We get a lesson in how to make sushi from one of Bahrain's most popular Japanese restaurants
I’ve always had a problem with the clichéd, cut-and-dried perception of Japanese raw fish preparations being something you either love or hate.
What sort of barbarian, after all, dismisses an ancient and intricately nuanced culinary art, just because they can’t get over the thought that the ingredients haven’t been cooked into submission prior to consumption?
Not me that’s for sure, and I felt certain as I geared up for a crash course in the Zen art of sushi and sashimi at the spanking new Bahrain branch of Yo Sushi, that my experience would provide me with the kind of insight that would make such snap judgements seem even more ridiculous.
The scene was set for a momentous morning. I had arrived at around 10.30am with plenty of time for a few false starts before the lunchtime rush. The Filipino whiz kids in the central preparation area were chopping, slicing and shaping with masterful speed and ease, and the daft-looking hairnet I had been presented with before being allowed near food, fit my hefty Anglo-Saxon head like a glove.
All that was left for me to do was heed the mystic wisdom of my sushi sage Allan, wield the samurai sword…er, knife, like a rapier and make a decent stab at hewing delicate slices of meat from a giant salmon, and the experience would have been a fulfilling one. Which makes it even more embarrassing to report that, not even 20 minutes later, I would be staring at a mutilated hunk of prime fish, blushing at my incompetence and cursing Japanese cuisine with a vehemence as incoherent as that of any other utter ignoramus.
Regarded by many as the apex of the country’s gastronomic pedigree, sashimi (sliced raw fish) represents the Japanese cultural appreciation of subtlety. I was probably lucky there was no one from the Land of the Rising Sun present as I attempted to follow Allan’s sleek example and ease the flesh away from its skin and bones, or else there might have been a diplomatic incident.
No matter how hard I tried to run the knife smoothly down the spine of the fish, I kept veering into its prized fleshy heart like a narcoleptic lorry driver. By the time I finally managed to brutally wrest a vastly diminished amount of pink stuff free from Mother Nature’s encasing, the stock of the poor debased fish had been grossly devalued. ‘It’s OK, we can use it for salad’, said Allan, unwittingly revealing the costly extent of my piscine vandalism.
Quietly thanking my lucky stars that at least it was the produce of a global chain I was abusing and not a plucky independent underdog, I sped from the scene of the crime (well five metres away to an unsullied counter anyway) to see if I was any better at rolling than I was at chopping. I wasn’t. My days as a student smoker of roll-ups were characterised by misshapen cigarettes, and the assistance of a bamboo mat didn’t make any difference – my elephantine California rolls sparking whoops of good-natured derision from the pros.
With a full compliment of pretty waitresses now in place I was desperate to wrench my hairnet off and run for dear life, but there was still time for one last indignity to befall me. Temaki (hand-rolled cones of sushi) are meant to be the easiest to prepare, yet as I attempted to seal the sheet of nori (seaweed) in place by using a single grain of rice as glue, the contents lurched out of my hands and back onto the counter. I didn’t give it another go.