When I was a kid, one of my favourite foods was squashed peanut butter sandwiches.
My diet was never particularly precocious, though we’d occasionally visit a local French restaurant as a treat.
In contrast, my nieces, who are nine and 11 years old, have way more sophisticated palates.
It’s partially my fault, since I’ve taken them to restaurants since they were tiny, and, apart from brief aversions to random things, like tomatoes and mushrooms, they’ve never been fuss-pots, though the youngest has recently converted to pescatarianism.
Along with trendy bubble tea, sushi is their number one treat.
They’ve never really expressed an interest in making it, just the eating part. They take after their auntie in that respect.
Still, I thought they would enjoy an after school night out at Yo! Sushi, where they’ve just re-launched their Wednesday evening Sushi School, which runs weekly from 6.30pm until 8.30pm. It’s on at 13 of their UK restaurants, including Edinburgh Princes Street and Glasgow Central.
My youngest niece, Iris, was so excited that she sacked her much loved after school gymnastics class that night, and wore a pink top that was covered in pictures of sushi.
“But guess what, it’s actually half of a pair of pyjamas,” she said. I’m sure they won’t notice.
We took our spot, in a booth beside the open kitchen and the kaiten conveyor belt that this 25-year-old chain is famous for. I know it was taking all of their self control not to grab the colourful plates that kept circulating.
Soon, we would be eating our own creations. However, I wasn’t quite sure when that would be, so I’d had dinner before my visit. Big mistake. There is a lot to eat, and each guest gets a choice of drink - my sister and I got Prosecco, the girls have fizzy pop.
Our Yo! Sushi ambassador is Sara, who comes from Spain. Iris tells her that she’s a pescetarian. “That’s okay, we won’t be using any meat today”, says our host, and there are options for veggies and vegans too.
If Sara doesn’t have her own YouTube cooking show already, she should have, since she’s so engaging and charming. Before moving to the Scottish capital, she worked at a sushi restaurant in London, where she was relegated to washing everything, from “sea urchins to squid”. Now, she’s happy to be an itamae with a direct view to Edinburgh Castle.
She tells us about the history of sushi - apparently, it originated in China, not Japan, and Queen Elizabeth II was the first in the UK to try it. I have Googled, and I can’t confirm or deny that fact, so let’s just go with it.
The girls were rapt, as she called us “my lovelies” and sliced a slab of salmon into portions.
According to her, the best places in Edinburgh to get your sushi grade salmon are Eddie’s Fishmonger in Marchmont and Eden on Broughton Street. For the other accoutrements, like sushi vinegar, eel and nori, Sara likes PCY Oriental supermarket on Leith Walk.
She cuts the belly of the fish into nigiri slices - “do this opposite the grain, with the knife held at a 45 degree angle”. The loin is sliced at a 90 degree angle for sashimi. It cuts so silkily. How sharp IS that blade?
“Customers always ask about knives,” she says. “If you’re really into sushi, then go ahead and buy an expensive one, but this was just £30 from Amazon”.
We begin to worry that the girls will soon be tackling knife skills, when they can barely handle chopsticks without taking someone’s eye out. Thankfully, that won’t be happening, as Sara is doing all the slicing tonight.
Our first lesson involves making cucumber maki.
After a demonstration, we wear the vinyl gloves provided, and place a sheet of dried nori - shiny side up - on our cling-filmed sushi mats. We measure 80g each of the pre-prepared sushi rice, oiling our gloves so it doesn’t stick, and pat it along the seaweed. Then there’s a sprinkling of sesame seeds and the addition of a long thick strip of cucumber, before we roll it up.
It’s fiddly, but we manage, and hand Sara our sushi snakes, so she can chop them into six bite-sized pieces.
This is our first portion of food, and we have it along with two large bowls of the restaurant’s edamame beans (rejected by the girls, but snaffled by the grown-ups) and each of us gets three fried prawn gyoza, all included in the price.
We’re going to be making three more types of sushi. There’s the inside out roll, or uramaki, where the rice is on the outside, and the seaweed is wrapped around a crab and avocado middle. They're less prescriptive with the amount of rice needed for this one - “about double what we used for the maki”, says Sara. I notice that some of us end up with elegant cigars. Others have fat baguettes.
She slices these, and we each have six, which she neatly tops with teriyaki, mayo and crispy onions.
The temaki, or hand roll, is a relatively easy project. The nori is half plastered with rice, salmon and avocado, before being rolled into a cone.
I’m taking this away, since I want to save my remaining appetite for our final project - nigiri.
We’re going out with a bang, since these simple bricks of rice topped with salmon are our favourites. They’re also the easiest to make, and we’re soon anointing them with wasabi and soy sauce.
We are absolutely stuffed, and there’s plenty to take away for packed lunch boxes the next day.
How much out of ten for tonight, girls? “TEN!” they both shout.
YO! Sushi’s Wednesday sushi school sessions are £29.95 for an adult, and £19.95 for under 16’s, book at www.yosushi.com