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Photograph by Erika Pino

Rice is Nice

By Corinne Asturias

IN JAPAN, rice practically holds a spot on the table of elements. Old folks can argue a lifetime about which province on which hillside, with what kind of rainfall, grows the best rice. So, grasshopper, it's no surprise that the making and shaping of sushi rice looks easy but is really an age-old craft, filled with picky requirements and zenlike practices. How picky? Well, at every step of the way. Unfortunately, in most restaurants this ritual goes on early in the day, out of view of customers, because it would make great theater to see the chefs and apprentices spreading warm rice into giant, wooden Hangiri tubs, intermittently sprinkling it with vinegar dressing and tossing it with wooden paddles, while other chefs frantically fan it to coolness. The desired result is plump, flavorful grains with a glossy sheen that hold together without being gummy. And speaking of holding together, molding the rice into fingers for nigiri is not for amateurs or big-time wrestlers. It is said that when done properly, all the rice grains face the same way. A chef does not squeeze the rice into wads but, in a very zenlike manner, merely invites the grains to cling to one another with just the right amount of pressure.

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From the May 2-8, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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