The art of fusion sushi - 'where America's day begins'

The art of fusion sushi - 'where America's day begins'

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Guam

Flaming Dragon, Spicy Baked Spider, Pika Firecracker and Mickey Mouse may not sound like something you’d want to eat. But if you like sushi – and more importantly, even if you don’t – these are some fusion dishes unique to Guam that you just might want to try.

The Golden State’s signature California roll may be old hat, but fusion sushi a la Guam is all the rage where America’s day begins. And with unique local twists and flavors ranging from spicy to Chamorro-style red rice it’s a sure taste of Guam.

“Fusion sushi has become more and more popular over the last few years on Guam,” says Paul Pak, manager of Sushi Rock. The restaurant is one of three on island specializing in fusion sushi and he says demand is high enough to warrant plans for this one to open a second location next year.

These eateries not only use colorful seafood such as salmon, shrimp and salmon roe to artfully please the eyes and pallets of their customers. Their sushi rolls may include pretty much anything from scallops, spicy tuna, beef or chicken to teriyaki and assorted vegetables.

Popular standards include the tempura shrimp roll; the Rainbow Roll topped with thinly sliced tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, salmon and avocado; and the Caterpillar Roll topped with sliced avocado.

Most of Guam’s fusion sushi rolls are made “uramaki” style with the seaweed paper inside and the rice outside, and served with a hearty portion of mayonnaise and hot sauce.

The trend started on Guam when Benii Restaurant started  serving fusion sushi in Upper Tumon in 2007, according to Manager Okitaka Kayama. Sushi Rock and En Japanese Restaurants followed suit with their own original fusion sushi dishes.

Several traditional Japanese restaurants have since entered the fray adding fusion sushi to their menu offerings, according to tour guide, Toshio Akigami. They include Isshin, Niji, Hanashiro, Tairyo, Kai and Ajiichi in the Blue Lagoon Plaza, Tentekomai in the Plaza, Sono near Blue Lagoon Plaza, Arashi in Dededo, Sakura Kitchen and Ninja in Upper Tummon, 9th Street Rotary in Agatna and Napu in Tamuning.

This unique fusion fare is not just for tourists, either. It’s a favorite with locals whose tastes actually drive the innovations. In fact, as it has gained in popularity so has the need to come up with more and more variations.

“Locals love new food and that really drove us to create new fusion sushi dishes one after another,” says Kayama. “Without continuously coming up with new products, I don’t think we’d be able to keep our customers’ attention.”

Pak, whose restaurant boasts more than 40 different types of original sushi, echoes the sentiment.

“The majority of our customers are locals who love the taste of the fusion sushi we have to offer. When it comes to fusion sushi, our Guam locals are very important to us,” he says. “We constantly want to create new fusion sushi so that we can bring more awareness on Guam. If customers have more food choices, they can try different sushi and find their own personal favorite.”

Among Sushi Rock's many designer dishes, its Flaming Dragon Roll is one that pulls out all the stops.

“It is the restaurant’s signature sushi roll,” says Pak. “This fusion sushi roll has crab meat and shrimp tempura on the inside. It also has eel, avocado, and fish eggs on top, covered with our eel and spicy mayo sauce. After the roll is made, the sushi chefs put the sushi inside aluminum foil that is in the shape of a swan. After that, we light underneath the aluminum swan so that it cooks the sushi inside.”

Needless to say, the competition is stiff when it comes to concocting new and greater sushi creations.

“Since Japanese foods are getting more popular on Guam, we need to distinguish ourselves from other restaurants; so we’re constantly developing new types of fusion sushi to satisfy our customers,” says Shinya Yasuda, manager of En restaurant. “Right now, we’re planning to develop more new fusion sushi that features Chamorro dishes or uses local ingredients.”

The increasing popularity has also been contributing to an increased appreciation among Guamanians for more traditional hand-shaped Japanese sushi, according to Yasuda.

Originally, he says, locals weren’t big on raw fish and seaweed (hence the popularity of hot sauce and mayonnaise as a condiment). Combined with the scarcity of fresh raw fish on Guam, rolled sushi was always the local preference. But thanks to the popularity of fusion sushi, locals have been acquiring more of a taste for hand-shaped sushi and even straight-up raw fish sashimi.

“In my opinion, fusion sushi is an opportunity for customers who have never tried authentic Japanese sushi,” Pak said. “For those who are not used to eating raw fish, choosing a fusion sushi restaurant is a step in the right direction.”

Pak agrees that since most fusion sushi restaurants offer cooked, baked and deep-fried alternatives along with the more traditional raw-fish assortment, they tend to nudge naysayers closer the real thing over time.

“I strongly believe that fusion sushi will create a deeper knowledge and awareness for sushi,” he says.”

The converse is also true. Japanese who used to shun fusion sushi as anathema have been coming around to the unique flavors and colorful displays of these creative concoctions as well.

“At first, I saw fusion sushi as a kind of blasphemy against the tradition of sushi and stayed away from it,” says Sayumi Ishioka, a Japanese housewife who has lived on Guam for 14 years. “But once I tried fusion sushi for the first time I was impressed. It was very creative. Now, I can’t imagine doing without my favorite Caterpillar Roll.”

The birth of fusion

Traditional Japanese “edomae zushi”-style sushi is prepared in a strict manner with very specific ingredients. Usually, it is made from raw fish, vinegar flavored rice, seaweed and wasabi; and eaten with a soy sauce dip.

In Japan, where a license is required to work as a sushi chef, it is believed to take more than a decade to master this culinary art.

Stateside in 1954, however, the art of sushi making was forever altered. The California roll was born – ushering in the era of fusion sushi.

It is said that a Japanese sushi chef at a restaurant in Los Angeles came up with the idea for a sushi roll filled with cucumber, crab meat and avocado with mayonnaise to appease the pallets of his American clientele.

Since the “nori,” or dried seaweed, turned off locals, his co-chef invented another way of wrapping the paper-thin sheet to conceal it from plain view. The “uramaki” (inside-out roll) was born.

This newer uramaki wrapping method is considered a hallmark of fusion sushi, since sushi rolls were traditionally eaten by hand in Japan and an outer layer of rice would be difficult to handle. Uramaki is not usually used in traditional sushi making even today.

Sushi rolls with the filling in the center surrounded by nori and then wrapped by a layer of rice with optional outer toppings such as roe, fish or toasted sesame seeds are fusion sushi prototypes.

As the California roll has spread to the world and influenced in sushi’s global popularity, this new type of sushi inspired cooks to create a wide variety of popular rolls.

Today, unlike its traditional Japanese counterpart, modern fusion sushi knows no bounds in method or ingredients. It is as unlimited as the imagination itself.

A cornucopia of countless colors and flavors

Bursting with beauty and flavors, the variety of fusion sushi is endless. Here are a few types of fusion sushi you can find on Guam.

Ocean Bay Roll
Crab, avocado inside, spicy scallop on top

Fiesta Roll
Inside: salmon, tuna, snapper, avocado, cream cheese, crab meat. On top: black and orange roe and eel with spicy mayo sauce

Summer Breeze Roll
Crab meat, cucumber, 3 pieces of tuna, 2 pieces of shrimps and avocado

White Dragon Roll
Shrimp tempura, cucumber topped with crab

Shooting Star Roll
Inside: shrimp tempura, crab meat, cucumber, cream cheese. On top: tuna, avocado, jalapeño with spicy mayo sauce

Drunken Tiger Roll
Crab meat, cucumber, 3 pieces of tuna, 2 pieces of shrimps and avocado

- Sushi Rock

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