Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sushi and Kimbap

Our Seekers group at church is having "make your own sushi" night this evening. So it's time to talk about one of the world's great culinary creations, plus something similar and closer to my roots.

Sushi begins and ends with short grain rice that has been seasoned with rice vinegar. Then the rice is shaped in the chef's hands and topped with delicately sliced or formed morsels, usually seafood. Ahi tuna (maguro), halibut (hirame), shrimp (ebi), ikura (salmon eggs) are just a few examples of this type of sushi, called nigiri. Often, a bit of wasabi (green "horseradish") is added.

When sushi is rolled in sheets of nori (thin, black, and seasoned sheets of seaweed), it is called maki sushi. When placed inside elliptically shaped pockets of light brown tofu skin, it is called inari sushi. Growing up in Los Angeles, my third generation Japanese American (sansei) friends irreverently called maki sushi "tires," and inari sushi "footballs." My wife Becky calls inari "elbow skin."

Spicy tuna is more of an American phenomenon, and some sushi chefs will refuse to make it. It is, however, delicious and a favorite of mine.

Cooked sushi is becoming popular. There is a hybrid version called broiled sushi, which takes imitation crab, mayonnaise, mushrooms, and other ingredients, placed over sushi rice and broiled. It is served by taking a sheet of Korean style nori (the kind you can often get from Costco in the little packs, with the sheets maybe 1/6 the size of a regular sheet) and spreading the broiled ingredients on it.

This brings us to kimbap, which literally means "seaweed rice." Where sushi usually contains seafood, the kimbap I'm most familiar with has seasoned and cooked beef, seasoned spinach, slivered egg (kind of like an omelette) and daikon or moo in Korean, all rolled with a sheet of kim, or Korean style nori and sliced. It's very hearty and makes an excellent appetizer or even a full meal in itself.

Where's the best sushi in Hawaii? The contenders would include Yanagi Sushi, which has long been a standard for high quality sushi. California Beach Rock N' Sushi is very untraditional, but very good. I would have to say that Yohei Restaurant, however, has the best tasting sushi I've had in a long time.

I have never been there, mostly because I don't have the money it takes, but Sushi Sasabune is supposed to be the best in Hawaii. I have eaten at the Los Angeles location - thanks to Carolina barbecue lover Linda Quarles - and it was fabulous. No menus, no requests, just trust the chef to make you an incredible sushi meal...and it was.

But the greatest sushi experience of my life would have to be at Morimoto Restaurant in Philadelphia. Yes, THAT Morimoto, Iron Chef in Japan and America. My sister and brother-in-law were kind and generous enough to treat me to a meal there. I was fortunate enough to have Morimoto working the sushi bar that night, and as one of the courses of my meal he made four very small pieces of sushi: hirame, hamachi (yellowtail), salmon, and the ultimate: toro (fatty tuna). All were sublime, especially the toro. It's just fish on rice, but somehow, the ultra freshness of the fish, the perfect seasoning of the rice, the exactness of the portions, resulted in something quite ethereal. It was the epitome of how utterly simple food can be the most delicious of all.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. Far less sophisticated and gourmet was the kimbap my mother used to make. As a poor pastor's family, we had to come up with creative ways to eat cheaply but well. During the toughest years (to my family; I thought they were among the best years of my life), we had kimbap, but it wasn't made with the beef, spinach, eggs, and moo. My mom would layer rice on a sheet of kim, then pour a line of soy sauce, a line of sesame oil, and a line of roasted sesame seed salt (gae sogum), roll it up and and slice it. As a young boy, it was the most delicious thing - again utterly simple. The deliciousness of it lingered so strong with me that even when we could afford the fancier ingredients, I still wanted Mom's simple kimbap.

Maybe it was the love that my mother put into it that made it so special. I always felt very special growing up. My father was a pastor, and my mother had been seminary trained. They instilled a strong sense of faith in me. It led me one day to being called to the ministry. The day after I was ordained, my parents took me for a walk and explained that when my mom was pregnant with me, they had prayed for a boy (they already had two daughters), and that this boy would grow up to become a pastor and serve God as they had. That was why my Korean name Sungsoo means "Holy Chosen." They didn't tell me until the day after my ordination, so they wouldn't unduly influence me. It would have to be a pure calling from God. And it was. They never said a thing about it, but the way they always demonstrated God's grace to me, the way they brought me up in the church, the way my mom might not have the best ingredients, except a mother's love, but was still able to make some of the most delicious food in my memory - all of this continues to affirm my journey with God. I believe we are called, maybe not to ordained ministry, but we are called to first experience the deliciousness of the utter simplicity of God's unconditional love, and then share it with others.

1 comment:

sake and food said...

I have a very strong attached feeling with Kimbop as well.
When i was little, everytime on the
school picnics, my stepmom had to wake up early in the morning, used to make it for me and my brothers.
It was very delicious always, because her heart was in Kimbop, her caring was in it. Now i make Kimbop for my kids' school field trip. Tomorrow, Airi and Lei's field trip, i'm going to make it for their lunch sesoned with lots of my love for them.