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Sashimi & Sushi, Raw Fish
___"Can you eat raw fish?" It is not as unsophisticated a question as it might seem. Initially many Westerners will shrink in disgust at the idea of eating raw fish. It seems to go against the injunction, drilled into them since childhood, that warns against eating in raw form anything that once was a living animal. The thought of raw meat, including that of fish, brings to mind visions from biology class of parasites and worse.

___But in the Japanese mind, "raw fish" means sashimi -superbly fresh, artistically served, indescribably delicious. It is part of any formal, traditional dinner and represents Japanese cuisine at its best. Sashimi is served in slices, each small enough to be eaten in one bite. The serving is garnished with pieces of seaweed or vegetable with a small bit of wasabi (a hot, green root faintly resembling horseradish) on the side of the dish. With chopsticks, the wasabi is mixed into the soy sauce in a smaller dish, and the individual pieces of sashimi are then dipped into the sauce and eaten.

___Many kinds of fish are eaten as sashimi, but the most common is tuna (maguro). The taste of lean, red tuna meat is incomparable, but its texture is similar to that of a very rare piece of tender beef. To the surprise of many Westerners who are trying it for the first time, sashimi has none of the oily "fishy" smell that most of them associate with raw fish. After all, it is difficult if not impossible in the West to purchase fish of the freshness that is considered essential in the preparation of sashimi in Japan.

___In addition to tuna sashimi, sea bream (tai), squid (ika), abalone (awabi), and octopus (tako) are favorites. For those who like to combine a certain amount of risk with eating out, there is the sashimi that is made of the blow fish, sometimes called a globefish (fugu). The fish has a poison sac that must be removed with great care, and only those with expertise, experience, and a government license are permitted to prepare fugu for serving. A less dangerous but more exotic sashimi is made from shrimp (ebi) that are still living - and moving about! But this kind of cuisine is only for the real gourmet.
___A much more common way to eat raw fish is in sushi, probably the most typical of everyday Japanese food. The word sushi is a generic term that includes much more than raw fish. It refers to vinegared rice, shaped into mounds or rectangular blocks, with not only pieces of raw fish but cucumbers, seaweed, and pieces of egg, sweetened and cooked like an omelet. All of these ingredients and more are on display in the glass case just in front of the long wooden counter that runs the length of a sushi shop. Seated there the customer is in the best position to watch the swift handiwork of the sushi maker, who forms a mound of rice in the palm of his hand, adds a bit of wasabi, and then tops it with a slice of raw tuna. Or, without adding the wasabi, he may arrange bright orange beads of salmon roe (ikura) on top with a strip of seaweed around the sides of the rice. Kappa maki, with slices of cucumber inside, and tekkamaki, with a core of raw tuna, are cut from long rolls of rice that have been wrapped in seaweed.
___Seated at the counter in some sushi shops, the customer may pay a slightly higher price for his vintage point. The set courses consist of a variety of sushi and have fixed prices. Served by the piece -with two pieces usually making up a serving- the prices may vary. Whatever the price, it will not be cheap. Sushi in recent years has become one of the most expensive foods in Japan.

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