In my Nov. 29 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about what a reader described as the “the stringy piles of daikon radish” that come with sashimi. As I explained, the daikon is called “tsuma,” written with this character: 褄.
It used to be that learning to prepare these super-skinny strips was a rite of passage for everyone aspiring to the job of sushi chef. First, you’d have to learn how to use a knife to turn out a paper-thin, continuous roll of radish. This way of cutting is called “katsura muki” and requires hours of diligent practice.
If you managed to master that, next you’d have to be able to do this:
Alas, things aren’t what they used to be. Now there are machines that can handle the job in seconds. This one brags that it can turn out daikon for 100 in just five minutes:
Unless you’re dining upscale, chances are your daikon strings will have come out of a machine, or a bag from a food-processing factory. But daikon isn’t the only garnish for sashimi. All sorts of vegetables, flowers and seaweeds can be used to pretty up raw fish, and all are referred to as tsuma. It’s a generic term.
First, let’s look at the veggies. Carrots are popular — they’re cheap, colorful and hold up well.
Less familiar are murame ムラメ, the sprouts of the red shiso plant.
And here they are in situ — they’re the purple and green leaves, up front on the right.
I’m very fond of myoga, the buds of the ginger plant. They have a crisp texture and unique taste, quite different from ginger root.
Here you have a nicely chopped pile of myoga, tucked attractively under leaf of green shiso (beefsteak plant, Perilla frutescens).
Not all garnishes are vegetables, of course. Chrysanthemum flowers (kiku 菊) are a perennial favorite. Yuk, yuk.
Another flower that often turns up often is kasui 花穂 (spicata), a member of the spearmint family.
And then there are the seaweeds. First up, tosaka トサカ (Meristotheca papulosa).
Next, wakame ワカメ (Undaria pinnatifida).
This one’s called ogo オゴ (Gracilaria vermiculophylla). If it’s got a common name in English, I couldn’t find it. Despite that nice green color, it’s a red algae. Go figure. And it’s listed in the Global Invasive Species Database.
One last weed — igisu イギス (Ceramium kondoi).
I’ll add more as time allows. Put a bookmark in your phone for handy-dandy reference while dining! Bon appetit!