Roll, baby, roll: Sushi’s grown from traditional to innovative in one bite!

From macrons to donuts and more, this Japanese delicacy has become a global fave in so many delicious ways

Ismat Tahseen June 18, 2022 09:11:06 IST
Roll, baby, roll: Sushi’s grown from traditional to innovative in one bite!

There’s something theatrical about sushi. It's curtains up when you watch a chef first skilfully assemble bite-sized rolls with veggies or raw seafood, then roll them to perfection. And once you bite into it with sharp wasabi and rich soy sauce, the gratifying feeling asks for an encore! That's sushi for you. Perhaps no other dish garners as much attention in a single bite as this one. Having come about in the paddy fields in South Asia where fermented fish was eaten with salt and rice, sushi has grown to be a powerful symbol of culture, finding popularity across the world – whether in restaurants and dedicated sushi bars, on party tables and in your everyday lunch boxes. With World Sushi Day on June 18, here's looking at how the delicacy has grown to be such a huge trend.

The rise and rise of this little roll

Roll baby roll Sushis grown from traditional to innovative in one bite

Arvin Tucker says sushi is a part of most of the orders at Chufang, irrespective of lunch or dinner

With sushi you get the best of three worlds – taste, texture and style! If sushi indulgence once enjoyed a status symbol, that has changed and how! Anywhere you look, you’ll find a sushi lover, thanks to more exposure, travel, cloud kitchens and availability. Sameer Malkani, founder of FBAI (Food Bloggers Association of India) recounts the reasons to the rise of sushi. He says, “In India, for many years, sushi as a dish was always associated with raw fish and available just in five-star hotels, hence inaccessible to a lot of folks. With the advent of cable, OTT platforms and forms of social media, exposure to international cuisines became commonplace. More so, middle-class Indians started traveling globally and trying a variety of cuisines, including sushi.”

Sushi began to get an Indianised twist to suit palates back home, just like how Chinese food once did. He adds, “Chefs, stand-alone restaurants and home chefs started experimenting and introducing vegetarian sushi to suit the palate of the large vegetarian population in the country. High street chains and online retail giants saw this consumer pull and requested distributors and importers to stock up with sushi ingredients on shelves, while importers also swung in to the demand for sushi and started importing nori, sushi rice, rice vinegar etc to fulfil the demand. So, here we are today, looking at the sushi phenomenon that currently exists in our country.”

Sushi also is one of the most reached-for items in restaurants. Arvin Tucker, who recently opened Chufang, at BKC, Mumbai didn’t think twice about having it on the menu. He says, “When it comes to any Asian cuisine, sushi is literally the first thing that comes to mind as diners love it. We’re often selling more appetisers than main courses and they are mostly sushi, irrespective of lunch and dinner. Two reasons for this: Not just because people traveling more and therefore more aware, but that sushi is also healthy. As people are making conscious choices, sushi is apt as it is light and quite subtle in terms of spice levels.”

Versatility meets variety here

What makes it fun, is that with sushi, there’s so much one can try. Essentially, the Japanese version is about raw fish inside a roll of rice, wrapped in nori (seaweed), but today food lovers and experts are innovating with seasonings and ingredients. At Kyma BKC, a recent sushi festival got chefs working against the clock to create new sushi styles. Says Nikita Poojari, founder of Kyma, “We created exclusive recipes for sushi rolls, which are unheard of, as diners wanted to have sushi served in new ways. In addition to spicy tuna, salmon avocado and prawn tempura sushi rolls, the chef also dished up vegetarian versions. If you are serving an Indian audience, you will have to create a few tweaks to cater to tastebuds. Sushi makes for an explosion of flavours in a small bite, which you don’t really experience with other dishes, so it got an amazing response.”

Yazu-Pan Asian Supper Club has put a spin on things with what you may call ‘open sushi’. Chef Vadim Shin states, “Poke, a Hawaiian dish is a version of chirashizushi, which means ‘scattered sushi’, where you spoon out what you want. But there are so many exotic combinations one can have with sushi. My own favourite is an enoki tempura mushroom roll with capsicum salsa that was recently added in our menu.”

On food apps, too, sushi holds clout. Pinky Shah founder of the app Fudtazy, says, “Sushi grabs one of the highest orders on weekends and with health-conscious folks who want it for lunch on weekdays. It makes for a meal-in-one with rice and vegetables that is not heavy to digest. People also love the Indianised version of sushi, for instance with paneer fillings or with pan-fried veggies. What’s more, sushi is no longer enjoyed just with wasabi and soya, but with different dips such as schezwan mayo or harissa sauce.”

Going innovative with sushi cakes and macarons!

Roll baby roll Sushis grown from traditional to innovative in one bite

Sushi gets a fun, innovative flair with sushi donuts, macarons and more

The next time you’re heading to a friend’s birthday, take along a sushi cake! Weight watchers especially, are loving this trend as this savoury cake tastes exactly like sushi and is healthier. Dessert specialist Jayshree Biyani who is the pioneer for veg sushi cakes, talks about the fun trend. She says, “When I started these cakes, people couldn’t believe the concept. They would recheck 2-3 times if it was a dessert or savoury cake. Today, it’s a crowd puller. People want sushi cakes for their meals and celebratory occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, engagement parties and bachelorettes.” She began serving sushi rolls and cakes at home parties, which gave way to ‘sushi stacks’ and now, a trend of monogram ‘Sushi by the cups’.

Macarons have also embraced the trend. Amrita Shah of Nori-The Sushi Haven, explains, “Sushi is usually available in the form of rolls so I decided to create something unique and that’s how the idea of sushi macarons and sushi donuts came up. The macarons are delicately crafted in pretty pastel colours and often I find people asking if they are sweet, but I tell them they’re not a sweet confection, but savoury. Even sushi donuts can be just as attractive as the flavour variations are endless, making for a great gifting idea, too. People are looking to try new and different versions of sushi this totally takes it into the gourmet zone.”

Demand for sushi bars and grazing boards at parties

Roll baby roll Sushis grown from traditional to innovative in one bite

Sushi grazing tables are a hit at parties

Okay, time to ditch the salad bar at the party! The next time you host a gathering, have a few sushi grazing boards instead. A hot trend on the social circuit, these boards have been grabbing attention. Manpreet Dhody chef and founder of I’M Wholesome India, reveals more on the trend. “Even five years ago, people were not open to hosting parties with just sushi, but that has changed. On an average, we do two or three grazing tables a day and 100 per cent of the time, almost all of the tables have sushi in it,” she says, adding, “Surprisingly, people don’t only want salmon sushi and prawn sushi, they want to experiment with vegetarian combinations like mango-avocado, truffle-edamame-shitake and teriyaki tofu as well as types of dipping sauces. There’s also this trend of setting up
D-I-Y sushi bars, where ingredients are all placed on a table and people take up their nori, add rice, throw in some grains and sakura salad and create their own hand-rolled fresh sushi."

Looks like we've certainly come a long way from maki rolls and nigiri. What are you ready to try, next?

Ismat Tahseen is a Mumbai-based journalist who writes on food, trends, culture and lifestyle for over a decade now.

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