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Monday, November 21, 2011

Sushi Preparation compared to Search Enablement

Courtesy of Kojiro Fish Shop in Wieden, Vienna
 Being a fan of various cuisines, I count myself fortunate in having had the opportunity to grow up in Toronto (and having spent time in gastronomical meccas such as Tokyo and New York). As my parents kept my household quite Japanese, I grew up eating what most of my classmates considered to be exotic foods: umeboshi, chirashi zushi, korokke, grilled fish with daikon oroshi and such.

Thus, when I was recently asked by a virtual friend - by which I mean someone whose acquaintance I made online, and have not yet spent time with in person, as opposed to an artificial being - to review her classmate's journey of learning to make sushi, I thought I may as well take the opportunity to talk about how my views on  sushi preparation and enabling search optimization of online content actually have comparable points. Sound  strange? Do read on...

First, the sushi making (with the disclaimer that I am not a professional chef, nor would I know how to properly cut fish for nigiri or sashimi, unless they come in rectangular blocks already sans scales or bones.)

Sidebar: initially, sushi arose as a means for people living further from the oceans to preserve fish without salting or drying them out thoroughly - the vinegar-soaked rice was a means to achieve this.
  • The sushi meshi (vinegared rice, aka the contracted form which is "sumeshi") must be mastered first. For real sushi masters, this part takes literally years to accomplish. I'm not going to give a recipe here, but rather things I've noticed that English language recipes don't always mention, which would likely contribute to subpar results.
    • Choose short grain, glutinous rice. Long grain rice and rice that's been parboiled won't work as well. Rinse the rice well (the castoff water is good in dry climates to water plants with; don't waste it!) and then boil (rice cookers do the best job).
    • Prepare the vinegar solution - there is an optimal ratio of solution to rice, which most recipes cover. Once this is prepared, wipe the inside of the container where the rice will be mixed and cooled with some of this solution.
    • This should be a shallow wooden container in which to air and mix the rice. This container needs to be wooden in order to absorb and then release part of the vinegar solution into the rice.
      Use a wooden flat large spoon and a hand fan once the boiled rice is spread into the aforementioned container. Mix the remaining solution carefully into the rice while it's aired by the spoon (near horizontal cutting motions are often described) while fanning the rice. The timing of doing this is important, and ensuring that the grains of rice remain uncompromised.
    • The end result of this process should be shiny, undamaged grains of rice that are evenly flavoured by the vinegar solution.
  • The toppings (nigiri) or fillings (maki) should be of high quality, and cut as suggested by the links above. Sharp, well maintained knives are necessary to descale and debone fish. For the latter, crisp sheets of nori should be placed on the rolling mat shiny side down. Wasabi should be ideally fresh, and it exists not just for flavour, but also to help slow spoilage and prevent food poisoning.
  • Then, keeping your hands wet so they don't stick to the cooling vinegared rice, apply the aforementioned wasabi and toppings/maki fillings to taste. In either case, the pressure to form the pieces of sushi needs to be firm enough to keep it from easily breaking apart, but not so hard that the grains get deformed or compromised in structure. Nori is used in some nigiri pieces (such as the atsuyaki - sweet egg omelet - type as shown in my photo above) to doubly ensure the rice/wasabi/topping remains intact.
  • When enjoying sushi, dip each piece in a bit of shoyu (soy sauce) where some wasabi has been dissolved. 
    • Don't forget to cleanse your palate between pieces of different types by ingesting gari (sushi ginger). The quality of gari (which in restaurants should be made in situ!) is often a good benchmark for how good the sushi is, too.
Now, my views on search enablement:
  • First, the foundation of any search enablement strategy consists of keywords. They need to be self-explanatory without being too lengthy (long tail searches beyond four words is still rare). 
    • These keywords should not compete internally, and need to be applied strategically to where they best apply. 
    • As it's not an exact science, experience helps most in researching and deriving optimal keywords.
    • One would play around with sources of query data, just as one may experiment with how much water to boil the rice in and what amount of vinegar solution works for your volume of rice.
  • Regardless of whether social media is used for inbound marketing or not, link bait must exist, and furthermore be of high quality. 
    •  Much like the sushi toppings or fillings (or ingredients for any cuisine), the better its inherent quality, the better the outcome. 
    • The link bait is what draws people in, generating conversions as well as click-throughs by lending credibility and authority and the "appeal" of a business or product. 
    • And certainly, with this analogy it is possible to have a huge viral success purely based on link bait (sashimi). But the balance of flavours that sumeshi offers with the toppings, along with wasabi and nori, offers the complete package.
  • The successful execution of most campaigns precludes just launching and leaving it - the follow-through (nori, which coincidentally is a Japanese homonym for "glue") is important. 
    • Again, sashimi - just the link bait - can enjoy success to an extent, but even sashimi needs shoyu (soy sauce) and wasabi to complete the experience, and would be ingested with plain boiled rice anyway.
    • Wasabi might be analogous to diligent moderation (perhaps an expiry/renewal date value) of what content remains accessible - outdated, and thus increasingly irrelevant content should be archived and removed from view in a timely manner.
Unlike with most baking recipes, I've found that cooking instructions can be played with and one can substitute ingredients creatively to some extent - but to me, the foundation of delicious meals - and sound search enablement - come out of 1) sound foundation (sumeshi/keywords), 2) deft execution (to ensure quality ingredients/link bait are maximized for gustatory enjoyment), and 3) follow-through (including sunsetting old content/ensuring food doesn't spoil).

About Mayo

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Professional: As "Senior Enterprise SEO Strategist" in IBM's Digital Marketing division, I provide consulting and training services for both internal and external clients. Formerly I was involved in Natural Language Processing, software localization, quality assurance and documentation authoring.
Personal: INTJ Nikkei Nisei ex-patriated Canadian who takes photographs and enjoys Baroque through late Classical music. The G+ page shares some of the "best of" photos.