Sushi: The National Dish of Sami-land...
... and the meal that brings my family together.
It was the night of October 26, 2013, and I was crying incessantly on the phone to my mother. My Christmas break was just over a month away, and I was slated to return home to Jamaica for a month to await the new semester. The problem was, I did not want to go home—not because I don’t love my home country, but because there was someone in another country I couldn’t wait to meet. She was only three months old at the time and probably wouldn’t know who I was if she saw me, but that didn’t matter. She was my niece, and I was adamant that I had to meet her before her first birthday. Sami was born in Nagoya, Japan, in July 2013 and was my sister’s first child. My mom, sister and I lived in three different countries, so it was expected that we wouldn’t always share in big moments such as the birth of my niece. Despite this, I was eager to be there for my sister physically to share in her blessing, even if it meant visiting months later.
You see, my family, our friends and I got food poisoning in December 2010 and we were all admitted to the hospital. To date, that has been my scariest experience as I was placed in the intensive care unit with a collapsed lung and a tube in my nose to empty the contents of my stomach. If that wasn’t terrible enough, a member of the group died, and my brother-in-law’s mother was airlifted to another hospital due to the severity of her reaction. We came together to celebrate my sister and her husband’s vow renewals and instead had to prepare to send someone’s body back to their home country in time for their funeral. I was devastated. I was only sixteen at the time, and the thought of someone else dying, particularly my mom or my sister, sent chills down my spine. For this reason, I’ve had ongoing FOMO when it comes to big family moments—the birth of my niece was no different. Seeing my entire family in the hospital battling for life really shifted my outlook and made me want to seize every present moment.
Seize every second of your life and savor it. Value your present moments.
- Wayne W. Dyer
This takes us back to when I was crying to my mom on the phone, pleading with her to allow me to visit my sister. Having also experienced the food poisoning nightmare, she understood where my need to visit stemmed from, so she obliged and sent me to Japan in December 2013 to visit my sister and niece. After travelling for fourteen hours, I was finally able to meet the newest addition to our family. I was tired, and my hair was dishevelled, but the first thing I did when I stepped into my sister's apartment was to give my niece a big hug. Finally, I felt at peace and I was no longer “missing out.”
The First Meal
The first meal I had with my niece though technically she only had breast milk, was sushi. By the look of things, though, I think her preference was sushi at the time. That might explain why it is now her favourite thing to eat. She is completely obsessed!
My sister took me to an interesting restaurant for this first meal. It is known as a “kaiten-zushi,” which translates to “rotating sushi.” Different types of sushi were placed on a conveyor belt that went around the restaurant and was accessible at each table. Diners then selected their preferred dishes from the line-up. The sushi prices were determined by the colour of the plates and ranged from 100 to 500 yen. At the end of the meal, the plates were stacked and the bill tallied. This was a one-of-a-kind experience that led to long-lasting memories and the birth of a family sushi bond.
I was lucky enough to have many more sushi experiences after that first one. My sister made it her point of duty to take me to all the best spots in town during my one-month visit. After this immersive experience, Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, became my third favourite cuisine. Upon returning to Jamaica, I used sushi as a way to connect with close friends and introduced four of them to the cuisine. These friends were of the impression that sushi was only made with raw fish, and as such, were hesitant to try. Having sampled many sushi dishes in Japan ranging from cooked to raw, I felt a sense of pride, educating my friends and sharing an intimate culinary experience with them– I was a self-appointed sushi ambassador.
The Tradition Continues...
These days, my family eats sushi one day per week on Thursdays and my niece, Sami, makes it her job to uphold this "very important" schedule. I can't say the same goes for me as I live in a different city on a recent graduate budget. As such, my tradition is to have sushi once per month. Last week, I visited my family and discovered that my brother-in-law had taken things up a notch–he was preparing sushi at home. Well, if I am being specific, he made salmon and tamago nigiri. Much to my surprise, these were quite easy to prepare, with the most time-consuming part being the rice cooking. If you are ever craving sushi at home, try the recipe below. We assembled the nigiri rolls at the table as my niece loves the DIY element (it makes her feel like a top chef). Please note that the recipe below isn't an elaborate cooked roll, but it can still be exciting, despite being simple. You can play around with the toppings and use others such as shrimp, scallop or tuna.
Total time: 50 minutes
1 cup of sushi rice
1 cup of water
1 1/2 tbsp sushi vinegar (or a mix of 1 tbsp rice vinegar and 1/2 tbsp of sugar)
4 oz sashimi-grade salmon (raw)
1 tsp wasabi
1 block of store-bought tamago (or you can make it from scratch)
1. Place the sushi rice in a bowl and wash until all the excess starch is removed and the water is clear. Soak the rice for twenty minutes.
2. Drain the rice and add it and one cup of water to a pan with a lid. Cook on high heat for five minutes, reduce the heat and let the rice cook for an additional twenty minutes. You can also use a rice cooker.
3. Remove the rice from the heat once done and set it aside to cool slightly.
4. Add the sushi vinegar, mix it in, then place the rice on a tray to cool a bit more.
5. While the rice cools, slice the tamago and salmon (or whatever you wish to use) to your desired thickness. Lightly coat the salmon slices with the wasabi.
6. Slightly moisten your hands and use 2 tbsp of rice to form rice balls. You can also use a rice ball mold if you prefer not to use your hands.
7. Once the balls are made, you can either assemble the sushi or serve it the way we did below for some DIY fun.
8. Serve with soy sauce and enjoy!
Regardless of where we are in the world, my family and I will find a sushi restaurant to connect over our shared love of Japanese cuisine. Sushi and precious family moments are the glue that held us together after our collective experience of a tragic ordeal. For many, it might just be a tasty meal to have with friends or loved ones, but for us, it is much more than that. It is a physical representation of something that brought us together and evoked happiness within us during a time when we felt low. You might be wondering, how is this the case when my trip occurred three years after we were hospitalized? Well, is there a timeframe on when to move past almost dying and watching someone die? When my mom visits my sister and me in Canada, you don't need to ask where we will go first when we choose to dine out. I can tell you now that it is going to be a sushi restaurant, of course!