Obsession with Chirashi Sushi or “scattered sushi” (also see: sushi rice salad) has slowly and stealthily crept up on Manila’s Japanese food lovers over the course of the last few years. This traditional Japanese dish has primarily gone under the radar, giving way to it’s more famous cousins tempura, katsu curry and ramen. That is, until you try it. Then it gets you completely hooked, turning into a staple order on almost every pilgrimage taken to a Japanese restaurant.
For one thing, its colors are completely appetizing. For another, it contains every wonderful thing that sushi and sashimi lovers can dream of, invites them all to a crazy party of flavors, and merges them into a single bowl. Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by pristine slices of sashimi ethereally laid out over perfectly seasoned sushi rice? Every bowl is definitely a surprise or party in your mouth waiting to happen. If Chirashi bowls don’t define happiness, we don’t know what does.
So what makes a great Chirashi bowl?
Though there are a lot of variations and interpretations of this dish, it’s unanimous that the freshness of ingredients is a key factor in coming up with a great Chirashi bowl. Whether it’s fish, veggies, mushrooms or the rice, what’s important is that it all maintains a decent if not perfect level of freshness.
More variety equates to a better experience. Nothing competes with the thrill of ordering a bowl that gives you bursts of flavor from the various riches of the underwater world . From unagi, uni, maguro and salmon, to more adventurous mixtures brimming with swordfish, scallops, mackerel and seabream—you are literally tasting the colors of the sea with every variant offered.
They say that a good Chirashi bowl is supposed to be served at room temperature and is not meant to be refrigerated, though some people opt to cool the rice to slightly above room temperature based on their preference. A famous sushi master noted once that sushi rice is served best around the level of human body temperatures.
Visually stunning chirashi layouts make the dining experience more worthwhile. Superb plating and a delicately laid arrangement definitely has the power to help you appreciate the dish more. Like eating a sashimi painting of sorts, and lets face it: We all salivate at gorgeous plating.
The intricacy of preparing sashimi doesn’t end after the fish is skinned and filleted; a lot of the art involves precision slicing as well. There are a dozen slicing techniques (such as the hira zukuri or rectangular slice, the usu zukuri or thin slice, the kaku zukuri or square slice, and the ito zukuri or thread slice) that sushi and sashimi experts use when preparing a quality chirashi bowl. Reaching the desired standard of quality slices and cuts is necessary to create beautiful textures. Another important thing to achieve is for each slice of each type of fish remain the same.
While some people love to know what they’re eating, it’s a great experience to ask the chef to choose what your bowl will be populated with. There are some places where the chef prepares a bowl based on his “feel” or intuition, adding a certain element of surprise to the whole experience, like opening Pandora’s box of flavors.
This is where preference plays a key role: some people prefer to have Chirashi in manageable amounts, while some like more than they can handle. Either way, you walk away happy (and full!).
The key to perfectly seasoned sushi rice is balance. Sometimes the rice can be too sweet and sometimes it can be a little bland to give way to the toppings, but if done right you can meet that middle ground where all the elements sing together in sushi rice harmony!
What are your favorite parts of a Chirashi bowl? Leave a comment and let’s get hungry together!