24 December 2007

Sushi Craze and my first attempt in Japanese Cuisine

Sushi was already a phenomenon when I first arrived in Moscow where it was a little bit hard for me to switch from toast with cheese and braised meat (the Turks' best after party delight) to cold and badly prepared sushi at 4am. It is not only enjoyed here by hungry clubbers but also as an all day round delicacy by the Russians who subsequently lack a dominant cuisine of their own (All they favor as their national eatery are Ukrainian borscht soup, supposedly French crepe and Central Asian dumplings)

So no wonder why there are always queues in front of nearly all Japanese food serving restaurants and the especially visible queue at Gino Taki in Tverskaya where hapless Russians and expats alike wait in freezing blizzard to be able to let in the already huge restaurant. The reason is not that it has face-control (like all posh places) but the restaurant is always full capacity all day round. This maybe makes Gino Taki the most profitable food service company after McDonalds in Russia.

So what happens to when a business idea ripens in Russia? It gets its inevitable subsegments: The VIP and The Masses.

The VIP sushi has the ironic Russian touch in a way that now every single one of an elite food serving facility in Russia has the utter obligation to add sushi to its menu (regardless of being a top notch grill or an Italian pizzeria). So people maybe make reservations in weeks advance or wait for hours in the lounge of a famous restaurant of anything regardless of japan and eat sushi there.

Even the premium Tinkoff brewery had to replace frankfurter with sushi

The Masses came as a branch of the food tycoon Rostik Group (which also operates KFC-like Rostiks where you can feel the cholesterol clog your arteries as you eat the fried chicken and the Il Patio chain which serves the worst Italian food in the solar system). The Planeta Sushi chain is now almost in every district, shopping mall and high street in Moscow and serve Japanese and Chinese food in a preferably reachable prices. That is why it is always full of hungry customers.

Maybe another Tadjik cook in Japanese Sushi chef disguise

What makes sushi so popular in a city where any kind of food from any corner of the world can be found (especially the indescribably delicious Caucasian cuisine)? The answer hasn't yet to be found...

Another thing you have to learn in Russian nowadays is "Shall we go and eat sushi?"

The thing that tickles my engineering senses is the broad range of pricing that the rolls have throughout Moscow. As the ingredients are so simple and the preparation technique doesn't really include a culinary magician, I wanted to rebuff my cooking abilities and make a rough estimate of the production cost of a roll.

It is still cool to pose with designer sushies...as they are more expensive than a half pound t-bone steak

Here is what I have used to make more than 25 pieces of a standard roll with salmon and cucumbers:

4 leaves of dried seaweed (a 5 pack costs 15 rubles~0.6$)
2 sachets of rice (a 5 pack costs 40 rubles~1.6$)
1 pack of smoked salmon (costs 150 rubles~6$)
1 cucumber (a 4 pack costs 50 rubles~2$)
vinegar, salt and sugar

Rice is boiled for 20 minutes and allowed to cool a bit. Then a solution of vinegar-salt-sugar is added slowly to act as a wax and a separating agent of individual rice bits (and this is cooking for engineers). This warm rice is allowed to cool and then rolled into a seaweed leaf with salmon and cucumber sticks (you can add anything you like for the flavourings..i just found these in my fridge). This technique need some mastering and you definitely need a bamboo roller than you can buy in any supermarket

The rolling is an art of itself...i have ruined some of the ingredients in my first rolls.

Here is the result...

I name this sushi...DINCHAKU

Not counting some unknown number of bits that are ceremonially sacrificed as a result of the my starters' bad luck, a single bit of sushi costs roughly 8 rubles (191 rubles for 25 bits) and a standard serving for rolls is 6 bits which makes the raw material cost of a total 48 rubles (1.95$).

As far as I know, a kind of a simple sushi roll like this varies from 150 to 600 rubles throughout the town. Adding an estimated overhead cost to an each sushi is hard to produce (but easy to guess that it is not as high as a lot of sushi restaurants employ central asians in the open kitchens and present them as real Japanese chefs)...it is clear how profitable this sushi thing is.

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