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At its most basic, this cuisine is delicious, which may be its most important aspect.

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A fascinating book concerning sushi and Japanese cuisine has recently been published and it is sure to be of interest to most food lovers and cooks. Though Mouritsen may not seem like an appropriate author for such a book, he does have a culinary background too. In his spare time, he cooks, especially trying to advance his knowledge and skills in molecular gastronomy. Plus, he has long been addicted to sushi, trying it at restaurants all over the world. Though this book is a cookbook, it is certainly far from ordinary. The book is divided into nine main sections, each with its own subsections.

It is very comprehensive, starting with the philosophy behind sushi, moving through the science of sushi and ending on the practicalities of preparing sushi.

Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body and the Soul by Ole Mouritsen

There seems little about sushi that is not covered in this book. The book is also aesthetically pleasing, with plenty of excellent photos and diagrams. As a scientist, Mouritsen is especially interested about the science behind his food, and has filled his book with loads of information about the science behind sushi, from general discourses on carbohydrates, amino acids, and fats to the science behind taste and umami. He also gets more specific, discussing topics such as fish muscles, the nutrition of fish, fish taste and more.

Though somewhat technical, Mouritsen has done well to make the information understandable to even an ordinary reader. There is a section on related items including edible seaweed, tofu, soy sauce, miso, sushi rice, wasabi and other Japanese spices. Excellent descriptions of these items are provided along with information on the science behind their flavors and effects. The book then moves onto a discussion of preserving fish, including freezing, salting, marinating, following up with a section on tsukemono , the art of pickling. The practical section then arrives, covering everything from the tools and equipment needed to prepare sushi down to all the various styles of sushi prepartion, such as nigiri-ushi to gunkan-maki.

The instructions are easy to follow making this section very useful. You won't become a sushi master by reading this book, which takes years to accomplish, but you certainly will be able to produce some tasty and presentable sushi. After these lessons, there is a list of the most common seafood used for sushi. Though the book contains a brief article discussing the world-wide diminishing supply of fish, few particulars are provided. This is an area where the book fails. As an example, the tuna section fails to mention how endangered they are, mentioning only how dolphins may be caught in tuna nets and that you should try to thus avoid tuna caught by that method.

The second story line deals with the various tools that are used in the preparation of sushi. The third story line describes the preparation of sushi and its comple- mentary dishes and accompaniments, using my own experiences as the point of departure.

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This part of the book is intended more as a catalogue of inspirational ideas than as a systematic exposition on sushi preparation. Here you will find some simple instructions which, with a little practice, any interested person could carry out at home. The approach is Zen-inspired: first learn a few rules and basic facts, practice them to gain proficiency, and then forget ev- erything about the rules and let your intuition and imagination be your guide.

The instructions are accompanied by illustrations that XVll serve to accentuate the aesthetic dimensions of the preparation, creation, and presentation of a sushi meal.

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The fourth story line consists of a number of small stories, essays, and anecdotes linking sushi and Japanese cuisine with aspects of cultural history, wellness, and science. Both books are recom- mended to those readers who wish to delve deeper into the subject. Sushi and zushi have the same meaning, but are pronounced with an s or a z sound, respectively.

Strictly speaking, in Japanese sushi is pronounced with a voiced z sound when it is linked to anoth- er word. For this reason, 'nigiri-swshi is pronounced and written as 'nigiri-zushi, but zushi is not a word in its own right. A similar rule applies to other Japanese words which start with an s.

As a general rule, the book deals only with sushi which can be pre- pared from ingredients that are generally available outside of Japan, although finding them may occasionally entail a trip to a specialty shop. The exceptions to this rule occur in those cases where they re- inforce a general principle or simply permit the telling of a good story. The majority of the Japanese words are indicated by italics and they are defined in a glossary at the back of the book. Similarly, Latin names and scientific and technical terms are itali- cized when they first appear in a given context.

These terms are like- wise explained in a list of scientific terminology in the same section. At the back of the book you will also find a bibliography which lists the written sources that provided background material for the writing of the book. It includes titles dealing with sushi and Japanese food, the science of cooking, as well as cultural history, nutrition, and wellness. I generally have omitted references to professional journals. Either at the entrance or on the counter of most sushi bars, another greeter awaits the guests, Manekineko, the Japanese good luck cat.

This little smiling figure, which is holding one paw in the air, its way of saying welcome, conveys a double meaning. If the left paw is raised, it is welcoming the guests. If the right paw is raised, it is welcoming money and prosperity to the business establishment. Manekineko attracts wealth and success to the owner. Once you are well inside the door, a decision awaits you - whether to sit at the bar or use a table or booth.

A group often prefers to be seated at a table or perhaps, if the restaurant has one, a separate tatami-room with woven bamboo mats. The true sushi gourmet will instantly opt for a spot at the bar, preferably a place where he or she can closely follow the artistry of the sushi chefs as they work. If it is the first time you are in a sushi restaurant, this will probably be obvious to the server and the chef and they might discreetly try to ask you what you would like.

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My advice, if you really want to try sushi, is to choose a place at the bar - in my opinion, absolutely the best way to experience the very special atmosphere associated with a sushi meal. This is especially the case if you are in Japan and do not understand the language and would have difficulty ordering or reading a menu - if there is one. Sometimes the different dishes and the specials of the day are posted on a small wooden board above the bar.

Sitting at the counter you will have the advantage of being able to point to what you would like, which is probably to be found in the refrigerated glass case built into the bar. Should you not wish to order a la carte and pre- fer an existing combination order, you can still position yourself at the bar and observe the intricate interplay between the chef and his assistants.

If you feel adventurous and are prepared to issue a challenge to the sushi chef, you can ask for omakase. Then he is at complete liberty to decide on the composition of the sushi meal - but be warned that you may lose control of the bill and will have to pay, no matter how much it ends up costing. After you are seated, the waiter will come with a little wooden tray with a rolled up white washcloth - steaming and warm - so that you can refresh your face and hands. It is the accepted custom to use the cloth in moderation, just as it is considered polite to roll the cloth up again before putting it back on the tray.

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  8. At this point, you place your order either with the server, directly with the chef, or, in some places, fill in a form which lists the available sushi. You can always ask if there is something which is particularly recom- mended on a given day. Also, make sure you inform yourself about the prices if they are not listed on the menu. Orders for hot dishes, such as miso soup or tempura, which are prepared in the kitchen, are normally given to the server. He or she will also bring the drinks, typically green tea, beer, and sake.

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    At that point you can settle in to enjoy the dual pleasures of watching the chefs perform and of savouring the food. It is no exaggeration to say that this is performance art on a grand scale. Skilled sushi chefs are culinary artists who are engaged in a balancing act with their knives, chopsticks, and bamboo mats.

    According to an old Japanese saying, it takes seventeen years to become a true sushi master. In addition, it is easy to overlook all the preparation that takes place in advance or behind the scenes by assistants in the kitchen.

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    If you want to gain an insight into the amount of work involved, it is a good idea to come to the sushi bar early in the day, if they are open for customers, avoiding the busy lunch and dinner hours. At your leisure you will be able to see the sushi chef cut up whole fish, crack open crabs and clams, and reduce radishes to delicate mounds of ultra-thin ribbons. If you are lucky, you may even find out how one sharpens a genuine sushi knife.

    by Ole Mouritsen

    One is never bored in a sushi bar. The occasional wait during the busy periods fly by if one tunes in to the rhythm with which the chefs pass one fantastic dish after another over the counter. Taking notice of the choices of the more experienced sushi eaters can be a source of inspiration and the chefs are normally happy to replicate them for you. Even if you have ordered a whole meal in one go, the dishes arrive at intervals so that they are always fresh. The chef is often looking after several customers at once, and it is amazing to observe at first hand how adept a good sushi chef is at remember- ing exactly who ordered what.

    All sushi bars are, in principle, organized in the same way. The chef normally stands in a small space in the room with his back to a wall that has shelves with the special trays on which the dishes are presented. One end of the bar has access to the kitchen where the hot dishes are prepared.

    The only heat source found in the bar is a gas grill or a small oven, which is used to warm such items as eel or to toast salmon skin. The bar is like a high counter with a wide bench on the inside with sinks and running cold water. Placed on it lengthwise is a long glass- enclosed refrigerated case in which fish, shellfish, and vegetables are carefully laid out on small trays, ready to be fetched in accordance with what the customer has ordered.

    In a classical sushi bar, the countertop is made of cedar wood and the meal is served directly on it. Sometimes the surface is slanted to act as a sort of plate. When the chef is about to serve a dish, he first wipes the countertop with a clean wet rag and then places the newly created pieces of sushi directly on it, after which the customer quickly eats them. More sophisticated sushi bars are arranged in such a way that the customers sit on several sides and the chefs work in the middle.

    A particularly high tech design is known as kaiten-zushi, where a small conveyor belt circulates past diners seated at a three- or four-sided counter. The chefs place a variety of sushi dishes on the constantly circulating belt from which the customers help themselves - a faster and less expensive way to eat than ordering a la carte.