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The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket Hardcover – May 29, 2007
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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.
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
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Top Customer Reviews
Corson focuses on the story of a young woman named Kate, described as a fun down to earth girl who was athletic and one of the guys until she broke a finger in High School. Unable to play sports anymore she became depressed and developed an eating disorder. As her depression and eating habits grew worse a friend recommended Kate try sushi. Hesitant at first Kate tried it and ended up loving it. Seemingly, more than the sushi, Kate enjoyed the attitude of the chefs who were comical and outgoing, reminding her of herself before getting sick.
As Kate continued visiting this sushi bar her overall health improved. As she pondered her future, she knew she wanted a career in which she could build friendships with customers, helping them to enjoy life. As if it was fate, Kate saw an ad for the California Sushi Academy. After a year of debating, she walked out on a leap of faith, leaving everything and everyone behind on a quest to be a sushi chef. The California Sushi Academy, California’s first Sushi Academy, consisted of an extensive 12-week training program. Corson explains how this is different from Japan where sushi apprentices spend 5 years or more just learning to make the rice before being allowed to handle anything else.
The sushi-related history and culture lessons carefully woven into Kate’s story were very interesting and informative. Corson brought his readers through sushi’s humble beginnings in Japan to its worldwide fame today. Corson did a good job painting a picture allowing his readers to “see” exactly what he was talking about. Scenes displaying Japanese culture like the auctions at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, the history of Japanese knives and even the use of Japanese terms throughout the book tied the culture in nicely.
The history of the food itself was also interesting. The precision put into preparing meals requires lots of practice. The process of making certain foods like miso and soy sauce were eye opening and the natural history of the different types of fish and how to catch/farm, cook, and/or present them was informative.
Some of the other facts mentioned by Carson that were particularly interesting is that the California Roll was invented due to a Californian sushi chef running out of fatty tuna; the term mack daddy was derived from mackerels, and that the organisms eaten by flamingos are responsible for their color. Overall, the book was interesting and educational. Carson’s choice to focus on Kate, instead of others in the class, was smart because Kate being new to Sushi and Japanese culture, like many of his readers, was a nice relatable gateway to the “story of sushi”.
This review was originally written for 27Press.com.
I did, however, really, really like this book!
What a delight to read. Often nonfiction of this sort fails in its mission to both inform and entertain--but this book actually kept me up reading late at night. It had just the right balance of humor and technical information. Plus a hefty serving of human interest on the side. Enough spice to balance the meal; it made me feel as though I wanted to rush out and sit at a sushi bar.
The subject matter, sushi, is just arcane enough (despite existing on every third streetcorner) to be fascinating. A bit of a mystery to keep the reader guessing. Sushi's place of origin (Japan) is also just exotic enough to be likewise a curiosity for most readers. Best of all, the students and staff at the Sushi school proved to be nothing short of wonderful subjects.
I highly recommend this book for its obvious audience: those who love sushi. And also for anybody who just craves reading about food or likes to cook. (If you idolize Alton Brown this is the perfect beach read for you!)
But I'd also recommend it for anybody who reads nonfiction--as a change of pace from the usual history, biography, and science, it can't be beat.
(So, OK, maybe I will try a vegetable roll of some sort. But only because of this book....)
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
So I lend it to my friend
And he refuses to return it
I may have to buy another copy, that good