Whether served at a traditional-style sushi bar or elsewhere, sushi is rarely served unadorned. Instead, your sushi plate will feature two or three accompanying garnishes. Some are simple, while others may be elaborate decorations. All are part of the greater aesthetic experience that a good sushi chef tries to impart to customers.
The small pile of pale green paste on the corner of your sushi platter is wasabi. It has a famously pungent character. Traditionally, wasabi root was grated fresh in front of diners. However, since true wasabi is hard to grow and thus quite expensive, almost all sushi chefs make do with a paste made from wasabi powder, which is really just horseradish, mustard powder and artificial color.
Thin slices of ginger pickled in vinegar, also known as gari, are another must-have on the sushi plate. The best gari is a pale tan, but cheaper preparations often add a red food dye to turn the slices pink. Gari's sweet spiciness helps balance out the oilier fishes served in a sushi restaurant.
A tangle of finely shredded daikon, a mild white radish, is more commonly found accompanying a serving of sashimi -- sushi without the rice. There, it is used to prop up the slices of raw fish to make them look more enticing. Daikon can also be carved into a number of pretty garnishes.
Leaves of shiso are also sometimes found garnishing a platter of sushi. Shiso is an herb, sometimes also known as perilla, with small saw-toothed leaves. It is a relative of mint and does have some minty flavor notes as well as hints of grassiness, licorice and sometimes cinnamon or clove. They may be nibbled on raw to refresh the palate between bites.
Sushi platters will also sometimes feature elaborate garnishes carved out of vegetables and fruits such as cucumber, carrot or lemons. These garnishes showcase a chef's skill with the knife as well as adding visual interest to the plate. All of these garnishes are edible and you are encouraged to eat them if they appeal to you.
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