"The Story of Sushi" will make you hungry

"The Story of Sushi" will make you hungry

Raw fish and rice have never been so fascinating!

Trevor Corson's book about sushi is enticing and fascinating enough that I would caution you not to read it unless you have a source of sushi nearby. Luckily, as he details in one chapter, there is sushi almost everywhere in America these days, with a crazy proliferation of sushi bars in even third and fourth tier towns. Not to mention the ready-made sushi which can often be found in the refrigerated case of your grocery store's deli section.

There are a lot of angles you can write about sushi, and Corson pursues them all. From the earliest history of sushi's origins as fermented fish, to the exacting formulas that sushi chefs use to season their rice, and the biological details of the bluefin and yellowfin tuna. Miso, proper knife technique, and the religious implications of rice in an animist culture are only a few of the disparate subjects that Corson lays out in fascinating detail. It reminds you how complex our world really is, how much is going on behind the scenes that culminates in the delicious wedge of rice and fish sitting on your plate.

Corson has a flair for researching and writing about these topics in an engrossing manner. However, The Story of Sushi employs a framing device with mixed results. The framing device is a "fly on the wall" series of courses at the California Sushi Academy, one of America's greatest sushi training centers. This framing device follows several students closely, again with mixed results.
 
Superficially, the passages which take place at the CSA lead into the historical and scientific discussions of minutia such how soy sauce is made. By detailing what the students learn (and the difficulties they face), the reader gains a new appreciation for the skills involved in making sushi. These passages at the CSA help to humanize the subject, to illustrate the misogyny and racism found in the sushi trade, and to bring home what a skilled profession it is to be a sushi chef.
 
Unfortunately, this portion of the narrative seems far too smitten with Kate, the worst student in class, cast here as the plucky underdog. The writing style in these passages feels overly indulgent. The author's presence is entirely erased from the scene, and the narrative voice sits inside the students' heads (detailing their thoughts, feelings, and internal reactions) to such an extent that I began to wonder if the entire thing was fictionalized. And yet, it seems that the students really do exist. 
 
Overall, though, this was a fun read, and any sushi lover will come away from the experience with a better appreciation for this amazing food.