Introducing teen to sushi
March 25, 2014 11:58 AM   Subscribe

We're taking my 15 year old nephew out for sushi this coming weekend. (Planning on going to Rikishi for Mefites in Toronto) He's only ever had supermarket California rolls, and I'm wondering what to start him with. Suggestions?
posted by Pablo MacWilliams to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sashimi sampler? Just put the fish forward. He'll like it or he won't.
posted by jsturgill at 11:59 AM on March 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

My family is really weird about the raw fish thing. I got them to get their toes in the water with eel, shrimp and smoked salmon.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:01 PM on March 25, 2014

Eel and octopus on nigiri are cooked, if raw fish looks intimidating to him. There's also tamago (omelette), and all the vegetable maki (I like pickled daikon a lot).
posted by sukeban at 12:02 PM on March 25, 2014

Philadelphia roll, maybe? Lots of kids like cream cheese.
posted by umberto at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2014

Order whatever you would usually order and let him deal with it! Or a mix of rolls and nigiri. Make it a tour of the things you like and let him explore the spectrum. My credentials: first tried sushi when I was a boy of about 13, and I've never wanted training wheels for food.
posted by xueexueg at 12:06 PM on March 25, 2014

I would just hand him the menu and let him go to town. Maybe advise him if he picks something super weird, or if there's something you know he'll dislike. ("Just so you know, uni is sea urchin.")

If he looks to you for ordering guidance, I'd tell him to get a California roll or something else very basic that he's sure to enjoy, and then get something slightly more adventurous (maybe tuna or salmon, or one of the fun rolls built around a raw fish base?).

Then, I would order especially fun things for yourselves, if you swing that way, and be open to letting him try the crazy stuff, or potentially even swapping your eel for his California, if he realizes he was too conservative in his approach.

One place he'll probably need advice is in quantity. I'm an old hand at sushi, and I still often don't know exactly how much to order in an unfamiliar restaurant.

Be sure to initiate him into all the fun Rituals Of Sushi Restaurants, like how to add wasabi to your little dish of soy sauce.
posted by Sara C. at 12:07 PM on March 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Start with some simple rolls, then ebi (cooked shrimp), then unagi.

Then Salmon and Tuna.

Then try and hold him back!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:10 PM on March 25, 2014

Fried shrimp roll and crunch munch rolls, first. (I've got this theory that for any given type of restaurant, there's one single dish that is the best barometer of whether it's a good place or not - for Thai restaurants, it's pad thai. For sushi bars, it's their take on the crunch munch roll.)

After that, maybe a couple pieces of salmon nigiri, to ease him into the raw stuff?
posted by jbickers at 12:13 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know I started off eating mostly veggie and tempura shrimp rolls, which got me developing a taste for sushi rice and seaweed even though I was still intimidated by the raw-fish part. After a few times ordering these kinds of "beginner" sushi, I got bored and decided on my own to branch out and try some tuna and salmon nigiri, and from there I was hooked!

So maybe don't push him to try raw fish unless he's comfortable with it - tamago (egg), avocado, kampyo (sweetened gourd), and eel (unagi or anago) are all cooked and/or vegetarian and are no less "sushi" than the stuff with fish. If he is willing to be a little more adventurous, order tobiko (flying fish roe) - yes, it's fish eggs but they are teeny tiny, crazy delicious, and the texture is something you can't get in any other food I know of.
posted by augustimagination at 12:24 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

For rolls, I'd suggest maybe a shrimp tempura roll for something cooked, then something with tuna (spicy tuna, tuna avocado) for a raw roll. Both are fairly benign as far as flavor but are usually tasty.
posted by tryniti at 12:25 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Deep fried soft shell crab!

futo-maki is pretty innocuous.

spicy salmon has lots of sauce on top

cucumber roll
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:26 PM on March 25, 2014

Barbecued eel (unagi) for sure. If he likes avocado, caterpillar roll!

In general, I think rolls are the way to go when introducing sushi.

Of course unagi is cooked. For the raw stuff, other than avoiding uni (sea urchin), just offer him a mix and see what he likes. Salmon (sake), yellowtail (hamachi), and mackerel (saba) are all pretty inoffensive and my toddler will eat them. Shrimp (ebi) tastes pretty much the same raw and cooked, in my opinion, so if he likes shrimp cocktail that might be another option.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:39 PM on March 25, 2014

My first raw sushi was Hamachi/yellowtail. It's basically like eating delicious butteriness.
posted by vespabelle at 12:40 PM on March 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love sashimi. One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Bar Masa, in the Time Warner Center in New York. There are two really creative sushi restaurants in Boston, Oishii and O Ya, and I love perusing their menus and sampling what they've come up with. But I only got that way through genuine, self-starting curiosity and picking up a menu with a decision to explore on my own. I still hate most sushi. I dislike the rice. I think the rolls are gross. My favorite sashimi is mackerel (saba), which is apparently as plebeian as you can get.

So my experience would second those who are suggesting you hand him the menu and let his curiosity roam. When I was steered, I didn't like sushi. Once I shook that off and just tried some stuff on my own, I found things to love.
posted by cribcage at 12:44 PM on March 25, 2014

Shrimp (ebi) and eel (unagi) sushi are both cooked (eel is barbecued), so start with those. Then proceed to salmon (sake) and tuna.

I'd have never tried eel if I knew what it was beforehand; my then-girlfriend had me try it and she knew me well enough to refuse to tell me what it was. Now it's one of my favorites.

My introduction to sushi was a restaurant that offered a kind of "chef's choice" lunch plate which included an assortment of the sushi chef's choice, a bowl of miso soup, and a small salad. It was all raw, but I was feeling adventurous and enjoyed it. So I did raw first and then cooked, which I think is the opposite of how you "should" approach such an introduction.

I don't tend to like sashimi, which is just the fish without the rice. I guess I need the rice for some reason. I don't like avocado so I don't eat California rolls, and I don't like mayonnaise so a lot of the "spicy" sushi varieties are out for me as they tend to use "spicy mayo."
posted by tckma at 12:50 PM on March 25, 2014

Deep fried soft shell crab!

Many years ago a friend of mine introduced me to sushi via, among a few other items, soft-shell crab.

A thing that is easy for experienced sushi eaters to forget is that "eww, raw fish" is not the only problematic vector for newbies; if anything it's much easier to get over the "raw" part than to get used to the new textures (eel) and flavors (roe) and the there are frickin claws sticking out of the thing you expect me to put in my mouth are you insane and when I do the mouthfeel, god, the crunch is exactly like biting into a cockroach you cruel person what did I do to deserve this

So: I would say no on the soft-shell crab.
posted by ook at 12:51 PM on March 25, 2014

My MIL who is horrified by the thought of raw fish and sushi in general, though strangely loves all other Japanese food, She also loves the sweet potato rolls at our local Japanese restaurant. I order them along with the ones I want for her to steal while she teases me for eating sushi. Get a selection, let him eat what he wants, discuss what he likes and doesn't like, encourage the trying of new things but let him eat what he wants, even if you don't like them trying new things can be fun, and if nothing else you have the whole remember the time you got me to try sea urchin stories.

Explain the whole "ritual" that goes with eating sushi too, with the little dishes of soy, the order you eat them in that sort of thing I find that half the fun.
posted by wwax at 12:55 PM on March 25, 2014

Let him eat things in his own order. Don't make him add soy sauce or wasibi until he wants to, or make him eat things in a certain way - first time I had sushi was with a guy who loved wasibi. I hated it. It wasn't until years later I dared try it again. Turns out I love sushi, just needed less wasibi. Let him like the taste, then teach the finer points.
posted by troytroy at 1:45 PM on March 25, 2014

Is it an option to sit at the bar? If so, why not let the chef(s) help direct his experience?
posted by saladin at 1:51 PM on March 25, 2014

Just order California rolls and a variety of other things. Don't discuss the particulars of the other things. Let him sort himself out.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:51 PM on March 25, 2014

I started eating sushi around that age, and was initially squicked out by the fish aspect. I started with cucumber rolls with cream cheese and veggie rolls (carrot, cucumber, daikon?), then moved on to tempura shrimp rolls (Mexican roll!) and JB rolls, and then on to any kind of roll. This was over a period of years but we never ate seafood in my house growing up so if he's more accustomed to the idea of fish, period, this could be a faster process. I still don't love sashimi and wouldn't spring soft shell crab on him yet either.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 1:53 PM on March 25, 2014

If he likes the rolls, he likes the rice. Statt with sushi rather than sashimi.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:55 PM on March 25, 2014

A shrimp tempura roll, followed by a cooked shrimp roll and then an amaebi roll at the end. He'll be working his way up the rawness ladder as he goes.

Similarly, katsuo tataki is seared on the outside and may be an approachable way to get into sashimi in general.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:57 PM on March 25, 2014

Please, please, please don't feed him fake "sushi". Meaning most of the "sushi" that's out there. Nothing called dragon rolls, explosion rolls, spider rolls, crazy rolls, nothing with all manner of disgusting sauces drizzled on top. You would NEVER drizzle a sauce on sushi. All this "sushi" is only a total abomination of the Japanese aesthetic in every sense and Japanese cuisine in particular. Nothing with lettuce (I've seen it), cream cheese, and all manner of ingredients that thankfully I'm ignorant about but I bet is being put in sushi. I really wish that sushi can be given an official designation like the EU has given to feta cheese but that will never happen. Though 99% of what gets spoken of as "sushi" outside of Japan is not, and I cannot even identify with a shared cultural feeling (of my culture) when others say they LOVE "sushi".

Try daikon rolls (picked radish), cucumber rolls, as well as rolls with cooked ingredients like cooked salmon, tempura (veg or shrimp), or tamago nigiri (cooked eggs, some non-Japanese find it too sweet but I find the sweetness very slight).

If he's okay with raw seafood, tuna rolls, or salmon rolls are a good place to start (rolls have a higher rice to ingredient ratio than nigiri so the sensation of the fish doesn't come through as

Oh, and tell him not to rub his chopsticks together as if he's trying to start a fire, and not to wave his chopsticks in the air as he talks like every single person seems to get the need to do as soon as they get a pair of chopsticks in their hand. Actually, it's much more enjoyable (and more common in Japan, if you actually are curious about the culture as experienced through food unlike 100 percent of people) to eat your sushi with your hands rather than chopsticks. Chopsticks are a bit silly with sushi.
posted by Blitz at 3:14 PM on March 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think raw vs. cooked is less important than strong vs. mild flavor. Is he already a fan of seafood? I'm not, but like sushi, but strongly flavored stuff like eel doesn't work for me. I like rolls but find sashimi more intimidating.

I think it would be fun to sit down with him before the meal and go through one of the numerous How to Eat Sushi primers online. Let him learn about the different types, how to eat them, condiments. Then he can go into the restaurant with some idea of what various things are, and have some idea of what he'd like to try.
posted by catatethebird at 4:02 PM on March 25, 2014

Take him to a good sushi place and have him ask the sushi chef himself. Most good chef's will know what to do in this situation.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 4:08 PM on March 25, 2014

Salmon sashimi is pretty close to lox, so if he's had lox before he should be fine with the salmon.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:09 PM on March 25, 2014

Deep fried philly roll? Or maybe just a regular philly roll? My kids really like cream cheese. Otherwise, a California roll is pretty safe. You could even stick to something like a sweet potato or cucumber roll.
posted by Ostara at 5:59 PM on March 25, 2014

Make the kid eat what you like.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:33 PM on March 25, 2014

Rikishi's Yelp page has their whole menu- show it to him and ask what he'd like to try. He's not an infant, let him order for himself.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:43 PM on March 25, 2014

I agree with just ordering a share selection and letting him pick his way through it.

I honestly don't mean this as rudely as it sounds, but...he's fifteen, not five. You don't need to micromanage his experience of new foods. If you don't make a big deal out of it, he'll probably end up trying more new stuff.
posted by Salamander at 9:45 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is the kid like? Adventurous, or not adventurous? Intrigued by new textures and flavors, or likely to be grossed out? What kind of sushi do you want to introduce him - new varieties of Americanized sushi like California rolls, or something more traditional?

When I was fifteen, I would have had fun sitting at the bar and trying out different styles of traditional rolls - especially the kinds with new, interesting sea creatures in them. I would have been disappointed if we went to a restaurant and you ordered me something safe and familiar, like an improved version of a California roll.

If the kid's conservative and you just want to be able to suggest something (suggest, don't order for him), then dragon rolls are a new classic, largely because they have a "safe" taste but are slightly fancier than California rolls. Some people think they're an abomination but I view it as sort of the same as Americanized Chinese food - not really Chinese Chinese food and doesn't have to be, really.

Basically, you know the kid better than we do. Let him explore if he wants (samplers are great). Suggest something safe if that's what he wants. Let him make up his own mind but warn him if you think he's going to order something he won't like.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:55 PM on March 25, 2014

He's probably already familiar with farmed salmon. The pink-ish kind with the white bands.

Ask the chef for farmed salmon sashimi or rolls with farmed salmon.

Then ask the chef for wild salmon. Sashimi. Massive visual, textural, and sensational difference.

Ask what nephew likes about each, ask chef for suggestions as to tastes/textures going forward.
posted by porpoise at 10:26 PM on March 25, 2014

From reading the answers, it seems like you need to know your goal, and I think this is what Kutsuwamushi and some others are getting at.

Do you want him to be a lowbrow sushi tolerator, so that if a date suggests sushi, his facial microexpression won't be "GROSS, RAW FISH!" and not get a second invitation, and instead he can nonplussedly order a salmon roll?

Or do you want him to be a connoisseur, the one who politely says that the edamame was exquisite (i.e. the rice was gummy and the fish, old), who drags his friends to sushi?

I think this will guide you.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:27 PM on March 25, 2014

Maybe a rainbow roll? That is a california roll with other fish on top so even if he doesn't like the other fish he can pick them off and eat the california roll.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:24 AM on March 26, 2014

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