25 August 2010

Confessions Of A Sushi Convert.

Even having been halfway raised in the Midwest and growing up in a Filipino household, my exposure to different cuisines was rather limited in retrospect. Of course, I didn't think so at the time; I proudly invited my friends to dinner and scooped traditional dishes like adobo and pancit onto their plates. At the same time I thought nothing of eating whatever was put on my plate at my friends' dinner tables, and heartily plowed through bowls of food when we ate at Chinese restaurants. Looking back though I realize that I'd been playing it safe (sweet and sour chicken isn't exactly the pinnacle of Chinese cuisine) and was sorely missing out.

Through out my formative years I'd definitely heard of sushi, but it had always remained an exotic, mysterious dish that I really had no interest in exploring. All I knew about it was that it was raw fish (OMG!!!) and that was the end of that. We don't really have a Filipino equivalent -- although some of our more culturally-traditional dishes probably come pretty close with the ewww factor to the uninitiated. But that didn't matter; I had no plans on trying raw fish and was happy with what I was already eating.

I took my first bite of sushi during a Spring Break road trip to the West Coast. One of the highlights was going to dinner with a large group of friends to a sushi restaurant in LA. It may have been the beer we'd been drinking at alarming rates but I was game to try. Someone ordered for me and my other sushi-virgin friends, and after a while dinner came out, artfully presented on square plates.

But tell me this doesn't look FANTASTIC [via]

The food we'd ordered were mostly different types of roll. I tried some of everything, and enjoyed all of it. It was hard to keep track of what was in each roll but they were all delicious, a tasty blend of flavors built upon the rice/seaweed base. I distinctly remember devouring a particular piece, then turning to a friend and asking him what I'd just eaten. "Eel," he said.

[Pause.] "Eel?" I wasn't sure I'd heard correctly.

"Yeah -- like, uh, an eel."

[Another pause.] "Okay." And I reached for another piece.

After that eye-opening experience, I was more eager to graduate to eating sashimi (the actual raw subset of food under the sushi umbrella) and surprised myself with more incredible flavors and textures. That first experience was over ten years ago and I haven't looked back since. Now I look for sushi restaurants whenever I have the chance (and the funds). Hell, I'll even run to Hy-Vee and buy some pre-made rolls to go when I'm really craving it. Of course it's not nearly as good as going to a restaurant and ordering something on the spot, but most of the time it's close enough. I actually did this last week; I walked to the checkout with a package containing two kinds of surimi rolls.

The cashier, an older gentleman, rang up the package. "Are these really that good?" he asked. "People buy a lot of these but I've never tried it."

I ended up talking with him for a minute or so, trying to convince him to buy some and just try it. After all, "Even if you end up not liking it," I reasoned, "At least you'll know you don't like it. But who knows, you could end up loving it. Anyway I think it's delicious." I hope he agreed with me, and maybe I've created a new sushi convert.

That would be sweet.

It's funny 'cause nowadays when someone mentions a food or cuisine that I've never had before, the first things out of my mouth are "Where's the restaurant?" and "When are we going?"

I've learned my lesson. Life's too short, man. Try it all -- at least you'll know.

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