you need to take and it can take five years just to master the creation of shari.
To make shari, a special wooden paddle is used to mix the steamed rice and vinegar and it is worked a certain way to ensure the incorporation of flavors and to protect the shape of the rice grains.
Fanning is also an important part of preparing the rice. Getting rid of excess moisture is crucial in creating the best texture for the rice. It will allow the natural sugars of the rice, as well as, the vinegar to beautifully coat every grain. The sugar and vinegar coat prevents rice from getting sticky and it also seals in moisture within the grain.
7. Every region of Japan has its own sushi recipe
When you head to Japan, you will be surprised by how different sushi looks and tastes in every region. Prefectures make use of the ingredients that are most accessible to them.
Therefore, it should not be a huge surprise that sushi has greatly morphed in form and flavor through the years. This is probably the reason for all the amazing contemporary sushi restaurants there are all over the world.
8. A sushi restaurant is automatically branded “contemporary” if sushi is not prepared in front of you
Any sushi place wherein you do not see your order prepared in front of you is often considered contemporary because real traditional sushi restaurants are known for their chefs or itamaes.
Itamaemeans literally means “in front of the board” and a sushi chef called this is someone who has at least 10 years of study and experience as an apprentice.
Another difference between a traditional and contemporary sushi restaurant is the interior. Traditional restaurants are quite intimate. There are only a few bar stools in front of the board. Contemporary restaurants, on the other hand, are flashier and typically have western design elements.
Lastly, the use of unconventional ingredients for sushi recipes is always a “label-changer.”
9. The traditional way of eating sushi is by hand
Chopsticks are only used for sanitary purposes. If your hands are clean and you are having traditional sushi, use your fingers to pick up the sushi and turn it over, so that the fish is what you dip in the sauce and not the shari.
If you are in Abu Dhabi, eating with your right hand is common practice and completely acceptable so do not feel pressured into working those chopsticks when you have ordered sushi at a restaurant.
10. There are always new and exciting recipes for sushi
The innovative chefs of contemporary Japanese restaurants are using new ingredients for sushi to effectively cater to the differences in diners’ requirements.
There are even a lot of nigirizushi options that use meat or are complete without fish or meat. And for the brave, there are sushi options that make use of exotic accents such as chocolate sauce, cream cheese, almond slivers, olives, croissants, and even flowers.
11. Sushi has fused with other popular dishes
Fusion sushi is all the rage these days. Sushi taco, for example, tickled the fancy of those who enjoy the zing of Mexican tacos but wish for the healthier and lighter ingredients of traditional sushi.
There are actually different types of sushi taco available. A popular one makes use of rice fried in the shape of a taco. It is filled with sashimi, cucumber, and avocado. An alternative recipe to the sushi taco, makes use of crisp nori (seaweed) cut into the shape of a taco.
Another new fusion sushi is this sweet rice or tapioca dessert topped with seasonal fruits. It is assembled in a block quite similar to how sushi from Okayama Prefecture in Japan is made.
There is also this Thai sushi that is in the form of a traditional sushi roll but it is watermelon and mango dessert wrapped in a fine sheet of omelet.
12. Most women prefer colorful sushi
This observation was made in Japan when a new high-end contemporary sushi bar was built. The sushi prepared here made use of colorful ingredients that were not commonly used in traditional sushi.
The people who frequently ordered this sushi were mostly women. It was a similar scenario in other countries. Many believe that women opted for colorful sushi because they are under the impression that it is healthier.
An Elevated Sushi Experience
Traditional sushi remains quite in-demand because there are still a lot of people who have just recently discovered it. Additionally, there are a lot of purists who prefer the original form. In fact, chefs from all over the world troop to Japan for an apprenticeship with the masters of traditional sushi. For them, nothing compares to the technique of traditional sushi-making.
However, there is no doubt that the continuous evolution of this Japanese dish is what’s pushing it to greater heights. The 2,000 years of evolution in Japan has primed sushi for the next era, which encourages optimum creativity to achieve new depths in flavor.
Sushi chefs definitely have their work cut out for them. They are presented with the perfect opportunity to use their ingenuity and craftsmanship to give people more to look forward to. And, people await the novel sushi creations to see if there truly are more to this Japanese dietary staple.
In Abu Dhabi, you can easily have a wonderful sushi experience of your choice because of all the different Japanese-owned and Japanese-inspired dining establishments around. But, as you indulge in sushi, remember the fun facts shared here. Appreciate the “journey” sushi has taken because it certainly plays important role in every sushi experience one can have.
Jenene Bronwin Batts is the Senior Marketing Coordinator at Tourism Development & Investment Company or TDIC. She oversees website maintenance, PR requests, marketing initiatives and all general guests’ enquiries for the company’s destinations, including KOI Restaurant & Lounge and Boa Steakhouse in Abu Dhabi.
Franck Mottais is the Operations Manager at Tourism Development & Investment Company or TDIC. With a true passion for food and beverage operations, Franck’s personal goal is to consistently deliver the highest quality of guest service and effectively run distinguished establishments such as KOI Restaurant & Lounge and Boa Steakhouse in Abu Dhabi.