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Did You Know Purple is Soy Sauce at the Sushi Bar?

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

You slice sushi rice, but not sashimi.


Toshi was making Hamachi Nigiri. Hamachi was one of the most popular sushi neta on the Rock'n Hollywood menu. We used farm-raised Hamachi that was air-shipped in from Japan.

It arrived in a tightly vacuum-packed plastic bag, a whole fish without the head. Among Sushi Chefs, this fish had a nickname.

"Why is this Hamachi called Doresu?" I asked Toshi. "It sounds like 'A Dress.'"

"I know, it sounds strange," Toshi said. "I heard that it is from the word 'headless' in English, not a dress."

"Headless?" I asked.

"Yes, headless. Remove 'head' from the word headless. It will leave you with 'dless,' thus Doresu in Japanese," Toshi said.

"Strange," I shook my head. "There's no double D in it," I mumbled.

Toshi and Kai used lots of words related only to Sushi Chefs, industry terms that I was unfamiliar with. I heard them use the same words repeatedly during my first few months at the restaurant, and I finally memorized all of them.

Doresu was one of those words. Shibuichi, a quarter cut of Tuna, was another.

I heard Toshi said Shbuichi every time he placed a fish order on the phone.

Yama - a "mountain" in Japanese - means sold out," same as "eighty-sixed" in the U.S. Oaiso means "check." Shari is Sushi Rice. Shari Kiri is to mix the Sushi Rice, but in Japanese, it means to "slice" the Sushi Rice.

Then, there are other sushi terms like Murasaki, meaning "purple" refers to soy sauce, Agari is the green tea. But since no customers or waitresses knew these terms, we never used Agari at the sushi bar.

I also found that Toshi didn't say, "Make Sashimi." Instead, he said, "Pull Sashimi." In Japanese, it is "Sashimi o Hiku."

"The reason is you pull your knife backward when slicing for Sashimi," Toshi explained.

"How come Hamachi always gets darker just two days after we open the package?"

"I don't know. I guess that's because it's farm-raised?" Toshi said.

Toshi took the Hamachi from the package and filleted them in half one-by-one. He separated the belly from the back. The belly was reserved for special customers and was served as Hamachi Toro at a higher price. The half fillet was now cut into four smaller pieces and placed inside of the Neta Case.

Toshi removed the collar, wrapped it in plastic, and handed it to the kitchen chef. They served it as Grilled Hamachi Kama Collar with Daikon Oroshi, Grated Radish, and Ponzu Sauce.

"I like Hamachi," I said to Toshi.

"Really? I used to like it, too. But that was before I became a Sushi Chef. Now, I cannot eat it anymore," Toshi said.

"You cannot eat it? Why?"

"It's too oily. It's very typical of a farm-raised fish. They feed the fish with food that would make them grow faster and fat," Toshi said. "They don't get enough exercise, which is good because they get fatter that way. That's why a lot of people like them."

"That doesn't sound appetizing," I said.

"Also, I heard they give antibiotics," Toshi cast a doubtful look at the piece on the table.

"As I said, I used to be able to eat it, and now, I just don't like the taste of farm-raised Hamachi anymore. It tastes funny and weird. Just too oily, unpleasant, unnatural."

It may have been unpleasant for Toshi, but I didn't agree. I still enjoyed Hamachi Nigiri and Sashimi.

After the Hamachi conversation, a few months passed by, and I'd forgotten all about it. One day I tasted it again, and my opinion quickly changed.

I couldn't eat it; something tasted different. In fact, it was awful. It was too oily, just like Toshi had Kai told me it would. It was overwhelmingly fatty, and the oily flavor was unpleasant to my palette.

"Toshi-san, you were right about Hamachi," I told him.

"I cannot eat Hamachi anymore," my voice raised unexpectedly.

"As you said, it tastes too oily."

"See, what did I tell you," Toshi said, smilingly. "No more Hamachi for you, Kaz. I think you are becoming a sushi chef."

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