SYDNEY (Kyodo) Teriyaki chicken, beef “yakisoba” fried noodles, salmon and avocado, tempura prawn, chicken “katsu” deep fry, carrot and avocado, and spicy salmon.
These are just some of the concoctions people can choose from at one of the scores of take-out sushi stalls present in most major Australian cities.
“Australia’s nori rolls are sometimes unique and sometimes absolutely wrong,” said Hideo Dekura, a master sushi chef who has lived and worked Down Under for 32 years, laughing.
While conveyer-belt sushi restaurants now dot the globe, the popularity of the take-out sushi stall — selling everything from “nigiri” (made by gripping the hand) to nori rolls and “inari” (sweet rice wrapped in a tofu pouch) — is a phenomenon seen in few places outside Australia.
At about 10 cm long, the large nori rolls make a colorful and tempting display for those who want to eat and run.
Sushi was once a food only for the fashionable and health-conscious in Australia, but recently it has been embraced by the wider public as a convenient and light fast-food option.
For 59-year-old Dekura, recognized as a sushi master by the Japan Sushi Association, the rapid rise in sushi’s popularity here over the last decade has been remarkable.
“In Japan, there are many conservative people about sushi. They think sushi is a very professional world. But in Australia people are very, very creative,” said Dekura, who grew up in Tokyo and worked in a restaurant set up by his grandfather in 1900. “They don’t care about any such conservative rules or anything like that.”
An author of seven cookbooks, Dekura also runs his own catering company, Japanese Functions of Sydney, and has taught the art of making sushi to both novices and chefs-in-training around the world.
“Creativity is very important for food culture. Especially in Australia, it is multicultural, you know. So why not?” Dekura said of the innovative approach taken to sushi here.
“In some ways (it is) uniquely developed, and it suits the Australian lifestyle,” he said, citing the people’s active lifestyles and enthusiasm for dining out.
The origin of sushi dates back over 1,000 years to when rice was used to preserve salted fish in Southeast Asia.
After entering Japan around the seventh or eighth century, sushi went on to become an international symbol of Japan’s simple, delicate and disciplined sensibilities in the 20th century.
Westernized sushi is, of course, not a new phenomenon. In the early 1970s, when sushi was introduced to Australia, Ichiro Manashita, a sushi chef at Los Angeles restaurant Tokyo Kaikan, recognized that the fear of raw fish was preventing Americans from trying sushi.
His creation of the California roll — a combination of crab, avocado and cucumber — became a worldwide hit and brought sushi to the attention of the wider public.
Some of the untraditional fillings actually have their origin in Japan. For example, rolls of teriyaki chicken and beef were first created by Niku-No-Mansei, a butcher shop in Tokyo, about 40 years ago, Dekura said.
Dekura, however, claimed that some combinations of flavors in Western nori rolls show a lack of understanding of the basic fundamentals of cooking.
“If you mismatch, this is a terrible result,” he said, criticizing deep-fried concoctions like the tempura prawn roll, which is made hours in advance and goes soggy in the refrigerator before being served.
But some Westerners seem to have grudgingly accepted Australian-style sushi.
“It’s quite a light snack, seems healthy and has a nice flavor as well,” a 31-year-old man from London said, adding that Australia has many more sushi options than Britain does. “I don’t think it’s real sushi because it’s cooked,” he said. “It doesn’t have the same taste, but unfortunately it’s all you can usually get if you want something in a rush.”
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