Caviar: East meets West

caviar spoonsHistorically speaking, the Russians and the Japanese have met relatively few times over the centuries. Naturally, the most dramatic of those meetings would be the Russo-Japanese war at the turn of the 20th century. Japan and what was then the Soviet Union also fought, mostly indirectly, during World War II when they were on opposite sites of the most titanic world conflict in history. In the realm of the cinematic, we know of exactly one Russian-Japanese co-production, and that’s the epic 1975 drama “Derzu Uzala,” the only non-Japanese language film directed by the nation’s most legendary director, Akira Kurosawa (“The Seven Samurai,” “Rashomon.”)

In the realm of the culinary, foods that combine Russian and Japanese influences may be less rare, but it hardly feels that way. Still, it’s not so surprising that one of
Russia’s most famous culinary exports, the salty fish eggs we know as fresh caviar, has found its way into the arsenal of a small but growing number of sushi chefs. Certainly in a city like Los Angeles, where a large and thriving Eastern European ex-pat community lives cheek by jowl with the city’s large, prominent, and culinarily enthusiastic Japanese-American population, throwing some caviar into an elaborate roll or over much traditional sushi pieces may make plenty of sense particularly for ethnic fusion-friendly Angelenos.

The saltiness of fresh caviar may make an intriguing alternative to shoyu or other sauces. In terms of presentation, a drizzling of black fish eggs may make a dramatic counterpoint to the whiteness of the vinegared rice. Also, while fresh caviar has at various times been considered the ultimate luxury product, it is used in extremely small quantities and therefore may not be that much more expensive than many other ingredients commonly used in sushi. Also, of course, fish eggs not so dissimilar to caviar, such as salty salmon roe, have long been a popular sushi component, so it’s really kind of a
natural. It’s definitely an ingredient we’re looking forward to seeing more creative chefs take a stab at.

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