Soy Sauce and Wasabi


Kikkoman was the most widely used soy sauce and was available at most sushi restaurants back then. Their signature soy bottle had a unique shape with a red cap on top. They later introduced green-capped Low Sodium soy sauce and became popular among female customers at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi. I had no idea why they were more popular among female customers.

The second thing I noticed, from the customers at a sushi bar, was that they were putting wasabi into soy sauce, turning it into wasabi soy. Some were putting so much wasabi that their soy sauce was turning brownish green thick dipping sauce, not liquid. This eating behavior was and is not present in Japan. As it turned out that it was not only shocking to me, but to all of my predecessors.

As they drench a piece of California Roll into the now green wasabi soy dip and put that piece in their mouth, many of them would say, “Oh my God, the wasabi is so good and cleans my sinus!”

What a strange eating behavior, I thought, when I saw this for the first time. Were they eating wasabi to clean their sinus? How wired! Why so many Americans were suffering from a sinus problem, and they choose to come to our sushi bar to treat their sinus problem? Should a medical company make a sinus drug with wasabi in it? Wouldn’t that be a fantastic idea?

Most of Sushi Restaurants in the US use powdered wasabi which is a combination of (western) horseradish, mustard, and green food coloring, containing no real wasabi. Actually, I cannot say for sure that it is most of the restaurants since I never been to all of them, but I do assume most of them use the powdered stuff because real wasabi is very expensive, so only handful of high-end Sushi Restaurants use the real Wasabi.

It is the mustard in the powdered wasabi that gives intense burning “hot” sensation in your mouth and clears your sinus. Cultivating of wasabi is tough, requiring clear and pure spring water, cold temperate and controlled sun exposure throughout the year. Nagano and Shizuoka are the two principal regions of Japan that produce wasabi. There are several farmers and companies who sell fresh wasabi in the US including Real Wasabi in Oregon and Halfmoon Bay Wasabi Company in California. The fresh wasabi has rather sweet and pleasant aroma, unlike the powder kind. It also has a very subtle hotness.

“I don’t think most of the customers really know what wasabi and soy sauce are for. After all, our restaurant is not a place for fine, authentic Sushi experience. It’s Rock ‘n Roll Sushi bar for the young who want to have fun. Sure we do offer good Sushi – better than average Sushi restaurants. We use fresh tuna for spicy tuna. Many of them use frozen packed tuna,” Toshi said.

“Yeah, I know. Our spicy tuna is splendid, I think. It’s always fresh, and we make our own chili oil, which I think adds a nice kick to it.”

“It’s the recipe from Shige, the last owner. You know he was a good Sushi chef.”

No Mayo – Special Orders

waitress-taking-ordersI picked up an order ticket the printer spit out. It read:

Table #7
2 x California Roll
1 x Spicy Tuna Roll
** NO MAYO **
1 x Shrimp Tempura Roll

**NO MAYO** part was printed in red to make sure to get sushi chef’s attention. The waitress had to input any special orders manually. A special order consisted of things like something not on the menu like No mayo. In Japan, almost no one would place a special order like that, because, it’s customary to order from the menu. Japanese consider a person making a special request as someone who is demanding, inconsiderate and lacks a social norm. Because I was so used to this customer, it took me a while to get used to seeing so many orders with special requests. I knew some people made such requests when ordering food. I just had no idea I would be receiving so many now I was in the position to take orders and make food.

“What’s this about no mayo in red?” I asked Toshi with the ticket in my hand.

“Oh, that’s a special order waitress puts in. When you see it, you have to be careful making it. You have to make spicy tuna without mayo.”

“Why would anyone want spicy tuna with no mayo?” I just couldn’t understand why. I mean, it tasted good with mayo.

“I don’t know. It’s usually a female customer, and maybe she is on a diet or something. She could be allergic to eggs.”

“Really? On a diet? Why come to a sushi restaurant? Why not stay at home instead?”

“Who knows,” Toshi replied.

“They ordered shrimp tempura also. Shrimp tempura roll has mayo in it. Do you think I should make one without?”

“I think she meant no mayo for just spicy tuna, but why don’t we ask Emma to be sure.”

A special order can be tricky. The order could be for one people or five people. Spicy Tuna with no mayo can be for just one person and shrimp tempura roll could be for a different person, or both rolls could be for the same person, and the waitress forgot to put “NO MAYO.”

“Yeah, California Roll has mayo, too,” Jun said.

Asking Emma for clarification sounded like a good idea.

“Hey, Emma, did you mean no mayo for all the rolls for table #7, or just for spicy tuna only?” Toshi asked in a loud voice to Emma, who was across the restaurant.

“Just for Spicy Tuna, no mayo. Rest of the rolls are OK with mayo,” Emma replied.

During my first two weeks standing at the sushi bar, watching and learning, I noticed some interesting and “wired” eating habits many customers demonstrated at the sushi bar. Well, perhaps they weren’t so “wired” to them, only to me. After all, I was new to sushi business.

First, the amount of soy sauce almost all the customers used were outrageous. All of them filled the two-inch soy plate all the way and dipped their rolls completely into the bath of soy sauce, which soaked up quite a bit of soy sauce, turning the outside of roll from white to brown. In Japan, soy sauce is meant to compliment the roll, nigiri or sashimi. Japanese would dip their sushi just so lightly into soy sauce so that a roll would observe a small amount of soy sauce. Otherwise, the aroma of soy sauce would be overwhelming, covering the subtle flavor or nori, sushi rice, and the fish.

“Yes, they used soy sauce like there is no tomorrow,” Toshi said.

“I agree. Do they think it’s a dipping sauce?” I asked.

“Judging by they way they use soy sauce, yes, I’m afraid they are.”

“No wonder they are asking for low-sodium soy sauce,” I said.