Prior to this experience, the only types of sushi I could identify were sashimi (chunks of raw fish) and norimaki, commonly known as California rolls (tiny pieces of fish wrapped in rice and held together by an outside layer of dried seaweed). There was far more on offer than this, though: I let my sushi pro dining companions K, L and S talk me through the menu, and before long we had an array of beautifully-presented plates of nigiri (small blocks of slightly sweetened sushi rice topped with salmon and tuna - we passed on the octopus and squid this time), gunkan (sushi rice rolled into little 'boats' wrapped in seaweed and topped with salmon and tuna with leeks, salmon eggs or avocado), temaki (also known as hand rolls: sushi rice rolled into small cones and filled with tuna and cucumber with mayonnaise, shredded cucumber or pickled daikon radish) and a special of spicy tuna rolls.
|Spicy tuna rolls|
Being more than a little inept with chopsticks, sushi posed another elegant eating difficulty, but the fact that it seemed acceptable to deposit whole pieces of maki in your mouth at once definitely helped. I started at the less scary end of the scale with a piece of tuna maki, but dipping it in the provided soy sauce, wasabi or ginger was a step too far for my clumsy mitts. Fortunately, it had just enough flavour by itself, which was more than I could say for my next choice, a piece of tuna ngiri. The salmon variety was topped with a small chunk of orange, infusing it with a delicious citrus taste and receiving particular praise from S, who had never seen it served this way in her former home city, sushi-loving London.
Sipping on my cup of rich-tasting miso soup, I pondered my next move. Suitably impressed with the taste of raw fish so far, I chose a spicy tuna roll and wasn't disappointed: there was no dipping or dunking required to produce a delicious depth of flavour, perfect for cack-handed individuals like myself. A Californian temaki (filled with tuna mayonnaise) seemed an easy bet, as the alternative name 'hand roll' implies that it's fine to get your paws involved. However, its dried seaweed wrapping was a little tougher than I anticipated: tasty, but not pretty. The avocado gunkan was a fish-free interlude (plenty of vegetarian sushi is available at Edamame) before my grand finale: a piece of salmon sashimi. Probably the most emblematic and the most intimidating style of sushi for novices to get to grips with, I understood the scariness of sashimi, but was pleased to discover it tasted rich with a smooth texture as opposed to slimy, as I feared. The quality of the fish is clearly high at Edamame, winning praise from my sushi pro friends.
So, sushi isn't so scary after all. In fact, it's pretty tasty. Light and fresh, sushi is ideal for a summer supper, especially accompanied with some miso soup and edamame beans. I can't say I'm a definite convert, but next time someone suggests sushi, I'll agree rather than making my excuses. And who knows, I may even pluck up the courage to try some squid next time.
You can listen to me talking about my experience of sushi and about other places to eat fish in Oxford on Jo Thoenes' show on BBC Radio Oxford on 29 July here.
Edamame is at 15 Holywell Street, OX1 3SA. Sushi night is every Thursday from 5 to 8.30pm. No reservations are accepted, and it's deservedly popular, so arriving early is advised.
Lovely photos copyright Sarah Haynes of The Pea's Kneas.