You may not have been dreaming of naked sushi, but you soon will be! Sushi is a curious food. It is as traditional as you could hope for, whilst appearing utterly modern. It looks equally in its place served in an ancient fisherman’s home by some hidden coastline, an ultra-chic rooftop restaurant or even on a naked female body.
It is an eminently adaptable food, as its global popularity over the past few decades makes clear. This can seem surprising given sushi’s reputation for refined technique and purity, which are qualities that in the lofty heights of fine dining are not necessarily international bestsellers. The art of sushi is a study of meticulous preparation, clarity of flavour and delicate composition. Chefs are honing their skills to reveal sushi’s inner essence, working as if they are one sushi recipe away from its Platonic Ideal. Perhaps it is ‘Naked Sushi’.
No question – aesthetics are of high importance when it comes to sushi. The final product behind the massive work must look effortless and complete: all clean cuts, self-contained symmetry and perfect presentation. The strong aesthetics of sushi bring us to a rather unusual way to eat sushi: the growing trend of ‘Naked Sushi’. If you’ve ever asked yourself (or anyone else) “Where can I get the best sushi in Singapore?” you’ll know it’s an impossible question. However, if your love of fine dining comes pared with a penchant for the risqué, or if you’ve been spending sleepless nights churning through potential party themes or party food ideas, then naked sushi just might be exactly what you’re looking for.
What is Naked Sushi?
Nyotaimori, as naked sushi is properly called, is the practice of serving sushi on the body of a nude female model. The art of nyotaimori thus lies in placing the sushi on the body so that it does not fall off. This can be quite a challenge at the best of times – but nyotaimori models tend to have firmer figures to make it easier. We shouldn’t forget that there is also the less popular nantaimori, using male models. True to the culture of discipline that infuses all aspects of sushi, the model is required to lie perfectly still and breathe calmly – no sneezing lest the sushi roll off! – for a couple of hours while diners treat themselves to the delicacies on offer. Despite its growing popularity in Japan and the US, naked sushi is, unsurprisingly, not on offer at your average sushi bar.
The origins of nyotaimori are somewhat more veiled than its models. Some trace it back to a sub-culture within the geisha houses of feudal Japan as a way for samurai warriors to celebrate a battle; others claim it became a popular form of entertainment within the world of organised crime (presumably they often had something similar to celebrate). Whatever its origins truly are, caterers and restaurants that offer naked sushi are keen to point out that these seedy associations have now been left behind and stress the aesthetics and artfulness of nyotaimori. (For one thing, victory in battle is no longer a prerequisite!). However, naked sushi still attracts its fair share of controversy, as some remain unconvinced that the practice is not exploitative of women.
What (Not) To Expect When Eating Naked Sushi
In truth, naked sushi is a little bit of a misnomer (although we are talking degrees here), and some prefer the term ‘body sushi’ to emphasize the fact that it is about the aesthetics of the presentation of the sushi rather than a naked body per se. As a result, the whole experience is a bit less sexy than some might imagine as steps are taken to maintain a distance between the model and the diners. First of all, models wear (skimpy) underwear and have other decorative features – usually flowers – covering parts of their body for modesty. Secondly, there are strict no-talking (especially no lewd comments) and no-touching rules towards the models, and guests must use chopsticks to pick up sushi. This is to make the model feel comfortable as well as making the evening exciting and elegant for everyone – it should be a night of fine dining, not debauchery.
Still, naked sushi will get some a little hot under the collar, though it is essential that the models don’t: due to the fact that raw fish is being served, and so must be kept cool, the models have a bath with fragrance-free soap and are even splashed with cold water before service. Even then it is rare for there to be any fish-to-skin contact as the sushi is usually placed on banana leaf or another barrier unless you specially request otherwise.
Home Is Where the Heart Is – Let Naked Sushi In
So, how to incorporate naked sushi into your life? Samantha from Sex in the City famously opted for an impromptu night of nyotaimori by covering herself in sushi and waiting for her lover. This is certainly an option but given the delicate balancing and perfect timing it would require it is, all things considered, better to leave it to the professionals. This won’t come at bargain prices but naked sushi also doesn’t live up to its popular perception as an unattainable fantasy to everyone but the rich.
The best thing to do is to hire a sushi bar that offers it or have a nyotaimori night at home and hire a chef. It will certainly be one of the more adventurous party themes you can come up with and hiring a private chef to take care of the food preparation and service will make sure your guests’ focus will stay on the food. Speaking of food, there is no reason why you shouldn’t break with tradition a little and serve up other bite-sized foods along with your favourite new sushi recipe. Consult with your private chef to dream up some alternatives to sushi – raw foods are a big trend at the moment so it should be easy. If you do opt to serve naked sushi at home, the most important thing is to remind your guests of the rules. Most caterers who offer it have explicit clauses in their contracts that state that if the model feels uncomfortable due to the guests the party is over.
In the end, naked sushi is about the elegance of fine dining along with a heady dose of sensuality that has always been an important part of food culture – the intangible mix of possibility and desire that makes you dream. So the next time you’re casting about for party food ideas try nyotaimori and the best sushi in Singapore might just be at your place!