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The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  2,472 ratings  ·  385 reviews
Everything you never knew about sushi—its surprising origins, the colorful lives of its chefs, the bizarre behavior of the creatures that compose it—is revealed in this entertaining documentary account by the author of the highly acclaimed The Secret Life of Lobsters.

When a twenty-year-old woman arrives at America's first sushi-chef training academy in Los Angeles, she is
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Hardcover, 322 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Harper (first published May 29th 2006)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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 ·  2,472 ratings  ·  385 reviews


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Alan
Sep 02, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My main problem with this book is myself: I am a huge fan of sushi, you see. As a kid, I was always afraid of eating sushi. Something in my head said raw = bad. I remember the April day in 2014 when I was walking down the street, and prodded by the smells in the air, a dream perhaps, something beyond my conscious experience, I decided then and there to have sushi. It’s been over 7 years, but I would have to say that it’s probably my favourite food.

I am a fan of these books too – a genre that a
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Alex Givant
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about sushi and masters who make it. Great information about story of the sushi, toppings on it and other stuff related to sushi and Japanese food.
Linda
Feb 20, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My god, if Corson can write a book then anyone with a middle school education can too. It's unbelievable that the NYTimes and others are actually quoted as favorably reviewing the book on the back cover. "Riveting" says Publisher's Weekly. Really?!

His writing style is truly atrocious. "He sipped his sake and smiled. Kate felt a rush of excitement." End of chapter, as if that was a gripping sentence. This clipped boring and choppy writing, added to his obsessive focus on Kate, one of the students
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Eric_W
Forgive me if this “review” seems an agglomeration of tidbits, but I really enjoy little facts and pieces of information, and this book was riddled with them.

I don’t like fish and frankly the idea of eating it raw, no matter how trendy or gussied up it might be, roils my stomach. Be that as it may, this is a fascinating story, following the ascent (descent?) from a despised, lower class food to one prized by the elite. (Lobster made a similar journey: it was once banned as food for prisoners in
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Cait
I feel a little bad about giving only two stars to a book which I quite enjoyed reading, but even as I was enjoying it I was getting frustrated with the lack of there there.

There are two entwined parts of this book: a documentary of a class of sushi chefs and a history/natural history of sushi. The structure followed a class structure, with a chapter discussing a different area of sushi -- rice, nori, various types of fish, and so on -- bracketed by scenes from the actual classroom of the studen
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Kater Cheek
Jan 28, 2012 rated it liked it
If I had to give a 6 word review for this, it would be "good with fish, bad with people." This book talks about sushi, from its origins to how it's evolved over time. If you're a sushi aficionado, this is a great resource. It will help turn you into a mildly annoying sushi snob to a supremely annoying sushi know-it-all. You know, if that's what you're into. It will probably also make you a more savvy sushi-eater. You'll learn which fish are better, and why, and how to get good service from tradi ...more
David
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At times fascinating and insightful, other times annoyingly shallow in its presentation of the sushi phenomenon. Much of the science and history of sushi is spot on and a joy to read about, but where Corson falls short is his examination of the realities of sushi culture in Japan today. Understanding that his focus was on the California Sushi Academy, but to title your work “The Story of Sushi” one has to at least examine how the modern Japanese experience it. Corson gives very little accurate i ...more
Annie
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: microhistories
Wow, this is a wealth of information.

Basically, it toggles between two things: first, following one class of the California Sushi Academy— focusing on three students in particular: Kate (a Midwestern girl), Takumi (a shy former Japanese pop star), and Marcos (a 17yo guy who thinks making sushi will get him laid); and second, a history of sushi. It was very skillfully done.

Somehow, even though the author was shadowing the class for 3 months (and also appears to jump in their cars and follow the
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Sesana
Apr 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, nonfiction, food
This book was later republished as The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice. Neither is an accurate representation of the actual content of the book. Expecting a nice history of sushi? You won't really get it. Instead, it's mostly about one particular class of an American sushi school that trains sushi chefs in three months. There are scattered bits of historical information about sushi, and practical information about fish in general, but they're drowned out by the school story ...more
Dorrit
Dec 03, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, food, kindle
The Zen of Fish had potential and I'd probably have given it three or maybe even four stars if Trevor Corson hadn't made the terrible decision to talk to me as if I was in second grade. Particularly in passages where he wrote about scientific processes (e.g. the amino acids that give fish their flavor and the processes that create them) he used the kind of language you'd expect from a tour guide giving a tour to class of small children. I am sorry, but I don't think any second graders are likely ...more
Jo Lin
Apr 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
Maybe I'm reading too many books about food, but I'm getting slightly tired of reading books where, in the Acknowledgements section, the first thing the authors do is thank Harold McGee. Maybe I should just be re-reading Harold McGee.

The parts of Zen of Fish about the scientific composition about fish and the tradition of sushi are interesting, but the storyline that attempts to hold the book together is not. Especially when the main protagonist is an Ally McBeal-like woman whose greatest skills
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Amanda
Oct 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Amanda by: John H
Loved, loved, loved this book. Not only does it provide a wealth of interesting information about how sushi found its way to America, but it also offers some important, yet mostly unknown, sushi etiquitte tips. Even better, this book provides a wealth of other little-known facts, seemingly unrelated to sushi, such as how flamingos get their pink coloring. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick fascinating read.
Michael Burnam-Fink
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, non-fiction
I'm the kind of person who has Opinions about sushi; Expensive opinions which are best described by the omakase course at Sushi Tsujita on Sawtelle in Los Angeles. So a book about sushi is very much my style. Corson frames the past, present, and science of sushi around the 12-week course at the California Sushi Academy (operated by legendary chef Toshi Sugiura, once sushi chef to the stars).

The history is fascinating. Sushi evolved from a dish of fish fermented in a box of rice for months to a f
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Margaret
Nov 12, 2009 rated it liked it
In this fact-filled but entertaining book, Corson follows a group of students as they struggle through California's first sushi school, the California Sushi Academy. Corson has picked out three particular students to follow: one is changing careers mid-life, one is going into sushi against the odds, and one is pretty young and seems to mostly provide comic relief along the way. He breaks up this narrative with descriptions of the history of sushi and information about fish and other sushi toppin ...more
David
Sep 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an entertaining and educational book -- I could have done without all the travails of Kate, the "main character," and the other aspiring sushi chefs, but Corson included a class of students at a California sushi chef school in his narrative, telling us about sushi preparation and the sushi business through them. To me, more interesting was the history of sushi (which, naturally, was originally something very different than what you buy at the supermarket today and which you'd probably co ...more
C
Aug 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
The writing is not great. The information makes this a fun read, though, if you enjoy sushi and Japanese culture. I gave it an extra star for that, while the writing itself I'd give "2."

If you're on the fence about sushi and Japanese food, you may want to wait till you're hooked to read this. Believe me when I say you don't want to know all there is to know about nori, miso, and dashi. Yet.


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Emmanuel Celiz
May 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have never enjoyed reading a book as I had with this one. Light, funny, informative, and with occasional suspense. It introduced me to culinary arts but it also refreshed my knowledge in microbiology, invertebrate zoology, marine biology, biochemistry, physiology, and even physics and believe it or not, computer science. I always have books to read but I guess it would be a long time before I could read another one quite like it.
Scotto Moore
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun, fascinating book that interweaves the cultural history of sushi in Japan & America with a behind the scenes look at a sushi chef training academy in California. Only downside here: I was constantly hungry for sushi while reading this book. (Arguably not a real downside...)
Lpossiel
Aug 20, 2008 is currently reading it
This is such a great documentary of sushi. The author creatively blends the historical facts with bits of a novel to keep the lessons entertaining.
Gurra
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jessica Porter
One of the best food books I have ever read. As good as Kitchen Confidential, Heat and Fast Food Nation.
Rebecca
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was a pretty terrible story wrapped around some interesting food chemistry and historical development of sushi and related dishes. The sushi academy could have been a fine device, except that ordinary people rarely do or say much worth putting in a book, a fact which Corson willfully ignores.
The audible version was a disappointment. The narration features both unfortunate voice characterization and randomly mispronounced words. Not Japanese words, English words. In a print book the reader
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David Szatkowski
I read this book because...sushi. In all seriousness, I quite enjoyed "The Secret Life of Lobsters" by the same author and thought this would be an entertaining read as well. It is a very easy, very entertaining read. Yet at the same time, the author teaches the reader how to better enjoy traditional sushi, sushi mistakes to avoid, and the whole hidden history of sushi. For anyone who likes books about food, history, culture, or simply wants to have a better appreciation for the fish you eat, th ...more
Malcolm
Jun 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Stories of the history of sushi wrapped in with the experiences of a young student, Kate, in a 12 week sushi "academy" in Hermosa Beach. Colorful characters Zoran, Takumi, Fie and Marcos help the tales move along. Too much detail about the technique for gutting each type of fish and their chemical make-up. Key facts are that spicy rolls were invented to present unappealing parts of the tuna that would otherwise be thrown out and that lower end sushi operations pack the rice more densely and use ...more
Michael Huang
Interesting tidbits about the whole sushi business. For example, the ginger was intended to be eaten between Sushi pieces to remove residual flavor so as to enjoy the next piece.
Stanley
May 25, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, e-book
This book is such a strange twist of the history of sushi and a young woman named Kate who is taking a class on making sushi in hopes to be a sushi chef herself one day.

The portions of the books that dig into the history of sushi, the various items placed on rice when making sushi, and how sushi came to and eventually thrived in America are fantastic. I learned so much from these sections, as someone who enjoys sushi that I would have never known otherwise.

The portions dealing with the sushi aca
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Rebecca
I'm sure that Kate Murray is a lovely and intelligent woman. It is unfortunate that Corson's attempt to interweave personal documentary and history is such a miserable failure. I enjoyed half of this book--the part that really did seem to be "the story of sushi" rather than the "misogynist story of Kate the sushi chef."

First, let me address the writing. A good portion of the narrative is written in "See Spot run" style. I'm not sure if that was supposed to be charming, but I don't pick up a hist
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Micah
Jun 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: library, food
It's not really about sushi. If the book only included information about sushi history it would be about twenty pages long at best. Mostly its about a school in Los Angeles and some girl named Kate who is physically attractive and drives a mustang.
It's obvious he cares well more about this young student's hair than about sushi itself. There are glimpses of other interesting humans, but I guess none of their clothes are as tight. It's just disappointing. I kept waiting for well relayed informatio
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Manuel
Apr 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Calen
Recommended to Manuel by: Calen
Shelves: nonfiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Yune
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, food
I found this tolerable but somewhat disappointing, although it does technically deliver on the promise of its subtitle.

I was wondering about the economics of running a sushi restaurant (I know any restaurant has terrible odds, but given the limitations of raw fish...but then again, the mark-up...) and thought I'd try to read a bit more on the topic, especially since it's such a culinary hit in the States -- albeit scrubbed clean of many of its original traditions -- that it must have spawned a b
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Mohammad Ali Abedi
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sometimes it seems that all subjects on earth are interesting enough if you just read about it. Nothing is as simple as it might appear. One day, I was eating sushi, and a cousin of mine saw the way I was eating, and she told me that is not the real way to eat it, instead she took the wasabi, mixed it in the soy sauce, grabbed the sushi with her chopstick, and tipped it in the mixture.

And then I thought, what does “the real way” mean? Eating habits and food, like language and dress, go through
...more
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