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The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060883502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060883508
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #442,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Corson (The Secret Life of Lobsters) spent months at a "sushi school" run out of a Japanese restaurant in Hermosa Beach, Calif., observing the students as they learned how to prepare a seemingly endless variety of fish. Although the reporting focuses primarily on Kate, a young woman who struggles to overcome her lack of confidence, many of the other students get a turn in the spotlight, as do the restaurant's owner and the head instructor. This would make for a riveting enough story on its own, but Corson beautifully intersperses the drama with lessons about the history and science of each fish the class encounters, along with the rice and wasabi. He also reveals that just about everything Americans know about eating sushi is wrong, down to using chopsticks to dunk their fish in soy sauce. Foodies will find dozens of useful tips to enhance their appreciation of "the fast food of old Tokyo," especially if they entrust an experienced chef to prepare an omakase meal for them. The combination of culinary insights and personal drama makes for one of the more compelling food-themed books in recent years.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Americans from as recently as 20 years ago would be astounded to learn that the present generation would regularly sit down to a meal consisting principally of raw fish. Today, it's hard to find an American city that does not host at least one thriving sushi bar, and even some supermarkets feature a take-home sushi section. Following a student through the program of the decade-old California Sushi Academy, Corson uncovers the history of sushi, from its humble beginnings in Japan to its present worldwide ubiquity. Starting from Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, sushi initially attracted a celebrity following intrigued by sushi's novelty and minimalism. Stateside sushi chefs invented new varieties keyed to American proclivities and ingredients and, in a wanton affront to tradition, began to violate the inflexible male-only order of skilled sushi chefs. Americans may still drench their rice with too much soy sauce, but their hunger for more and better-quality sushi keeps on growing. Knoblauch, Mark
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Author photo by Matt Carr Photography.

Trevor Corson spent two years working as a commercial lobsterman off the Maine coast before becoming a writer. He has been an award-winning magazine editor and has written about a wide variety of topics for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and the Atlantic Monthly, where his first book, The Secret Life of Lobsters, began as an essay that was included in The Best American Science Writing. The Secret Life of Lobsters was named a Best Nature Book of the Year by USA Today and Discover, a Best Book of the Year by Time Out New York, and went on to become a worldwide bestseller in the popular-science category. Trevor's second book, The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice (originally titled The Zen of Fish in hardcover), was selected as an Editors' Choice by the New York Times Book Review; it also won Best American Food Literature Book of 2007 in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and was selected as a Best Food Book of the Year by Zagat. Trevor is a frequent public speaker and his work has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, ABC World News with Charles Gibson, NPR's All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation, as well as numerous local television and radio programs; he has also appeared as a judge on the Food Network's hit TV show Iron Chef America. He has been a Knight Fellow at M.I.T. in the Investigative Science Journalism Boot Camp and a Visiting Writer at the University of Memphis, and he has taught at the New School, Brooklyn Friends School, the Key West Literary Seminar, and the Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University.

For more information, please visit Trevor's website at

Customer Reviews

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I highly recommend this book for its obvious audience: those who love sushi.
Rabid Reader
And all of this is told as part of a story about real students at California Sushi Academy.
Mike Wickham
It is very interesting as far a a personable story and also very informative.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Graeme Williams on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Zen of Fish is built around the story of a group of people attending California's first sushi-chef school, but there's a lot more to the book than that. Using the class as a framework, Corson presents the history of sushi, starting as a way to preserve fish, and its transformation into its present form, first in Japan and later in California. Along the way, he discusses different kinds of fish, how they are caught or farmed, and how they are cooked or presented raw. And this is accompanied by a taste of Japanese culture and vocabulary, and some of the science behind the preserving, cooking, tasting and eating of fish.

It is, like sushi, beautifully presented. The various threads of the book each make an interesting story, and you'll learn something from each of them. I don't want to reduce the book to a tag line, but Corson's thoughtful tone will make you more thoughtful in preparing or eating fish -- a zen approach, if you like. Certainly you'll be a more thoughtful consumer of sushi, but there's also information that might make you a better fish cook, and more knowledgeable in considering the economy and ecological impact of fishing.

There's a cultural lesson to be learned in the way sushi has been Americanized on its way from Tokyo. Eating sushi in the United States can be helped by knowing more about Japanese practice, but it's a separate thing, not a copy. The sushi school in California makes that clear, with frantic weeks of training instead of the years of apprenticeship required in Japan. Being fluent in Japanese, Corson is in an excellent position to provide a balanced view of this, and the clarity of his writing helps you develop your own point of view.

I liked this book a lot. There's so much in the book that while I was reading it I felt as though I should be taking notes, but I didn't want to put it down. It's definitely a book worth coming back to.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Lu Y. Yang on May 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
After hearing Trevor Corson speak on the radio about sushi, I picked up his book because I wanted to learn more about one of my favorite foods. The Zen of Fish follows a new student through a sushi course at the California Sushi Academy. Mixed in with the story of the student and her classmates are historical facts and other information about things related to sushi such as fish, knives, rice, and etiquette.

While I was reading the book, I couldn't help feeling annoyed by the passages about Kate, the student going through the school. She's inept, clumsy, ditzy, and just not that interesting. I was more interested in the actual tidbits of information about sushi than Kate's classes.

I would have rated this book higher if it only contained the informational passages about the Japanese cuisine. Those parts were interesting and worth reading for anyone who likes sushi, but the other parts felt like a waste of time. Corson might have been trying to get readers to relate to Kate, but he would have been more successful if he had chosen a stronger student from the class to follow.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Laura Terese Henri VINE VOICE on November 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I gobbled down this book, as if it were a nice square plate full of my favorite sushi rolls. I have been eating sushi since I was a child, and was never taught the correct way to eat it. I was one of those people who mixed wasabi with soy, or put more wasabi on when it was already correctly measured out for me by the chef! I had no idea the origins of the components that make up "sushi", or what it took to become a certified sushi chef. I have new found admiration, on top of the dizzying awe I already had for anyone who can put together the delicacies I so love to eat. Reading it I got so hungry for everything that was described, especially for the special rolls that Kate was so good at making.
It was fascinating to hear about how westerners like their sushi, and how Japanese connoisseurs prefer theirs. It has made me think twice about my own palate and what my taste buds run to.
I myself could never go through what these students went through because I am notorious for chopping off hunks of my own flesh when handling sharp knives. It's a wonderful book, I read it in one sitting , you wont be able to put it down!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on January 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Journalist and food writer Trevor Corson (who previously authored The Secret Life of Lobsters) has masterfully combined the story of a young female sushi chef struggling up the ranks with the natural and cultural history of Japanese raw fish cuisine. The Zen of Fish follows 20-year-old aspiring sushi chef Kate in her struggle to break down the sexist and cultural barriers to entry in the art of sushi. At the same time, it provides historical context for sushi, which originated as a means of preserving old fish in peasant villages. Modern sushi has Japanese incarnations (influenced by the 20th century US military presence in Japan), California twists, and high-fat, additive-loaded, American supermarket incarnations.

Visit the author's website if this book leaves you wanting more. The site includes articles on etiquette and technique, full-color pictures, and a behind-the-scenes look at the chefs featured in his book.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Corson's fascinated with seafood, as his earlier book on lobsters demonstrates. Here, he casts his net through entirely new waters as he describes what sushi is, where it comes from and where it might be going. Spending three months as a "perpetual presence" in a California sushi school, he was able to establish close contact with staff and students. Supported by an avid research team, he's able to present nearly every facet of sushi from biology to service methods. Little is left unsaid in this book, but every bit is interesting and informative. Written in the best journalistic style you'll find this book worthwhile in many respects.

Among the first students Corson presents is Kate Murray, who lacks both cooking skills and confidence. She quickly learns that there are no short-cuts to sushi, even though the meal is composed of little but rice, mostly raw fish, some vegetables and simple sauces. Throughout the narrative, Kate seems to continually lag behind the other students, harassed by the impatient instructor - Toshi Sugiura. Sushi kitchen skills focus on knives, with each student possessing a kit of them. Sharpening is essential, as Kate learns the hard way. Her solution to her fear of knife sharpening is unique. She's also startled to learn that the image of sushi as "everything fresh" is false. Mold and infectious bacteria are essential to good sushi.

As the class struggles to keep up, Corson is able to introduce a wide range of supportive material relevant to what they learn. Sushi's history is complex and intricate, starting as quick meals from city street vendors. The move of Japan's capital from Kyoto to Edo [Tokyo], was but one of many divisions sushi would go through in Japan. There are also regional varieties, as well as those of customer class.
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