Sushi, North American style

Local sushi restaurants offer Westernized options that vary from authentic Japanese sushi

According to Tomoya Tago, president of the Japanese Relations Club, sushi is more common in North America than Japan.
According to Tomoya Tago, president of the Japanese Relations Club, sushi is more common in North America than Japan.

Though many sushi enthusiasts eat with chopsticks, Japanese tradition calls for hands-on dining, says the president of the Japanese Relations at Queen’s club.

Tomoya Tago said traditionally the sushi is only prepared for special occasions in Japan.

“I know people here eat sushi for lunch but that wouldn’t really happen in Japan,” he said.

Last week, the JRQ hosted a sushi night — club executives prepared rolls for student patrons in the JDUC International Centre.

Tago, ArtSci ’13, said in Canada, people are misinformed about the types of sushi they eat.

Traditional sushi, called nigiri, consists of raw fish served over sticky rice with a dash of vinegar to keep the meat fresh. Raw tuna and salmon are most popularly served as nigiri, or eaten without rice as sashimi.

Bite-size combinations of seaweed, rice, fish or vegetables are called rolls and are far less popular in Japan than nigiri or sashimi, and were developed in North America.

“People in Kingston tend to like sushis that are not served in Japan,” Tago said. “For instance, California rolls are not really served in Japan.”

California rolls include avocado, cucumber and crab meat rolled in seaweed. Rolls are known as maki.

With the increasing popularity of California rolls, Japanese restaurants have started to serve them as well.

“I’m sure most people are still unfamiliar with California rolls in Japan,” he said. “But hopefully people there will like it and adopt it too.”

Rolls with tempura, or deep fried meat and vegetables, also aren’t common in Japan despite being a staple of most sushi restaurants in Canada.

“Sushi is more simple in Japan,” Tago said. “Rolls are still famous in Japan, but when I think about actual, legitimate sushi, rolls come lower on my list.”

Tago, who moved to Canada in 2002, said he’s surprised sushi has become a phenomenon in Kingston.

“I know when I came here, everything was cooked so well,” he said. “[People] tend to worry about things like raw meat, so you wouldn’t eat raw stuff too much.

“But it seems everyone likes sushi.”

Sushi connoisseurs in Canada should realize they’re only exposed to a small part of Japanese cuisine, Tago said.

“It’s kind of good that you guys appreciate my culture,” he said. “But I wish you would try the real Japanese kind before you say whether you like it or not.

“It’s very mixed emotions.”

Traditionally-prepared sushi, or fish atop rice, was developed in Japan in the 15th century. It originated out of convenience, combining rice and protein in an easy, bite-size snack.

In the 17th century, Japanese cooks began acidifying rice using vinegar in order to keep it fresh for consumption. Vegetables, tofu and seaweed were added to the preparation list. Edo, Japan — now Tokyo — became a poster child for nigiri-style sushi. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the dish became popular overseas and in North America.

Hyuckin Kwon, owner of Kame Sushi — one of three close-quartered establishments near Princess and Division Streets — said his restaurant stands out by serving traditional Japanese food, like donburi and bento boxes, in addition to the popular rolls.

Donburi is protein or vegetables served on a heap of rice. Bento boxes, also called Japanese lunch boxes, include a number of traditional dishes ranging from tofu or meat to sushi and vegetables. The only staple element of the boxes is rice.

He said the Division Street restaurants look to students as their main customer base.

“It’s a healthy type of food as opposed to all the fried fast food,” Kwon said. “That’s why students eat it.”

Replacing traditional elements of Japanese rolls, like wasabi, with North American inspired sauces helps to widen their appeal, he said, adding that mayonnaise is a favourite condiment.

Kame imports fresh fish once a week from a wholesale supplier in Toronto.

“I want to accommodate students,” Kwon said. “I have a son at Queen’s so I know how students are on a tight budget.”

Crab and avocado rolls

Servings: 50 pieces of sushi
Preparation time: 30 minutes


10 sheets of dried seaweed
1 package of flaked crab meat
2 avocados
4 cups of short-grain rice
½ cup Japanese rice vinegar
Soya sauce


Bamboo sushi mat — available at Division Street Metro grocery store for about $3.

Total cost: under $25.


In a rice cooker, use a
one-to-one water to rice ratio for about 15 minutes. Peel and slice the crab and avocado into thin strips to prepare.
While the rice is still warm, transfer it into a large bowl and mix in the vinegar. Make sure to taste test so the rice isn’t overpowered by the vinegar. The rice is typically sweet but has a sharp, sour aftertaste.
Line both sides of the bamboo sushi mat with plastic wrap and lay one sheet of dried seaweed, shiny side down. Line it with three heaping tablespoons of flattened sticky rice. The key here is to only line the sheet 3/4 full, leaving a gap on one edge of the seaweed sheet. It allows for the roll to tuck in properly.
On the rice, place two thin slices of crab and avocado and add pressure so the ingredients stick together.
Line the seaweed sheet up with the edge of the bamboo mat, fold it over and roll.
I was lucky to have Tomoya Tago, president of the Japanese Relations at Queen’s Club, instruct me in the art of sushi-making.
While the first few attempts were ugly, sushi rolling became easier after a little practice. I quickly learned that adding sticky rice to the final fold would help keep the ingredients in place.
Cut the rolls into bite-sized pieces and serve with soya sauce and wasabi.
— Terra-Ann Arnone


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