copyright © 2007 Mordechai Schmutter
Reprinted with permission of the author
I once read somewhere that sushi is one of those foods that everyone either loves or hates. (And before I get angry, misspelled letters informing me that you’re not supposed to hate a food, let me point out that everyone who hates it firmly insists that it’s not a food.) So you have the people who love it and pay an upwards of thirty dollars for exactly six bites of raw fish, and know the difference between an Alaska Roll and a Northern Alaska Roll, and whether or not a Dancing Tuna Roll actually dances around the plate or if it just dances around in your stomach afterwards. And then you have the people who can’t get over the fact that it’s raw fish. Sure, it’s covered in rice and seaweed and sauces so that you can’t tell that it’s raw fish, but it’s still raw fish. And then there are the vegetable rolls -- those are just raw vegetables. And don’t get them started on the seaweed.
But it turns out that there are enough people out there eating sushi that is has become extremely popular, and you can find sushi bars everywhere, including gas stations. And as such, there is now a third group of people who don’t really like sushi, but eat it anyway and pretend to like it just because everyone else does. Of course you can argue that that’s stupid; it’s like pretending to like p’tcha just because everyone else seems to like it, even though, for all you know, they’re pretending too. But it’s nowhere near as stupid as the people who buy sushi at the gas station.
This is because raw fish is dangerous. You can’t just go around putting raw fish in your mouth. You should only eat sushi that is properly prepared by a professional sushi chef. I don’t know how preparing it properly will help; it’s still basically raw fish. But the accepted Japanese tradition is that it’s impolite to ask.
For years, I was part of that second group of people. I found the idea of sushi disgusting. I felt that if Hashem had intended for us to eat our fish raw, he would have created it that way. Yet I would always try sushi at fancy simchas, because I am a humor columnist, and I was hoping that I would accidentally get food poisoning right before the backwards dancing so I could write a column about it. But it turns out that if you eat a food enough times, it grows on you (the taste, not the seaweed). That’s why older people tend to like borscht.
So my wife and I recently decided to eat out at a sushi restaurant, despite the fact that we had no idea what we were doing. Should we take off our shoes? Should we just leave them in the car? How about our kids? Would their cries of, “What is this? It looks like raw fish and rice!” distract the other diners? And what’s in a Salmon Skin Roll, besides salmon skin? Going to a sushi place can be very daunting to a newcomer. As such, I am presenting the following:
Try to learn from my mistakes.
THE HISTORY OF SUSHI:
Sushi was invented in Japan, and is part of an ancient Japanese tradition of trying to see what is the scariest thing they can get you to eat. As Japan is taller than it is wide, there are not a lot of farms, so the country is basically crawling with fish, and also, somehow, rice. (If Jews had invented sushi, it would be wrapped in potatoes.) But while the Chinese were able to use their rice to make nice, appetizing dishes such as… okay, I don’t remember the name of that dish offhand – What’s that one with some kind of meat and some kind of vegetables on rice? – the Japanese were stuck with this special kind of sticky rice that someone had planted by mistake, and that attached itself to everything and everyone. At some point the Japanese people were basically just big blobs of rice walking around and sticking to their tiny automobiles. So they decided to stick the rice onto their fish and sell it all over the world. It wasn’t even important that they cooked the fish, so long as they got rid of the rice.
THE SUSHI CHEF
When you walk into the restaurant, you will see a bunch of Japanese sushi chefs standing right there in front, preparing the sushi. The restaurant makes them stand there, because they don’t want customers to suspect that they’re secretly cooking the fish. These people are usually trained chefs, who go to special schools to learn things like how to peel an avocado using only a knife, and not to pick their noses with the same hands that they are using to roll the sushi. But when they’re done with their training, they get to have a job where they can come to work in their Shabbos robes.
MAKING THE SUSHI
After you figure out what to order, or just point to random items on the menu and hope that none of the dishes are served with the eyeballs still attached, the sushi chef whips out a piece of seaweed and gets to work. Now I, for one, always thought that seaweed grew sort of like underwater grass, but apparently it looks more like matzah. The chef then lays the seaweed on a bamboo mat. To give you an idea of what the mat looks like, it would take about 150 of them to cover your sukkah. In fact, sometimes, when really big parties come into the restaurant, they have all of the sushi chefs stand in a row, and they use an actual sukkah mat.
Next, the chef presses a handful of rice onto the sushi (he actually uses gloves, but if you have a problem with him using his hands, you shouldn’t be eating raw fish). He then puts on a few slices of vegetables, and then a slice or two of fish. Most of the rolls are made with either salmon or tuna. I personally ate mainly salmon rolls, because the only way I will normally eat tuna is with mayonnaise, and I didn’t want to offend the chef by asking for any. Finally, the chef rolls it all up tightly and then slices it into neat little cylinders that look nothing like raw fish.
EATING YOUR SUSHI
Along with your sushi, you will get a little glob of wasabi, which is Japanese for “drain-o”. Wasabi makes marror look like cole slaw. In fact, if you put more than three molecules of wasabi onto your sushi and eat it, your yarmulka will burst into flames. (You can put them out with the soy sauce.) The idea of the wasabi is to kill anything that may still be living on your fish, but part of the fun of going to a sushi restaurant is seeing what else you can add wasabi to, just shy of the chef himself.
Another thing the waiter puts on your plate before he brings it to the table is sweetened ginger root, but no one knows why. It’s not like anyone is coming for the ginger. So I looked it up, and it turns out that the ginger is supposed to be eaten between bites, to settle the stomach. Kind of the way you find yourself drinking ginger ale the next day, if you didn’t eat the ginger.
Fortunately, I didn’t have any stomach problems the next day, and I fully intend to try sushi again sometime in the near future. Just as soon as I wash the soy sauce out of my hair.
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