I have to admit that when my sister first suggested that we go for sushi, I was a touch repulsed. Her experience with the exotic food had been limited to a brief stay at the Seattle International Airport and I couldn’t help wondering whether her love of the rolled rice was more the result of the need to fill her stomach than actual affection. Still, she insisted and, after some effort, I managed to convince myself that eating raw fish just once probably wouldn’t kill me. She selected us a well-respected local sushi bar renowned for its “fusion cuisine” and we set off.
I admit that I was a bit surprised to discover that there was much more to sushi than I had originally imagined. While sushi rolls are actually quite recent (dating to 1824), the Japanese art of seafood preservation goes back two millennia to a time when fishermen sought to maintain the freshness of their stock sometimes for a period of several months. Hats off to the genius who came up with the idea of using rice (a natural desiccant) and vinegar and, in the process, accidentally invented a worldwide culinary phenomena!
It is to the rice (not the fish) which the word “sushi” actually refers, so if you visit a local sushi bar, you’re likely to discover a nice range of appetizing tidbits for even the most squeamish. (I recommend letting the chef know that you’re new to sushi and allowing him to make some appropriate recommendations.) Cooked seafood is a common ingredient as are vegetables, though I would encourage anyone to try a spicy tuna roll just once. (These actually became one of my favorites after I discovered that, unlike regular supermarket filets, sashimi grade fish are flash-frozen upon capture: a practice which prevents the growth of bacteria and preserves the fresh, crisp flavor of the seafood.)
The local sushi bar quickly became a lunch-time favorite and their “vision rolls” which were each a unique creation of the on-duty chef were a must-have staple of every outing. Each roll was graded by “heat-level” only and this is where what my sister and I affectionately refer to as “The Habanjero Sushi Incident of 2013” really begins.
On our previous trips, my sister elected to experiment with the heat scale and determined that a 7 was not quite hot enough and that a 9 was much hotter than she enjoyed – so it only made sense that on this particular day, she ordered an 8 which, like Goldilocks, she anticipated would be “just right”. Of course, the difficulty with a heat scale is that “hotness” (unless you’re referring to an actual thermometer reading or the Scoville scale used to measure the heat of individual chili peppers) is quite relative.
Our sushi rolls arrived and, grabbing her chopsticks, she quickly spread wasabi over the top of her vision roll and popped a piece into her mouth. What happened next can only be equated to a scene from a cartoon. My sister’s usually cheerful smile wavered, all the color drained from her face, and steam began to blow out of her ears. Sweat poured from her brow as she grabbed for her water, hoarsely uttering the immortal words, “What’s in this????!!!!!”
I frowned, certain that the sushi couldn’t be quite that hot, and readily accepted her offer of a piece. I have to admit that it had an excellent balance of flavor, the enjoyment of which only briefly preceded the sensation that an atomic bomb had been set off in my mouth. It was clear that the chef on duty either didn’t know that the number 8 came before the number 10 or that he had a vendetta against anyone seeking the perfectly spicy roll of sushi.
With more than a little curiosity, my sister and I began to pick the roll apart to determine exactly what had been placed inside. Along with the standard fish (which neither of us had been able to taste), we came up with more wasabi (a relative of horseradish), sriracha (a blended chili sauce), jalapeno peppers, and… habaneros. The combination was explosive.
While my sister (now pale as a vampire) fought with stomach problems, I finished the roll. All of this, of course, only goes to prove that sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we expect it to. Turns out, I do like raw fish!