Sushi 101: Taking classes

March 13, 2009 (CHICAGO) It's not Yugioh or Pokemon but rather Oishinbo. And to someone who covers the food world for a living, I couldn't resist imitating its creative approach to culinary education.

Comics are for kids, right? Well, at places like Challengers Comics and Conversation in Bucktown, about 20 percent of their shelves are devoted to Manga - a form of Japanese animation that appeals to both kids and adults.

"In Japan, comics are respected, which is weird because comics are an American art form, but we don't seem to treat them with the love and respect that other countries do," said Patrick Brower of Challenger's Comics.

Take Oishinbo, for example. The story involves a journalist, who must learn how to create an elaborate Japanese meal. The comic is littered with food tips, techniques and lessons, like this scene from early in the book: "If you dip the nori in the soy sauce and tightly wrap it around the rice it'll get soggy because of the moisture from the soy sauce and rice. You're only spoiling the flavor and crunchiness of the nori by doing that! You have to wrap the nori around the rice as lightly as possible, and put the soy sauce on just the edge. That way, you can savor the nori to the fullest."

The comic made me wonder: where would someone go in Chicago, if they wanted to learn how to cook Japanese food?

You could start at the Japanese American Service Committee in Sheridan Park, a social service agency where they offer monthly classes taught by expert home cooks.

"I don't think it requires intensive lessons, but I think you have to pay attention to the flavoring because even though you can learn how to do certain things, there's a right way and a wrong way apparently," said Sharon Harada, of the Japanese American Service Committee.

There are few chefs in town who would take the time to show you how to prepare sushi rice like Noriko Okutomi. She showed me how to make elaborate "flower sushi" maki rolls recently, along with some excellent futo maki.

In River North, Sushisamba also holds a monthly class called "Sake & Sushi 101," usually held on a Tuesday.

"These classes are a great opportunity for people to come in and learn about sushi and a little bit about sake," said Sushisamba's Franklin Ferguson.

After a lengthy, informative session on various sakes, students get to choose some fish and practice their maki rolling skills. It's rare a sushi chef would let you touch his knife - let alone use it - but in this case, they want to show novices how it's done.

"They would be able to go home, buy the products and to roll a roll to the same quality of the roll that they get to roll here," said Ferguson.

The JASC has another cooking class Saturday, focusing on Japanese red beans while Sushisamba's next "Sushi & Sake 101" will be held on Tuesday night.

"Oishinbo a la Carte" available at:
Barnes & Noble,, and also at

Challengers Comics
1845 N. Western Ave.

Sake & Sushi 101 Classes
Sushisamba Rio
504 N. Wells St.

Japanese American Service Committee (JASC)
4427 N. Clark St.
773-275-0097 x229

Japanese Markets to buy necessary products:


Chicago Food
3333 N. Kimball Ave.

Toguri J. Mercantile
851 W. Belmont Ave.

Lawrence Fish Market
3914 W. Lawrence


Mitsuwa Market
100 E. Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights

Tensuke Market
3 S. Arlington Hts. Rd., Elk Grove Village

Fish Market
3217 Lake Ave., Wilmette

3223 Lake Ave., Wilmette

Super H Mart
801 Civic Center Drive (Oakton & Waukegan), Niles

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