The Raw & the Cooked

Learning to Love Westernized Sushi

Maybe foie gras nigiri isn't such a bad idea after all.

By Victoria Haneveer October 7, 2016

Sushi photo 3 from tlb3qn

We love Jiro Ono and want him to continue to be alive, so we're not going to show him this.

Image: Pexels

Although sushi has existed for thousands of years in Japan, created as a way to preserve raw fish, its history in the West is much shorter. In fact, it was pretty much unknown here until the late 1960s—and even then it was greeted with a fair amount of suspicion. Times change, of course, and once Westerners realized how tasty sushi could be, they embraced this "new" delicacy from Japan. Classic sushi is always a joy, but many Americans know our native brand, which includes now-classics like the California roll (invented in Vancouver in 1971), just as well.

People think of sushi and tend to envision raw fish sitting on or wrapped in rice, likely with some nori, but there are so many types to try and they all look and taste different. The word sushi literally translates to "sour rice," so theoretically, as long as there's vinegared rice in there somewhere, you could apply the name. The price might vary (compare a $250 omakase dinner for one at Urasawa in Beverly Hills to a 12-piece sushi dinner costing $4.69 from your local Randall's, for example) but sushi is (almost) always good, and when you're in the mood for it, nothing else will do.

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This isn't how they used to make sushi.

Image: Kate LeSueur

Sushi Evolution: When East Met West

It's no surprise that sushi in America evolved to suit the Western palate. Ingredients like imitation crab, cream cheese, avocado and crawfish might feature on modern sushi restaurant menus and some of these unexpected creations can taste really good. Pretty much anything goes with rice, after all, which is why avant-garde sushi chefs just love to get creative with new combinations.

Japanese food purists might initially look down on "modern sushi" the same way Italian food connoisseurs might refuse to drink cappuccino in the evening or Texan foodies might recoil with horror at the very idea of adding beans to chili! However, American sushi has even made its way back to Japan where it's embraced—perhaps the ultimate compliment. When sushi first arrived in the United States, Americans were happier to eat imitation crab and avocado, for example, than strips of raw fish, and that certainly encouraged the masses to try this new cuisine.

By the end of the 1980s, sushi was a huge craze and we couldn't get enough of it. These days it is still every bit as popular and there are more types than ever, even a new preponderance of low-carb sushi made with shredded cauliflower instead of rice or wrapped in rice paper.

Ka sushi 005 rwsqw7

The shiso salmon at Ka Sushi was Houstonia's best new dish of 2016.

Where to Try Modern Sushi in Houston

Your first port of call might be Eurasia Fusion Sushi at 1330 Wirt Rd. where modern sushi options include the Hawaiian roll (coconut shrimp, avocado and shredded coconut), foie gras nigiri and Tiger Eyes roll (smoked salmon, jalapeño and cream cheese). If you're feeling adventurous or ordering for a huge mixed crowd, you can also choose from Western dishes like honey-glazed chicken wings or brochettes of Texas-style shrimp, following up by bananas Foster or tempura ice cream. This is perhaps the best restaurant to mix and match from all the Eastern, Western and fusion dishes, or the place to go if one of you is in the mood for sushi (or even Japanese, for that matter) and the other isn't. Go with a bunch of friends so you can order a range of dishes and share.

My personal favorite (so far) has to be Soma Sushi, at 4820 Washington Ave. Try the Crazy Irishman roll, which is an eclectic combination or salmon, tuna, avocado, tempura, eel sauce, aioli and more, or the wonderfully named God Made Man/Man Made Roll, which is spicy salmon, cucumber, lemon, avocado, grape tomato and micro-cilantro. You will also find ceviche, various udon and ramen options and house-smoked meats

Uchi is another interesting choice for contemporary Japanese/American dining and some really creative dishes made with Texas ingredients. You will find Uchi at 900 Westheimer Rd., though this one is quite special (and requires advance reservations), so maybe save it for a birthday or anniversary.

Fish with omelet instead of rice photo from jfhrk6

Yet another version of gluten-free sushi. 

Conclusion: Why You Should Try Fusion Sushi

I think it's worth heading to one of these fusion sushi places with a group of like-minded foodie friends, so you can experience as many dishes as possible, and if you've only had traditional sushi, keep an open mind. Some of these fusion options might really surprise you. There is a big difference between tweaking recipes to make them new and unique to add a special something to the mix or to combine two key parts of cuisines which complement one another, and coming up with a fusion dish just for the hell of it or to say you made something new.

Fusion can be about combining two cuisines equally to make a dish which is pretty much equal parts of them both or, more usually, it concerns adding key components (or just one thing) from one cuisine to change the character of a dish. Swap the mild shishto peppers in a Japanese dish for jalapeños to add a bolder flavor, or try smoked salmon and cream cheese in your sushi instead of raw salmon and wasabi. Fusion experimentation isn't supposed to detract from the beauty of authentic Japanese food, but to give it a new flavor, a brand new treat for the taste buds. Japanese food is traditionally light and subtle rather than overly aromatic or spicy, and doesn't tend to feature much dairy. But with modern cooking there are no rules, so get yourself to one of Houston's fusion sushi restaurants and treat your taste buds to a different twist on classic Japanese cuisine. 

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