Why is Sushi Always Served with a Piece of Green Plastic?
Growing up in a small town we weren’t exposed to a whole lot of international food choices. The town I grew up in was so small that our international menu consisted of pizza and a “certain house of pancakes”. So, it wasn’t until much later in my life that I learned about sushi. And that’s why we are all gathered here today.
Sushi as many of you know is so much more than raw fish. There are actually other sea creatures and vegetables that are rolled together in an easy to eat package that is not only delicious but quite healthy and good for most people.
If you’ve ever had sushi or been with someone while they dined on sushi maybe you’ve noticed the one thing that doesn’t seem to be in the right place? No, I’m not talking about chopsticks or wasabi, or even the funky spoon that comes in handy when you’re not very astute with chopsticks. I am talking about that little something extra that seems to come with every sushi order but I never have used or known what it was on my plate for.
I am speaking of the haran or sometimes it’s called baran. Most of us would call it that little piece of green plastic that looks very much like a bamboo fence. I know I have asked this question out loud at many sushi restaurants but only now have I discovered that this little piece of plastic has a very important function.
One of the functions of the haran is to add color to the presentation of the sushi rolls. While the rolls themselves are usually quite beautiful to look at the added splash of green color and the fence like design does add some ambience to the plate.
But the most important reason that little piece of plastic fencing is on your plate is this. It’s there to literally be a fence. Its function is to keep foods and flavors from blending and mingling when they don’t need to be doing that.
In traditional Japanese cooking, the haran would be made of actual leaves. Usually the leaves of the bamboo plant. The leaves not only act as a barrier for flavor transfer, but they also cut down on the transfer of bacteria. This keeps food fresher longer and if you’ve ever had sushi, you know freshness is one of those dishes' major calling cards.
So as you head out on a Friday during Lent or anytime, you’re out for sushi and you see that lovely presentation coming toward your table you will now know a little bit more than your tablemates. You can be the sushi know-it-all and explain why the little green piece of plastic is there on your plate.
And since we are talking about sushi there is one other issue that needs to be discussed. It’s how you use wasabi on your sushi rolls. A lot of people will take a tiny dab of wasabi, that’s the spicy green stuff, and blend it with the soy sauce in the tiny bowl that is provided.
Sushi connoisseurs and chefs say this is a great big no-no. The blending dilutes the punch of the wasabi and the pungent goodness of the soy sauce. Instead, the proper way to use wasabi is to take a small amount of it and smear it on the fish portion of the piece of sushi you intend to eat. Then dip that morsel in the soy sauce but not with the wasabi side.
No, I don’t know who patrols sushi restaurants looking for violators on this protocol but it might still be good to know just in case you do find yourself at a sushi place that leans more to the traditional side of service.
Now if sushi isn't your thing, I know a place where you're sure to find something you'll love and they have gas and clean restrooms too.