Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Zen of Fish: Everything I Knew About Sushi Was Wrong

I just finished The Zen of Fish, and I am now completely and totally intimidated by sushi.

Author Trevor Corson observed a female sushi-apprentice and her classmates over a 12-week class at the California Sushi Academy, reporting on the personalities, the fish, and the history of the fish. And I now understand why the chef has been scowling at me from behind the sushi bar all these years. To wit:
1. Stirring green globs of wasabi into your soy sauce overwhelms your capacity for taste and smell and is very distressing to the chef, who probably got up at 4:30 a.m. to find the freshest fish possible--fish that you can no longer taste.

And by the way, real wasabi is a rare plant that is notoriously difficult to grow; what you're eating is a mixture of horseradish, mustard powder, citric acid, yellow dye no. 5 and blue dye no. 1. Which you have now mixed in soy sauce to make soy goo. Which won't kill germs or parasites, contrary to urban myth. Only your tastebuds. Only the chef's self-esteem.

2. The point of the pickled ginger is to cleanse the palate between servings of different kinds of fish.  Corson says that "not eating a slice of ginger between each type of fish. . .is like mixing five different wines and trying to taste the Chardonnay." Unless, of course, your tongue is covered with soy goo. In which case it's hopeless anyway.

3. The most popular form of sushi in the U.S. is the big sushi rolls, loaded with carbs, sugar, fat and sodium. So, all that healthy sushi you've been eating over the years--isn't.

4. Dunk the fish side in the soy sauce, not the rice side. Eat the piece in one bite, not two. Use your fingers, not chopsticks. And miso soup should be eaten at the end of the meal, not the beginning. Yep--you've been doing it all wrong. 

In fact, if sushi were a Toyota, most of us would be driving on the wrong side of the road, sitting in the passenger seat barely steering with one foot on the wheel and sticking the other foot out the sun roof. Going backwards. In the breakdown lane.

5. Sushi refers to the seasoned rice, not the fish. We even had that wrong. By the way, Sushi chefs call rice shari, a Buddhist term that refers to tiny pieces of the Buddha's bones. Just thought you should know that.

6. A pandalus shrimp starts out male, spends a few years as a bachelor, loses his virginity, and then turns into a female. (And then we eat him. Or her.) And scientists think humans are the most evolved species?

The Zen of Fish is a fascinating story, a little bit like the "health class for boys" we all were forced to attend in sixth grade: Really? You mean it's done that way? All these years I thought. . .well, never mind.

(Originally posted in 2009.)