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The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket

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Book Overview

A New York Times Editor's ChoiceEverything you never knew about sushi-- its surprising origins, the colorful lives of its chefs, and the bizarre behavior of the creatures that compose itTrevor Corson... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Don't mix your wasabi and soy!

Journalist and food writer Trevor Corson (who previously authored The Secret Life of Lobsters) has masterfully combined the story of a young female sushi chef struggling up the ranks with the natural and cultural history of Japanese raw fish cuisine. The Zen of Fish follows 20-year-old aspiring sushi chef Kate in her struggle to break down the sexist and cultural barriers to entry in the art of sushi. At the same time, it provides historical context for sushi, which originated as a means of preserving old fish in peasant villages. Modern sushi has Japanese incarnations (influenced by the 20th century US military presence in Japan), California twists, and high-fat, additive-loaded, American supermarket incarnations. Visit the author's website if this book leaves you wanting more. The site includes articles on etiquette and technique, full-color pictures, and a behind-the-scenes look at the chefs featured in his book.

The Mack Daddy

I gobbled down this book, as if it were a nice square plate full of my favorite sushi rolls. I have been eating sushi since I was a child, and was never taught the correct way to eat it. I was one of those people who mixed wasabi with soy, or put more wasabi on when it was already correctly measured out for me by the chef! I had no idea the origins of the components that make up "sushi", or what it took to become a certified sushi chef. I have new found admiration, on top of the dizzying awe I already had for anyone who can put together the delicacies I so love to eat. Reading it I got so hungry for everything that was described, especially for the special rolls that Kate was so good at making. It was fascinating to hear about how westerners like their sushi, and how Japanese connoisseurs prefer theirs. It has made me think twice about my own palate and what my taste buds run to. I myself could never go through what these students went through because I am notorious for chopping off hunks of my own flesh when handling sharp knives. It's a wonderful book, I read it in one sitting , you wont be able to put it down!

A Reading Delicacy

What a fabulous book! I was lucky enough to receive an advance reader's edition of this text and am fully recommending it to everyone I know...foodies, sushi fans, non-fiction readers, and people like myself who were just curious to the read the book will be delighted. The book is a nonfiction text that covers the history and expansion of sushi from ancient Japan to modern day California, including the ingredients, the methods, the menus, and the atmosphere of sushi restaurants all over the world, past and present. It also picks up cultural permutations of sushi - how mainstream it has become, why certain things are certain ways, and the big differences between Americanized & traditional sushi practices. However, the part of the book that really livens it up and makes this worth a 5-star review is the fly-on-the-wall portrayal of a sushi school in California that is attached to a struggling sushi restaurant. Much of the story acts as a lens view of 3 students training at the school, serving as a very well-written and entertaining documentary on paper. Kate is a young adult hoping to overcome her past by doing something positive with her life - but she gets nothing but negative feedback on her work. Marcos is a teenager hoping to meet chicks and get a job straight out of high school. And Takumi is a retired Japanese pop star devoted to studying his culture from afar to return home a triumphant chef once and for all, after a failed pasta bar attempt. Overall the book packs equal parts drama and lessons - although at times the talk got a bit technical. However, to clear things up, Corson's folks have put together a fabulous website that lets you see pictures of the people he writes about, includes a blog, sushi facts, etiquette, and tons of photos that really help clear everything up. Have your internet nearby when reading this so you can look up everything from willow blades to nigiri and you'll be just fine.

Entertaining, encyclopaedic and enlightening.

Corson's fascinated with seafood, as his earlier book on lobsters demonstrates. Here, he casts his net through entirely new waters as he describes what sushi is, where it comes from and where it might be going. Spending three months as a "perpetual presence" in a California sushi school, he was able to establish close contact with staff and students. Supported by an avid research team, he's able to present nearly every facet of sushi from biology to service methods. Little is left unsaid in this book, but every bit is interesting and informative. Written in the best journalistic style you'll find this book worthwhile in many respects. Among the first students Corson presents is Kate Murray, who lacks both cooking skills and confidence. She quickly learns that there are no short-cuts to sushi, even though the meal is composed of little but rice, mostly raw fish, some vegetables and simple sauces. Throughout the narrative, Kate seems to continually lag behind the other students, harassed by the impatient instructor - Toshi Sugiura. Sushi kitchen skills focus on knives, with each student possessing a kit of them. Sharpening is essential, as Kate learns the hard way. Her solution to her fear of knife sharpening is unique. She's also startled to learn that the image of sushi as "everything fresh" is false. Mold and infectious bacteria are essential to good sushi. As the class struggles to keep up, Corson is able to introduce a wide range of supportive material relevant to what they learn. Sushi's history is complex and intricate, starting as quick meals from city street vendors. The move of Japan's capital from Kyoto to Edo [Tokyo], was but one of many divisions sushi would go through in Japan. There are also regional varieties, as well as those of customer class. Moving from street to restaurant also brought changes, not all of them universally welcomed. Even today, many women won't enter a sushi restaurant, partly because the staff and customers are male dominated. And often boisterous. Women chefs, such as Kate, and her classmate, Danish beauty Fie Kruse, are generally unwelcome. North American sushi restaurants are slowly modifying that traditional view. Underlying the kitchen activities is the biology of what comprises the product. Corson provides information on rice's history, but his real flair is in describing the toppings placed on the rice. Shrimp, octopus and the multitude of available fish types both fresh and sea living each have their place and their handling in this book. There are no few surprises in store for the reader. What comprises the wasabi powder you can purchase in many North American shops? Are the salmon eggs crowning the rolls on your plate really from fish? Is tuna the true fundamental topping for sushi? These, and countless other questions, are raised and resolved. Except one - eels, a common sushi topping in Japan, but generally spurned in North America, have eluded domestication through "f

A fascinating view of fish from many angles

The Zen of Fish is built around the story of a group of people attending California's first sushi-chef school, but there's a lot more to the book than that. Using the class as a framework, Corson presents the history of sushi, starting as a way to preserve fish, and its transformation into its present form, first in Japan and later in California. Along the way, he discusses different kinds of fish, how they are caught or farmed, and how they are cooked or presented raw. And this is accompanied by a taste of Japanese culture and vocabulary, and some of the science behind the preserving, cooking, tasting and eating of fish. It is, like sushi, beautifully presented. The various threads of the book each make an interesting story, and you'll learn something from each of them. I don't want to reduce the book to a tag line, but Corson's thoughtful tone will make you more thoughtful in preparing or eating fish -- a zen approach, if you like. Certainly you'll be a more thoughtful consumer of sushi, but there's also information that might make you a better fish cook, and more knowledgeable in considering the economy and ecological impact of fishing. There's a cultural lesson to be learned in the way sushi has been Americanized on its way from Tokyo. Eating sushi in the United States can be helped by knowing more about Japanese practice, but it's a separate thing, not a copy. The sushi school in California makes that clear, with frantic weeks of training instead of the years of apprenticeship required in Japan. Being fluent in Japanese, Corson is in an excellent position to provide a balanced view of this, and the clarity of his writing helps you develop your own point of view. I liked this book a lot. There's so much in the book that while I was reading it I felt as though I should be taking notes, but I didn't want to put it down. It's definitely a book worth coming back to.
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