Sushi Showdown: The Chirashi Challenge

Calling people out for food hypocrisy is a beloved pasttime of mine. I'm of the all-or-nothing persuasion — you either like cheese or you don't. Can you melt mozzarella, jack and cheddar on everything, but eschew brie and goat and still call yourself a cheese lover? Can you eat salami but not prosciutto? A tuna fish sandwich but not seared ahi? Why do people pick and choose?

Enter the chirashi, short for chirashizushi or "scattered sushi," consisting of a few pieces of everything in the fish case. It's like a mini-omakase — the chef decides what goes in depending on what's freshest that day. I order this dish 4 out of 5 times I hit a Japanese restaurant, as I hypocritically tell you not to order chicken teriyaki or California rolls. Although it translates as "scattered," sliced fish and other toppings (called gu) are artfully arranged on top of sweet, vinegary sushi rice. Here are some items you can expect to find. If you can finish the whole bowl, only then can you call yourself a true lover of sushi:

  • Your typical sashimi offerings: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, whitefish, scallop
  • The chewy and delightful: octopus, squid, clam
  • The very fishy: mackerel, sardine
  • The cooked: shrimp, Japanese omelet
  • The roe: typically flying fish and salmon
  • The garnish: wasabi, pickled ginger, cucumber and nori flakes

I love playing sushi chef and making this at home after a trip to the Asian market, pretending that my knife strokes are seamless when really I'm just short of mangling a perfect slab of sushi-grade salmon that never did anything to me. The resulting product may not be the most attractive dish I've ever made (unlike this shameless plug for some extremely attractive sushi), but it tastes just as good. Just don't tell Iron Chef Sakai. I'm still supposed to be sorting rice grains and hosing fish scales off everything.