15 December, 2009

If you knew sushi like I knew sushi...

I went to a Japanese restaurant for dinner tonight.  This may not sound like to be a big deal, but it is for me.  For most of my life I have avoided eating Japanese food. I would make excuses like “I don't eat seafood” or “it's too expensive”. The reality was I was a scared of it. I had never seen sushi until I had moved to the city and there was no way I was brave enough to eat raw fish. I'm not normally a culinary coward. I will try anything and live by the mantra that you can't say you don't like something unless you've tried it. I have tried some truly disgusting food in my time. Japanese food, however, always seemed beyond me.

I'm sure you're thinking this is nuts and not long ago I came to same realisation. Enough being a chicken! I have been gradually introducing myself to the delights of Japanese food.

The Japanese have a great sense of humour. I'm sure they sit in their kitchens watching closed circuit television images of their patrons punishing themselves with their meals. My first real challenge was pickled ginger. It's so pleasingly pink and so thinly sliced to entice you to try it. The first taste is a delightful reminder of ginger bread men as it sits delicately on your tongue. And then it hit you … the burn. It comes from nowhere and you can never be ready for it. There is a cluster of taste buds at the back of your tongue that have been especially designed for the entertainment of Japanese waiters. Most of your tongue is fine except this one spot which feels like you have eaten lava.

One of the things I have discovered as I travel along life's journey: Green is the colour of evil: Frankenstein, the Wicked Witch of the West , Linda Blair's vomit and wasabi. I was warned about wasabi. Go easy I was told, but nobody actually defines what quantity “go easy” actually is. How does something you eat turn into a searing pain behind your eyes? It gets into your sinuses and decides it's going to kill you. No warnings can prepare you for this.

Have you noticed you are always given more wasabi than is safe to eat? I come back to my earlier point: the Japanese have a great sense of humour. I am developing a deep respect for the waiters who can serve a plate of sushi with a delicate little blob of wasabi on the side and walk away with a straight face. They know how this is going to end. I'm going to hurt myself. It happens every time. I suspect they are in a hurry to get back to watching the close circuit TV to see how much damage I can do to myself. I'm sure they take bets to see which client they have to resuscitate.

My last hurdle in this voyage of discovery is sashimi. The dreaded raw fish. My fear of raw fish is irrational and I wasn't going to let this beat me. I like my steaks cooked rare so why does raw fish worry me? My first few attempts ended in complete failure. I could not bring myself to eat it. I was a complete failure. One monumental day I decided I could no longer let this beat me. With trembling hands I balanced a piece of sashimi on the crappy disposable chop sticks, closed my eyes and took a bite.

“What happened next?” I hear you all eagerly asking. Did my face collapse inwards in horror at encountering the most vile of foods or did I transcend to a world of culinary joy with the most exquisite flavours ever encountered. Well, nothing happened. It didn't have much of a taste. I went through all that anguish only to find out the flavour was quite subtle and I had made a mountain out of a mole hill (again).

I'm happy to say I have conquered my fear of Japanese food and to celebrate I would like someone to take me to Tetsuya's. Any takers?


  1. No takers on that invitation but I do have an excellent story about a friend who was told that the green stuff on the side of the plate was avocado ..... (not pretty)

  2. ooooo, nasty. I'm getting sinus pains just thinking about it.

  3. award for you to pick and run with at my place.

    'cos you have time ....