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Like many Japanese traditions, sushi is considered a form of art. Its elegant arrangement enhances its simplicity and natural beauty. Method of preparation, taste and presentation can differ widely, depending on the locality. Each type of sushi has a tradition and history, and sushi chefs are honored in Japan as artists and culinary masters.

Sushi is a Japanese food with over 1,000 years of history and tradition. What we call sushi today actually originated as a way of preserving fish. Raw, cleaned fish was pressed together with rice and salt by a heavy stone. Around the 18th century, chefs decided to serve sushi in its fresh form, and skipped the process of fermentation altogether.

The sushi with which the Western world is most familiar comes from the Edo tradition. (Edo is an old name for Tokyo.) The Edo tradition calls for hand-rolled sushi, called nigiri sushi. The Japanese people have always appreciated grace and beauty in everything they do, including preparing their food. They have a love for nature, and generally arrange their food attractively on the plate, often to represent scenes from nature.

There are dozens of different types of sushi. The two main ingredients in most of these are rice and seaweed, but the other ingredients can vary widely, from sea urchin to flying fish roe to octopus to mushrooms and cucumber.

The Japanese frequent sushi bars much as people in Western culture frequent sports bars. The local sushi bar is a place to mingle with friends, catch up on the latest gossip and news, and dine on delectable morsels of rice and seafood. It is a social event, not merely a meal. The sushi bar often has unspoken rules that guests are expected to understand. As Japanese culture moves into other regions, it is important to know how to act in a sushi bar, even in the United States. The following are some guidelines for etiquette while dining on sushi:

1) The experienced sushi eater will order assorted sashimi (the only true raw fish in sushi). This gives the sushi chef a chance to show off his best fish. Always ask the chef what's good, and allow him to choose for you. This will show respect for the chef. Always eat sashimi with chopsticks. It is never to be eaten with the fingers.

2) Nigiri sushi will follow sashimi. This can be eaten with the hands.

3) When you are ready for the bill, ask the waitress. Never ask the chef for the bill. It is proper to tip the chef well, as this is considered his art.

4) It is considered bad manners to ask for a knife. This implies to the chef that the food is tough.

If you are new to eating sushi, the best place to start is with the California roll. It is a fairly harmless and unexotic piece which can help acclimate someone to this experience. Listed below is a quick rundown on how to make your own California rolls:

The Rice: Sushi rice should be short-grained and white, preferably Cal-Rose. Do not use instant rice, brown rice or wild rice. It is best to cook the rice in equal proportion to water. If you use 1 cup of rice, use 1 cup of water. Bring rice to a quick boil, let boil covered for one minute, then simmer on medium low for 20 minutes, allowing the rice to stand for an additional 10 minutes after removing it from the heat. Once this process is completed, put the hot rice into a large bowl and stir in sushi vinegar. Mix together quickly and spread the rice/vinegar mixture out onto a cookie sheet to cool it immediately.

Note: Sushi vinegar can be made at home if you are not able to find it. To make sushi vinegar, combine 1/3 cup white vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir until sugar and salt is dissolved, and remove from heat.

The Creation: Using a bamboo "sushi" mat, lay out sheets of nori, or toasted seaweed. Spread the rice onto the nori, but make sure it's less than a quarter-inch thick. You will be able to see the nori through the rice. Leave about an inch of nori uncovered at one end.

Lay slices of avocado, crab meat and cucumber on top of the rice at one end of the sheet of nori. Roll the whole thing up, being careful to keep it uniform. Roll with medium pressure. Once the whole sheet is rolled up, slice into 6 or 8 pieces. It's important to keep your knife moist so it will not stick to the rice.

Enjoy!