Lesson on sushi at Mirai

May 20, 2009 (CHICAGO) In Thailand, for example, they don't eat with chopsticks, but rather, a spoon and fork.

And in Japan, there is much more to the cuisine than just raw fish. But the art of sushi preparation and consumption is worth examining, since so much of Japan's history revolves around this ancient tradition.

It takes years to become a sushi chef. There is the rice-making, the fish ordering and slicing, even presentation has its elements of skill. But eating is something few people know how to do properly.

At Mirai, which has been serving top-quality fish for nearly a decade in Wicker Park, it helps to know the three basic styles of sushi.

"Sushi is the cuisine that specifically refers to the Japanese style of preparing food. Sashimi is the slices of fish without the rice; ngiri is the slices of fish with the rice on the bottom, and the maki mono are the handrolls with the seaweed wrapped around the rice and the fish," said Kerry Tamura of Mirai.

Eating is another matter. A sushi assortment typically arrives with some hot wasabi paste, as well as some crisp, crunchy pickled ginger. For sashimi, you could dab a tiny bit of wasabi on it, or just dilute some of that heat in salty soy sauce. Using your chopsticks, drag a corner of the sashimi through the soy for a salty accent. Ngiri pieces usually have a tiny amount of wasabi between fish and rice, so no extra is necessary. But use your hands to pick these pieces up, turning them upside down, so that you dip the fish side into the soy, not the rice, which will otherwise fall apart. Finally, for pieces of maki, using your hands is just fine.

"In a traditional Japanese meal you start off with sashimi. You don't want to load your stomach with carbs or anything that expands, and as you move towards the latter part of the meal, that's when you start with the ngiri, the maki mono and the more heavier foods," said Tamura.

The assortment of fish could range from octopus to salmon, but in either case, Tamura says to be careful about dipping things into the soy sauce too much or for too long. You don't want to negate the chef's hard work.

"The sodium overpowers the flavor of the fish and also the lovely fats and just the distinct qualities that the flavors that the chef puts in each piece of fish..so you don't want to overpower it," Tamura said.

Beginning at the end of the month, Mirai will offer half-priced bottles of wine, sake and cocktails on Sundays.. They're also now open for lunch on weekends.

Incidentally, the best way to enjoy sushi at any restaurant is to sit at the bar, engage the chef in conversation, and if you're really adventurous, ask the chef for an "omakase," or tasting menu.

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