Ramp sushi, anyone? Duo blends Japanese, Appalachian cuisine

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Ramp Sushi
Ramp Sushi

Ramp sushi, anyone? Though fusing a traditional Japanese rice dish and a much-maligned Appalachian veggie might seem a culinary risk, sushi aficionado Jamie Riddle tried it and liked it.

Now living in San Diego, Calif., but born and raised in Summersville, W.Va., Riddle has come to enjoy deep-sea fishing on the Pacific and hauling home a catch of sashimi to be served with sushi, the preparation of vinegared rice of which he’s made a hobby.

This week, after accompanying his uncle David Key on a Nicholas County “rampage” along the Cherry River, as Key punningly calls it, Riddle hesitantly sampled a ramp bulb that his uncle pulled and washed in the river and decided he had to venture investing ramps in a sushi dish.

“Actually, I was nervous about eating ramps. I was worried about the odor. I heard that people who eat them stink real bad for days on end,” Riddle said.

Still, he joined an aunt, photographer Anne Johnson, in the kitchen, and by the end of the evening the two had achieved what few people dream of, and they found the dream wasn’t half bad.

“Ramps pair well with sushi — almost like wasabi,” Riddle said, noting the sharp pungency that the ramp shares with the Japanese vegetable prepared as a condiment served with sushi.

Jamie Riddle prepares ramp sushi
Jamie Riddle prepares ramp sushi

He says he’ll refine the recipe when he arrives during ramp season some future spring, but advises others to concentrate on the quality of rice and agrees with his uncle David to harvest young, tender ramps.

Though native to eastern North America, ramps (allium tricoccum) are strongly associated with central Appalachian folk culture, especially as regards a pungent aroma that can linger on those who eat them for days after consumption. Ramps were among the first plants to appear after long mountain winters, and community dinners were established around their harvest. Exuding the aroma of ramps became a source of pride among many who indulged in the feasts.

Riddle said he wasn’t aware of an odor, though Johnson says the pungent odor of ramps hangs in the air during ramp season.

“You can’t smell it on yourself if you’ve eaten them, but it’s true you can smell it on others if they’ve eaten a lot of them and you haven’t,” she confirmed.

Riddle said he thinks it’s worth looking into refining the dish and recommends local restaurateurs and foodies continue to experiment.


Find out more about upcoming ramp dinners in West Virginia: Ramp Feasts & Festivals