Sushi has gone through a fascinating evolution in this country, from exotic high-end import to ubiquitous staple. Along the way, the audience has become more polarized than ever: Snobs won’t go near the stuff unless it comes from the most hallowed temples of sushi-master zendom, while the downmarket version—sold in plastic containers at supermarkets—is now basically a faddish health food, as pedestrian as wraps and smoothies.
But what do we really know about sushi? Despite its popularity, the Japanese delicacy remains one of the most misunderstood cuisines in the U.S.—a minefield of misinformation littered with improperly labeled fish and supersize “Kamikaze” rolls. From assumptions about what sushi is most “authentic” to the way we slather our nigiri with wasabi and soy sauce, most of us have the raw fish game all wrong. To sort out the facts from the myths, we tracked down an pro who could set us on the path to sushi wisdom.
Trevor Corson, the author of The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice, traveled to Japan for the first time when he was 16 on scholarship for a summer home-stay program. When he tried sushi in 1986 Washington, D.C. in preparation for his trip, he remembers thinking, “Now here’s a cuisine that is truly repulsive and I never want to eat this again.” After trying sushi at a neighborhood restaurant in Japan with his host family, he changed his tune and realized he had a lot to learn—and a lot of new fish to try.
Since his humble discovery as a teen, Corson spent three years living in Japan, worked as a commercial fisherman, and penned the pop-science bestseller The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean. He also regularly hosts educational “historical sushi dinners” in New York City (for more info visit his website). Through his own travels and his commitment to studying sushi in both its traditional and modern iterations, Corson is helping to educate others on how to better understand and enjoy sushi.
With that, it’s time to put down the sake, leave the chopsticks on the table, and do this thing right. Here, Corson debunks 15 common sushi myths that tend to circulate among diners in the U.S.—his answers will help you navigate your next sushi dinner like a true aficionado.