One of the things I love about sushi is its ceremony. Based on etiquette and order, sushi demands a distinct method of preparation and dining. At the sushi bar, the sequence of service never alters: It starts with a hot towel and ends with a sweet orange cut into segments and speared with toothpicks. There are Japanese customs to follow, such as eating sashimi with chopsticks, but sushi with fingers; dipping the fish, not the rice, into your soy-wasabi mixture and never pouring your own drink but ensuring your friend’s glass is always full. These rules apply whether you’re in a restaurant or enjoying homemade sushi.
In Japan, spring is welcomed with Setsuban, or change of season, a holiday celebrated with rituals to welcome good luck. Setsuban is also known as mame-maki (bean throwing,) because more than a thousand years ago, daizu (soy beans) were offered to Toshitokkujin, the rice god. In this day and age, the Japanese toss beans around their home as they loudly call out, “Oniwa soto fukuwa uchi,” meaning out with the devils and in with good luck. It is also customary to eat as many beans as one’s age, and one extra for the new season, considered the beginning of the year. This ensures good health and fortune for the coming year.
Setsuban is also celebrated by the consumption of “good fortune-direction sushi rolls.” Normally, plump nori-covered rolls are cut into pieces, but in this instance slicing them would cut good fortune. One legend has it that a great samurai downed an entire roll in this manner before heading into a battle he eventually won.
Celebrating with sushi
Welcome spring with the ceremony of sushi and the spirit of Setsuban. Preparing sushi at home is easier than you think: Maki-sushi, the rolls that invite countless variations, is simple if you have a bamboo mat for shaping it into a cylinder. To prepare your homemade sushi, you’ll need sushi rice, sushi-quality fish, nori (dried seaweed,) and a sharp chef’s knife. But you’ll also want chopsticks for dining, a dash of wasabi and pickled ginger. Start out with miso soup, edamame and, of course, Japanese beer or sake. Or create a sake infused with fresh fruit or herbs. Salute spring, Setsuban and your inner Iron Chef with a cheer of “kapai!”
Pineapple Mint Sake
Spicy Ahi Tuna Roll
California Sunrise Roll
Salty Spicy Edamame
Diane Brown is author of The Seduction Cookbook: Culinary Creations For Lovers
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