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The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice (P.S. (Paperback)) Paperback – 7 Nov 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPerennial; Reprint edition (7 Nov. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060883510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060883515
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.4 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 113,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Escorts the reader behind the sushi bar, through an extensive three-month course at the California Sushi Academy in Los Angeles where he spent a semester shadowing its founder and a select group of master chefs and their trainees and experienced first hand what's involved in becoming a naturalist with a knife. As the story of the chefs and trainees unfolds, he describes the different types of organisms that compose sushi, their behavior, biology, evolutionary origins, ecological niches, and nutritional properties. He discusses the seasonal progression of the organisms and explores the techniques by which they're harvested, including what's the best time for harvesting and why. He then provides a history of sushi's origins and evolution in Japan and its transplantation to the United States via Los Angeles, and most compellingly, considers the future of sushi in America, revealing why the best sushi chefs of the future will most likely not be Japanese and male.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 15 Jun. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Corson's fascinated with seafood, as his earlier book on lobsters demonstrates. Here, he casts his net through entirely new waters as he describes what sushi is, where it comes from and where it might be going. Spending three months as a "perpetual presence" in a California sushi school, he was able to establish close contact with staff and students. Supported by an avid research team, he's able to present nearly every facet of sushi from biology to service methods. Little is left unsaid in this book, but every bit is interesting and informative. Written in the best journalistic style you'll find this book worthwhile in many respects.

Among the first students Corson presents is Kate Murray, who lacks both cooking skills and confidence. She quickly learns that there are no short-cuts to sushi, even though the meal is composed of little but rice, mostly raw fish, some vegetables and simple sauces. Throughout the narrative, Kate seems to continually lag behind the other students, harassed by the impatient instructor - Toshi Sugiura. Sushi kitchen skills focus on knives, with each student possessing a kit of them. Sharpening is essential, as Kate learns the hard way. Her solution to her fear of knife sharpening is unique. She's also startled to learn that the image of sushi as "everything fresh" is false. Mold and infectious bacteria are essential to good sushi.

As the class struggles to keep up, Corson is able to introduce a wide range of supportive material relevant to what they learn. Sushi's history is complex and intricate, starting as quick meals from city street vendors. The move of Japan's capital from Kyoto to Edo [Tokyo], was but one of many divisions sushi would go through in Japan. There are also regional varieties, as well as those of customer class.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was a little concerned that this book would have an overly American slant, it being mostly set in a sushi school set up in California. However the author has done his research, had lived in Japan and speaks Japanese. The book alternates between telling the story of a class of students learning how to be sushi chefs in America, intertwined with general information about sushi, its history, etiquette and how it came to the US and has been adapted.

The writer has a fluent writing style, and there is a lot of background research that he and a team of three helpers have put in, which gives the book plenty of depth with regards to the more technical aspects of sushi and its role in Japan. As someone who has eaten quite a lot of sushi in Japan I certainly found plenty to learn from the book. It is remarkable just how much is involved in such a seemingly simple subject of some vinegared rice and (mostly) raw fish.
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History and information about sushi culture informative and useful (especially when I was in Japan!) I followed the etiquette as explained here and in the movie Jiro:Dreams of Sushi and was asked if I was a professional chef in restaurants in Japan because I looked like I 'knew sushi'. However the story following the rise and fall of a mediocre sushi school was far from inspiring.
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Format: Paperback
This is a great book for any foodie or just for the curious type. Not only do you learn about sushi etiquette, you also learn why you don't eat mackerel out of the water fresh but after some vinegar prep.

It is well written, well researched and exciting.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 0 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating view of fish from many angles 29 May 2007
By Graeme from Waltham, MA - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The Zen of Fish is built around the story of a group of people attending California's first sushi-chef school, but there's a lot more to the book than that. Using the class as a framework, Corson presents the history of sushi, starting as a way to preserve fish, and its transformation into its present form, first in Japan and later in California. Along the way, he discusses different kinds of fish, how they are caught or farmed, and how they are cooked or presented raw. And this is accompanied by a taste of Japanese culture and vocabulary, and some of the science behind the preserving, cooking, tasting and eating of fish.

It is, like sushi, beautifully presented. The various threads of the book each make an interesting story, and you'll learn something from each of them. I don't want to reduce the book to a tag line, but Corson's thoughtful tone will make you more thoughtful in preparing or eating fish -- a zen approach, if you like. Certainly you'll be a more thoughtful consumer of sushi, but there's also information that might make you a better fish cook, and more knowledgeable in considering the economy and ecological impact of fishing.

There's a cultural lesson to be learned in the way sushi has been Americanized on its way from Tokyo. Eating sushi in the United States can be helped by knowing more about Japanese practice, but it's a separate thing, not a copy. The sushi school in California makes that clear, with frantic weeks of training instead of the years of apprenticeship required in Japan. Being fluent in Japanese, Corson is in an excellent position to provide a balanced view of this, and the clarity of his writing helps you develop your own point of view.

I liked this book a lot. There's so much in the book that while I was reading it I felt as though I should be taking notes, but I didn't want to put it down. It's definitely a book worth coming back to.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Informative, but with some annoying passages. 13 May 2008
By Lu Y. Yang - Published on
Format: Hardcover
After hearing Trevor Corson speak on the radio about sushi, I picked up his book because I wanted to learn more about one of my favorite foods. The Zen of Fish follows a new student through a sushi course at the California Sushi Academy. Mixed in with the story of the student and her classmates are historical facts and other information about things related to sushi such as fish, knives, rice, and etiquette.

While I was reading the book, I couldn't help feeling annoyed by the passages about Kate, the student going through the school. She's inept, clumsy, ditzy, and just not that interesting. I was more interested in the actual tidbits of information about sushi than Kate's classes.

I would have rated this book higher if it only contained the informational passages about the Japanese cuisine. Those parts were interesting and worth reading for anyone who likes sushi, but the other parts felt like a waste of time. Corson might have been trying to get readers to relate to Kate, but he would have been more successful if he had chosen a stronger student from the class to follow.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
American Sushi 15 Dec. 2009
By Zack Davisson - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a book, I think, for lovers of the American-style sushi joint. This is for people who judge a hot new sushi place on the different and exciting kinds of rolls they serve, and for people who think a "Volcano Roll" or a "Mango Chutney Roll with Spicy Curry Sauce" sounds like a delectable treat.

On the other hand, if the words "Edo mae," "Otoro" or "Omakase" have any meaning to you, if the yellow insides of a sea urchin start your mouth drooling instead of gagging, you are probably best off staying away.

Trevor Corson's "The Story of Sushi" is not a pure history book, but instead flip-flops between sushi history in Japan and its development in the US and between telling the story of a class of students enrolled at the California Sushi Academy. The California Sushi Academy offers a 12-week course that circumvents the traditional multi-year apprenticeship system of Japan and delivers sushi-bar ready sushi chefs who are able to meet the current high demand at US restaurants.

From amongst the students Corson chose to follow Kate as his main character. A young woman of around twenty, Kate lacks confidence, has an unspecified eating disorder, is shy and inward, is terrified of her own sushi knives, has no cooking skills and is disgusted at the idea of touching a raw fish, much less cutting one. Directionless and unsure of herself, Kate borrowed money from her parents to attend the sushi school on somewhat of a whim, hoping for a career where she could socialize with customers as her main concern.

Kate is where the book starts, with chapter one, page one, and Kate is where the book fell apart for me. Obviously, Corson saw in Kate someone he hoped his audience could identify with, someone for whom sushi was still slightly "yucky" and who would be grossed out by the concept of eating octopus and squid. I was personally just annoyed by her, and found myself hoping she would drop-out instead of persevere. Her constant whining and self-doubt got to be too much, and she is the kind of character you wish your could somehow reach into the book and give a good smack on the face too.

It's too bad, because the other students who are relegated to the side-lines seemed so much more interesting than Kate. But we don't get to here their stories; like Takumi, the hard-working Japanese student who is secretly a pop star in Japan but escaped to the US where his anonymity allowed him to study his true love, cooking. Or even the Japanese-American girl who dropped out halfway through the course. Why? We'll never know.

As far as the parts of the book that actually focus on sushi history, they are interesting but nothing new. A bit of time browsing wikipedia would bring you the same information, such as the invention of the California Roll by Ichiro Mashita at the Tokyo Kaikan restaurant in LA in the 1960s when he found himself out of fatty tuna and decided to slip in avocado as a quick substitute, or the ins and outs of the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo where the bounty of the seas is flash-frozen and auctioned to the highest bidder.

Perhaps the lack of any real new historical information or ground to cover is what gave Corson the idea of giving over half of the book to Kate and the California Sushi Academy. If you are a real sushi novice, then perhaps much of this will be new to you and the behind-the-scenes look at the sushi school will be valuable/entertaining. Personally I just didn't find a lot here.

On one last note: When I bought this book, it was called "The Zen of Sushi" and I see that the name has since been changed to "The Story of Sushi" which makes me happy. For someone who has "resided in Buddhist temples in Tokyo" (as it says in his author's bio) Corson should know better than to mis-use the term "Zen" in that way.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
The Mack Daddy 7 Nov. 2007
By CaterpillarGirl - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I gobbled down this book, as if it were a nice square plate full of my favorite sushi rolls. I have been eating sushi since I was a child, and was never taught the correct way to eat it. I was one of those people who mixed wasabi with soy, or put more wasabi on when it was already correctly measured out for me by the chef! I had no idea the origins of the components that make up "sushi", or what it took to become a certified sushi chef. I have new found admiration, on top of the dizzying awe I already had for anyone who can put together the delicacies I so love to eat. Reading it I got so hungry for everything that was described, especially for the special rolls that Kate was so good at making.
It was fascinating to hear about how westerners like their sushi, and how Japanese connoisseurs prefer theirs. It has made me think twice about my own palate and what my taste buds run to.
I myself could never go through what these students went through because I am notorious for chopping off hunks of my own flesh when handling sharp knives. It's a wonderful book, I read it in one sitting , you wont be able to put it down!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Don't mix your wasabi and soy! 20 Jan. 2008
By Jessica Lux - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Journalist and food writer Trevor Corson (who previously authored The Secret Life of Lobsters) has masterfully combined the story of a young female sushi chef struggling up the ranks with the natural and cultural history of Japanese raw fish cuisine. The Zen of Fish follows 20-year-old aspiring sushi chef Kate in her struggle to break down the sexist and cultural barriers to entry in the art of sushi. At the same time, it provides historical context for sushi, which originated as a means of preserving old fish in peasant villages. Modern sushi has Japanese incarnations (influenced by the 20th century US military presence in Japan), California twists, and high-fat, additive-loaded, American supermarket incarnations.

Visit the author's website if this book leaves you wanting more. The site includes articles on etiquette and technique, full-color pictures, and a behind-the-scenes look at the chefs featured in his book.
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