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Great sushi starts with fresh ingredients
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People in Estonia have very much taken to sushi, perhaps the most quintessential of all Japanese cuisine, with the sticky balls of rice and their ginger, soy, wasabi, seafood and vegetable accompaniments being a favourite among many. We asked Maksim Kartševki, the owner of Sushi Plaza in Viimsi Keskus shopping centre, all about these tasty morsels.

So what is sushi? Where does it come from, and how long have people been making it?

Its history’s never been properly documented. The story goes that since rice was the most abundant crop for the Japanese, that’s what they ate, and what they have been eating for centuries, combining it with other ingredients. They say that one day a woman decided to marinate some fish in vinegar with fermented rice and that once it had done its time, which was about a month later, she took some rice and layered the fish on top. The fish and rice combo was a great source of protein for them. It was healthy, it was filling and it was tasty, so it started to spread, and over time it evolved.

What’s the secret to making good sushi?

You’ve got to have the right attitude to it, and you’ve got to make it with love. And you need good rice and fresh ingredients.

 

What are the most common types of sushi?

 

First there’s hosomaki, which is a long, thin roll with just the one filling, be it fish or some other seafood or a vegetable.

 

Then there’s nigiri, which is a ball of rice that would fit in the palm of your hand topped with a mouthful of fish or seafood or egg.

 

Tempura sushi, like normal tempura, is battered and fried, again with fish or seafood or vegetables, using tempura flour or sometimes panko.

 

Futomaki is a tightly rolled, generously filled sushi – usually with two or more fillings. Each piece is pretty big. There are all different sorts of futomaki.

 

Then there’s sashimi, the true Japanese delicacy. It’s made with raw meat or fish that’s been sliced really thinly.

 

And finally there’s kushiyaki. Like normal tempura it’s not sushi either, but kind of fits in with the whole Japanese tapas thing. It’s fish or meat that’s seasoned and grilled on skewers.

 

Is there any etiquette when you’re eating sushi?

Japanese etiquette is about as strict and detailed as it comes! In restaurants it ranges from how you show customers in to the fact that there’s no need to thank the sushi chef for your food and that if you do it’s actually more of an insult.

We have our own European way of going about things, of course, although most people do things the way it suits them rather than following any sort of etiquette per se.

 

  1. Rubbing your chopsticks together after you’ve broken them apart isn’t necessary unless you’re using those cheap ones that are covered in splinters.
  2. If you dip your sushi in soy sauce, dip the fish side in it. The rice is supposed to keep its flavour – you only flavour the fish.
  3. Sushi’s meant to be a hands-free experience. Politeness and hygiene favour the use of chopsticks. Knife-and-fork’s a big no-no.
  4. You don’t have to mix your wasabi into your soy sauce, although lots of people like it like that. The wasabi’s actually there as a prophylactic, as it removes microbes from the fish.
  5. The ginger’s there to cleanse your palate between bits of sushi. It’s so you better taste new flavours.
  6. The ‘best before’ with sushi that’s freshly made is 10 minutes, maximum 15. It’s by no means fast food, but it is fast. It’s easy to make, but also delicate.

How easy? Make-at-home easy? What do you need to know to be able to make it?

Once you’ve done it once, the second time’s a lot easier. Which is the same with anything you make. You’ve got to know how to properly boil your sushi rice and prepare your vinegar, and mix them together the right way.

Where are Estonians on the sushi fanatic scale?

We’re pretty high up, I think. That said, the sushi we make in Estonia is worlds apart from traditional sushi. It’s restricted by the fresh fish that’s available to us, which in terms of range is still pretty small.

What’s the most popular sushi here in Viimsi?

Tempura sushi, definitely. That’s the case almost everywhere, here included. Chicken, salmon and vegan are our customers’ favourites.

What’s the most unusual sushi you’ve ever seen or tried?

Sea urchin. This spiky little black thing was taken out of the water right in front of me, sliced open and this yellow jelly-looking thing scooped out and plonked on the rice. It was really nice, and we’re going to try and make it ourselves soon.

How often do you change up your menu?

Once or twice a year, depending on how people’s tastes change.

What’s the best drink to go with sushi?

We’re always trying to get people to try sake. Estonians think of it as hot, alcoholic rice vodka. But actually it’s only the fairly ordinary, generally not all that good sake that’s warmed up. The good stuff’s served cold, and a wine glass is as good a way of serving it as any. It’s more of a rice wine than strong alcohol.

What’s new on your menu that’s worth trying?

Our vegan stuff’s new, inspired by traditional Israeli cooking. We recommend them to non-vegans as well, because they’re not just about veganism, but taste really nice as well.

What nutritional value does sushi offer?

It’s really filling, with lots of carbohydrates and protein, so it’s nutritious in that sense. It’s not super-low in calories like most people think though. The Japanese tend to eat tempura and other warm things in winter and sashimi and other raw seafood in summer.