Did You Know Purple is Soy Sauce at the Sushi Bar?
Updated: Aug 2
You slice sushi rice, but not sashimi.
Toshi was meticulously preparing Hamachi Nigiri, a beloved sushi delicacy featured on the Rock'n Hollywood menu. The farm-raised Hamachi was carefully air-shipped in from Japan, arriving in a tightly vacuum-packed plastic bag without its head. Among Sushi Chefs, this particular fish had earned a quirky nickname.
Curious, I asked Toshi about it. "Why is this Hamachi called Doresu? It sounds like 'A Dress.'"
"It does sound peculiar," Toshi replied. "I've heard it comes from the English word 'headless,' not 'a dress.'"
"Headless?" I inquired.
"Yes, exactly. Remove 'head' from the word 'headless,' and you get 'dless'—thus 'Doresu' in Japanese," Toshi explained.
"It's odd; I don't see any double D in it," I muttered.
Toshi and Kai often used jargon specific to Sushi Chefs, terms that were unfamiliar to me at first but eventually became second nature. Doresu was one of those terms, alongside Shibuichi, which referred to a quarter cut of Tuna.
Toshi frequently mentioned Shibuichi whenever he placed a fish order over the phone. Meanwhile, Yama, which means "mountain" in Japanese, was the code for "sold out," similar to "eighty-sixed" in the U.S. Oaiso meant "check," and Shari denoted Sushi Rice. Shari Kiri was the act of mixing Sushi Rice, though, in Japanese, it also meant to "slice" the Sushi Rice.
Then there were other sushi-related terms like "Murasaki," which meant "purple" and referred to soy sauce, and "Agari," the green tea. Since most customers and waitresses were unfamiliar with these terms, we rarely used "Agari" at the sushi bar.
Additionally, I noticed that Toshi didn't say "Make Sashimi"; instead, he said "Pull Sashimi." In Japanese, it was "Sashimi o Hiku."
"The reason behind this is that you pull your knife backward when slicing Sashimi," Toshi explained.
Curiosity often got the better of me, and one day I asked, "How come Hamachi tends to darken just two days after we open the package?"
Toshi pondered for a moment and replied, "I guess that's because it's farm-raised?"
Watching Toshi expertly fillet the Hamachi, I admired his skill. He separated the belly from the back, reserving the belly for special customers who enjoyed it as Hamachi Toro at a higher price. The remaining half fillet was cut into four smaller pieces and carefully placed inside the Neta Case.
He then removed the collar, wrapping it in plastic before handing it to the kitchen chef, who would serve it as Grilled Hamachi Kama Collar with Daikon Oroshi, Grated Radish, and Ponzu Sauce.
"I like Hamachi," I mentioned to Toshi.
"Ah, I used to enjoy it too, before becoming a Sushi Chef. Now, I can't eat it anymore," Toshi confessed.
"Can't eat it? Why not?" I inquired.
"It's too oily. It's a common trait of farm-raised fish. They are fed to grow faster and fatter, with little exercise. That's why many people love them," Toshi said. "But for me, the taste has changed. It's now too oily, unpleasant, and unnatural."
I disagreed with Toshi at that moment, as I still savored the flavors of Hamachi Nigiri and Sashimi.
However, as time passed, I found myself tasting Hamachi again, and my perspective shifted dramatically. Toshi's words rang true, and the fish indeed tasted overwhelmingly fatty and oily, no longer enjoyable to my palate.
"Toshi-san, you were right about Hamachi," I admitted.
"I can't eat Hamachi anymore," my voice echoed with surprise.
"As you said, it tastes too oily."
"See, what did I tell you," Toshi said with a smile. "No more Hamachi for you, Kaz. Looks like you're becoming a true sushi chef."