Flash forward to tonight. I had told Shannon I would be willing to give sushi a try, after a couple years of always wrinkling up my nose at the very idea. Why did I change my mind, you might ask? Well, I think three reasons combined: (1) In the past couple years, I have learned to actively like cooked fish, which I never had before, (2) I've been reading a lot of manga, which got me increasingly interested in Japanese culture, and (3) I've been reading a glossary-type book called The Anime Companion: What's Japanese in Japanese Animation?, which explains a lot of stuff and got me even more interested in Japanese culture.
And so tonight we went to Manga Manga on Shattuck Avenue, a sushi restaurant with a combination of classic and manga/anime-inspired decor. (There were posters for "Cowboy Bebop" and "Akira", for example.) No, we didn't choose it on that basis ... we just looked at the menu outside, knew the restaurant had been around quite a while (which is saying something in Berkeley), and thought it all looked good. I hadn't seen the manga-themed decorations until we were inside. Plus, we'd walked past there a million times, because it's not far from our home, but we'd never gone in. Until tonight!
To give my untutored sushi impressions, I think I'll start by listing the various senses.
Sight: For me, this was the sense most pleased by sushi. It's all so pretty, with all the vivid colors and geometric patterns! Sushi is beautiful -- especially sushi rolls -- this I cannot deny.
Smell: I'm not particularly fond of the smell of raw fish, no matter how fresh it is. But I didn't notice a particular smell to anything we ordered, except the cucumber (which smelled very good) and the spicy sauces on two of our choices.
Touch: One of our choices was wrapped in thin slices of cucumber, instead of seaweed. While this tasted delicious (more on that in a moment), it made for tricky handling. Veeerrrrry slippery. Not only from the outside (with our fingers) but also from the inside (the contents kept trying to slip out). Good thing we weren't trying to pick this one up with chopsticks! I found the rice chewy and very tasty throughout. Biting through the seaweed was often awkward enough that the contents of the roll tried to make a getaway. Parts of the fish seemed to be difficult to completely break down through chewing (I'm obsessive about this sort of thing ... I don't like to swallow something that hasn't been completely broken down). The crab was mushier than I would have expected. But the fish, in general, was more firm and chewy -- and less slimy -- than I would have guessed.
Taste: One of the dishes we ordered was what Manga Manga calls their "Hawaiian Roll": cucumber wrapped around rice and raw tuna, then topped with a spicy-sweet sauce. It was delicious! The tastes of all of the ingredients combined wonderfully ... without any of them, it would not have been as good as it was. That was by far my favorite of the 4 things we ordered. We also ordered a California Roll (crab and avocado), Spicy Tuna Roll (tuna in a very spicy sauce), and a New York Roll (shrimp and avocado). Except for the Hawaiian Roll, the tastes left me not entirely impressed. This'll make me sound boring, but I liked the taste and texture of the rice best of all. I think I don't particularly enjoy the flavor of the seaweed wrappers. The flavor of the raw seafood itself (we had tuna, shrimp, and crab) was nice, clean, subtle ... nothing to make me leap out of my chair and do a dance of excitement, but certainly not offensive.
Hearing: Well, the restaurant was playing some sort of compilation of '80s ballads (Take my breath away ... Take my breath away...) which didn't seem quite conducive to the whole sushi experience, but I didn't mind too much. The sushi itself, thankfully, made no noises.
My Sushi Conclusions: I'm not a big fan of the stuff. I doubt I will ever be a big fan of the stuff. I can see why some people like it so well, but it just isn't my thing, as far as I can tell. I think I deserve cupcakes or something else simple and good to reward me for being brave and adventurous.
My Sushi Future
- Shannon and I discussed the possibility that next time I might want to try some of the nigirizushi (sushi that isn't in a roll, but rather is hand-molded rice with a topping added), because it might give me the textures and flavors without the whole seaweed factor. We steered clear of that this time, just because Shannon figured the big blobs of raw fish might make me even more skittish than I already was.
- We also discussed the possibility of going out for sushi with friends next time, instead of just the two of us. That would be a completely different vibe. And if we went out with a bunch of people (or even a couple of other people) who liked sushi, it might be even easier to decide to try new things.
Thus spake Kimberly the Sushi-Eater.