There is a wide misconception in the Western world that the Japanese word sushi means raw fish. But nothing could be further from the truth. Visitors to any of Johannesburg’s Sushi restaurants should bear in mind that the word actually refers to the rice and how it is prepared. Traditional sushi is short-grained rice prepared with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, seaweed and sometimes sake and served at body heat. The sushi may be served topped or prepared with a number of toppings, including various types of raw fish, but other ingredients may include prawns, algae, seaweed, meat, vegetables, mushrooms or eggs. The various sushi dishes, which are numerous, are prepared with intricate care and presentation to the diner is usually most precise.
Quite popular in Japan, and becoming more so in the western world, are kaiten zushi, or conveyer belt sushi restaurants. These are normally large and busy restaurants where the sushi is prepared on a large scale and placed on a conveyer belt on different coloured plates. Diners are charged according to the number and colour of the plates they have used at the end of their meal. More traditionally sushi is eaten from small wooden or lacquered plates, usually with two pieces of sushi. In many of the smaller restaurants in Japan no plates are used at all, and the sushi is eaten directly off the counter top and with the fingers. Sweet pickled ginger is often served after the meal in order to cleanse the palette and help digestion. Sake is frequently served with the meal.
Like most major western cities, there are a number of sushi restaurants in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria, though you are unlikely to have to eat your sushi off the counter top with your fingers. If you visit Village Walk in Sandton you may be lucky enough to find a sushi restaurant that sports a conveyer belt though! Sushi is highly nutritious. With few exceptions it is fat free and the use of seaweed or algae rate it extremely high in vitamins and natural minerals. Though not everybody’s cup of tea, a night out at a sushi bar is a change from the ordinary and a taste of the oriental.
The training of a sushi chef is long and meticulous, and sushi is included in the training given to students at the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine in Centurion, a picturesque garden town set midway between Pretoria and Johannesburg. The training course at this small school lasts eighteen months divided up into three semesters. Courses start in January and July, and students are expected to start their hands-on practical training from week one onwards. The catering college has its own restaurant, and though not a sushi restaurant, the quality and presentation of culinary dishes is of an extremely high standard. The restaurant is staffed entirely by students under supervision and caters for as many as 60 persons at a time. Students graduate with a world recognized diploma and move on to some of the finest hotels, game lodges and restaurants of South Africa.