Here’s why expensive 'ikura' sushi often comes with some cheap cucumber slices

TOKYO —

Sushi neophytes generally start out with varieties that won’t intimidate the palate or shock the wallet, such as egg or cooked shrimp. Eventually, though, most people who take a liking to Japan’s most famous culinary contribution will work their way up to trying “ikura,” as salmon roe is called in Japanese.

Ikura aficionados are captivated by its refined flavor and stimulating consistency, both of which are unlike anything else you’ll find offered at a sushi restaurant. However, another way that ikura stands out is by its price, as it’s usually one of the most expensive types of sushi on the menu.

So for some diners, it’s especially frustrating when their order of ikura sushi has thin slices of cucumber inside its seaweed wrapping, as is done at many restaurants both in Japan and abroad. You’re already paying premium price for the ikura, and now the chef wants to get stingy and stretch his supply by mixing in some cheap vegetables?

However, there’s actually a reason for the inclusion of cucumber slices that has nothing to do with cost-cutting or profit-maximizing. If you’re following orthodox sushi etiquette, that cucumber is actually going to make your ikura sushi taste better, some experts say.

How so? Well, the components of a pieces of sushi can be divided into two groups: the vinegared rice and the toppings (which are called the “shari” and “neta,” respectively, in Japanese). Sushi is meant to be eaten with soy sauce, but you’re not supposed to dip the rice into your plate of soy sauce, because it’ll disrupt the subtle flavors of the grain.

Instead, you’re supposed to turn the piece of sushi upside down with your chopsticks and quickly apply just a touch of soy to the topping, then bring the piece to your mouth and eat it in a single bite. This works fine with strips of fish such as salmon or yellowtail, since they’re pressed firmly into the rice by the chef.

However, ikura sits loosely on top of the rice, since pressing it in would crush the eggs and ruin their texture. But this means that if you turn a piece of ikura sushi upside down, all of the roe is liable to fall off the rice and spill onto the table.

So instead, with ikura sushi you’re supposed to use your chopsticks to remove the cucumber slices, dip them in the soy sauce, then replace them atop the roe. This way the toppings are properly seasoned, but the rice remains pure, letting you enjoy the morsel in the most delicious way possible.

It’s further proof that while Japan sometimes can be particular about how food is prepared and eaten, sometimes it has very good reasons for sticking to tradition.

Sources: Noge Sushi, Uogashi Sushi

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  • 3

    Maria

    Do people actually take the time to complain about the cucumber slice?

  • 1

    Kurobune

    Unfortunately @Maria, much more than you think.

  • 1

    Maria

    Good grief.

  • 1

    Sushi_guy

    I find it odd that something as salty as Ikura would need soy sauce.

  • -1

    Triring

    No it IS a cost cutting item.

    If you want to add soy sauce to any and all Gunkanmaki you should use gari as a swab dipping it into the soy sauce and then brushing it on the neta. You do not need a special slice of cucumber since gari is always served free of charge any sushi place whether it is rotating on a conveyor belt or not.

  • -2

    Scrote

    I don't like salmon roe or cucumber.

  • -2

    jojo_in_japan

    You’re already paying premium price for the ikura, and now the chef wants to get stingy and stretch his supply by mixing in some cheap vegetables?**

    Actually, cucumber is a FRUIT.

  • 1

    Extra Virgin Palm Oil

    "... cheap cucumber slices." "... cheap vegetables."

    Please, please tell me where I can buy these cheap cucumbers and fruit-vegetables. I've watched them skyrocket from less than 20 yen a couple years ago to almost 100.

  • 0

    theeastisred

    I've never seen anybody remove the top of a piece of sushi to apply soy sauce before returning it to its bed of rice prior to eating. Has anyone else?

  • -3

    MsDelicious

    1 cuke at Tokyu store yesterday was ¥168.

    I do not find Ikura expensive at all. Otoro is much more costly as is Uni.

    One time at a sushi place after about an hour of eating slowly, I asked the master Ikura. He told me I would get the bill at the end. Get it?

  • -2

    Strangerland

    I've never seen anybody remove the top of a piece of sushi to apply soy sauce before returning it to its bed of rice prior to eating. Has anyone else?

    Yeah, literally every time I go to the sushi restaurant. Maybe not at a kaitenzushi (though I still do it there when I go), but if you're at a proper sushi place, it's how it's done.

  • 3

    Jalapeno

    The first time I ate sushi with a Japanese person, I saw her dip the fish part ever so delicately into the soy sauce and pop the whole thing in her mouth. What a life change experiencing - right up there with the Berlin Wall coming down.

    Now, when I see Americans tossing the wasabi into the soy sauce, then slam dunking a piece of sushi til it's covered head to toe in sauce, I just snicker and bask in the glow of my superiority.

  • 0

    Reckless

    i prefer sashimi anyways,,,

  • 3

    commanteer

    Actually, cucumber is a FRUIT

    It is a vegetable in the common parlance. If you are speaking to a botanist, it is a fruit. "Vegetable" has no meaning, botanically speaking. It simply refers to a plant you eat. Vegetables with seeds are, for the most part, called fruits in botany. But if you try to call a cucumber a fruit outside of a botany lab, people will look at you funny.

    As they should.

  • 7

    lucabrasi

    @commanteer

    Exactly. As the saying goes, "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is actually a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad...."

  • 5

    Kurobune

    @lucabrasi - Excellent !

  • 1

    lucabrasi

    Surely, at the very top sushi restaurants, they don't get customers uncultured enough to be using chopsticks?

    Chopsticks for sashimi, (well-washed) hands for sushi. That's what I've always been told.

  • -3

    Strangerland

    Chopsticks for sashimi, (well-washed) hands for sushi. That's what I've always been told.

    Both are acceptable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auLmekEsaak

  • 1

    lucabrasi

    @Strangerland

    Very persuasive. But I'd like to see you try and convince the wife....

  • -3

    Strangerland

    Very persuasive. But I'd like to see you try and convince the wife....

    She uses chopsticks too!

  • 1

    lucabrasi

    My wife.

    Maybe she uses chopsticks with you, she's never said....

  • -5

    Strangerland

    Haha, no, she uses her fingers ;)

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