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She Smells Sushi By The Seashore

I've had sushi once before, in 1988. Home-made vegetarian sushi rolls that we made in our dorm as a multi-cultural activity. (I lived in the multi-cultural dorm, where we had two Japanese exchange students -- Sachiko and Eiichiro -- in addition to folks from Australia, Israel, and all over the place.) I wasn't overly excited by the sushi rolls, primarily because I was not impressed with the seaweed.

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.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 1st, 2003 10:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the wonderful info on sushi.. i like the california rolls but I have never gotten the nerve to try more and now... still not so sure...lol

I added you to my friends list :)
Aug. 1st, 2003 10:22 pm (UTC)
Hi there! You're quite welcome here, and I'm adding you in return, so that I can get a feel for your journal. :)
Aug. 1st, 2003 11:21 pm (UTC)
I'm a sushi fan, myself, and I think you've noticed a lot of important things about it. For instance, the rice IS the most important part of the flavor. "Sushi" basically means "rice prepared in a particular manner (maybe with stuff stuck on top)".

The fish is optional. The rice is not. That's what makes it sushi, and not nigiri, for instance.

Sushi rice is a particular short-grain sticky rice, prepared with a mixture of sugar, rice vinegar, and maybe some other stuff that I don't remember exactly what it is -- salt, stuff like that, I think. The texture of the rice is VERY important -- cooking sushi rice is a bit of an art, one I'm working to learn, but will never put enough effort in to become really good at. . .

The fish is not supposed to be strong-tasting. If you can smell it, basically at all, it's spoiled. It's supposed to taste light, clean, refreshing. It's the rice that carries most of the flavor.

The visual part of sushi is, of course, at least as important as the taste. There's a reason sushi chefs work that hard on presentation: presentation is a vital part of the experience.

I tend to prefer the simple sushis -- tuna and the like. But I've been known to say to the sushi chef, "Okay, I trust you; whatever you feel like giving me, I'll try it." That can be fun. I had some wonderful octopus when I tried that a few months back, something I never would have thought to try on my own, because I normally hate octopus. But this was so completely different from the Italian and Greek octopus I'd been used to tasting.

As far as hearing goes, I like 80s music just fine, but there are often other choices. Near us, there's a sushi place/jazz club.

Your comments on texture are very important, too. Some of the fish that they use have tougher bits of tissue striated through, both for the contrast in the texture, and for the visual contrast. In general, I've found, if there are visual stripes through the fish, there will usually be texture stripes, as well. Which, as you say, means that you don't necessarily break the fish down completely during chewing. Which I, like you, don't particularly like. I can deal with it, but I prefer to choose pieces of fish that are more uniform throughout to reduce that.
Aug. 2nd, 2003 05:46 am (UTC)
As far as hearing goes, I like 80s music just fine, but there are often other choices. Near us, there's a sushi place/jazz club.

I'm quite the 80s music fan in other settings, but this one seemed slightly odd. After a while, I mostly tuned it out. And we have a Japanese restaurant/jazz club near us, as well. Perhaps that is a "thing" in the U.S.

Thanksk for all your comments on sushi. You've left me feeling a lot less sushi-impaired! :)
Aug. 1st, 2003 11:22 pm (UTC)
The seaweed is my least favourite part of sushi as well. It makes me think of fish or snakeskin, for some reason.. and it's just so... there.

Aug. 2nd, 2003 12:22 am (UTC)
mmm... sushi....
I'm a weirdo (you knew that); I like seaweed! That Hawaiian roll sounds awesome. If you want to try sushi again, I will nobly make that sacrifice and accompany you if desired. :-) My favorites are salmon and tuna nigiri. Crab and shrimp haven't been as exciting, from my experience.

Also, there's that veggie Japanese place in downtown Berkeley -- I loved their eggplant nigiri...
Aug. 2nd, 2003 05:35 am (UTC)
Re: mmm... sushi....
I was telling Shannon last night that I might prefer veggie sushi, since it would allow me to enjoy the rice without the raw fish issue. But then I remembered that it's really more of a seaweed issue. Still ... which is the veggie Japanese place? I.e., where is it?

And sure ... let's do Japanese sometime. :)
Aug. 2nd, 2003 10:35 am (UTC)
Re: mmm... sushi....
Cha-ya on Shattuck. The eggplant nigiri is quite seeweed-free!
Aug. 2nd, 2003 02:37 am (UTC)
I am a moderate sushi fan. I really love Japanese food, and I like the idea of sushi very much, but some part of me just can't totally get over the fact that I am eating raw fish.

I can solve that by eating some of the vegetarian or cooked fish sushis, and I tend to prefer those. Sweet egg sushi is one of my all-time favorites, and I also like deep-fried-shrimp sushi.

Overall, I'd take tariyaki or tempura anyday, though, they are so good!

There are a couple of sushi buffet places near us in Maryland that are fantastic. One has a sushi bar, a regular buffet with tempura, etc., and a Mongolian barbeque, all in one. I think that's one of my favorite restaurants ever.

And I agree about the cupcakes :)
Aug. 2nd, 2003 05:41 am (UTC)
some part of me just can't totally get over the fact that I am eating raw fish.

To be honest, that is true for me, as well. Regardless of the fact that it didn't taste bad, I kept feeling like this was something I should only eat by holding my nose and gulping as fast as possible. I managed to comport myself with some grace, however ... and afterward felt that I deserved a reward for my good behavior.

Sweet egg sushi is one of my all-time favorites, and I also like deep-fried-shrimp sushi.

I had my eye on both of those last night, too, but felt obligated to give the whole raw thing a try, since I was so squeamish about it. The sweet egg nigiri, in particular, has been sticking in my mind as something I would like to try in the future.

Overall, I'd take tariyaki or tempura anyday, though, they are so good!

Me too! I loved tempura when I was a kid, long before I realized it was Japanese food. :)
Aug. 2nd, 2003 06:49 am (UTC)
Yeah, I know it's cultural conditioning, but I just feel strongly that fish is something that should definitely be cooked. I can repress that feeling enough to enjoy sushi, but that doesn't mean it's not there! I don't trust fish very much to begin with. I get really, really grossed out by the little bones in it, which is one advantage of sushi - definitely no hidden bones!

The last time we were at my favorite sushi restaurant, the owner gave us a special dish of eel sushi, to make up for something minor that had gone wrong. It was specially made for us, it wasn't even on the sushi bar, and it looked kind of...not like something I would eat voluntarily. But I felt obligated to try it, since she had given it to us. And it tasted soooo good! I was totally shocked, because eel is really a little too daring for me. Strangely enough, Wolfgang and my brother in law, who are much more daring in what they eat, didn't like it that much.

Me too! I loved tempura when I was a kid, long before I realized it was Japanese food. :)

My mother used to make teriyaki chicken (knew I spelled it wrong last time! :), that I credit for much of my love of Japanese food. It's amazing, though, how many people have no idea that there is more than sushi to Japanese cuisine.

Aug. 2nd, 2003 10:48 am (UTC)
I am very proud of you.
Sushi is an acquired taste thats for sure.
I love it. I haven't had any decent sushi since I moved from DC.(2 years ago)

It's awful here. Every restaurant I have ordered it at insists on putting tartar sauce on/in every piece. It's bizarre. I think it's a North Carolina thing.
Aug. 2nd, 2003 01:18 pm (UTC)
<Jedi hand gesture> You don't like sushi.

<Jedi hand gesture> You don't like eating raw fish.

<Jedi hand gesture> Next time someone brings a sushi plate to a potluck, you will let me have your share.
Aug. 2nd, 2003 02:19 pm (UTC)
Hmm. That's strange. I still don't like eating raw fish. Next time someone brings sushi to a potluck, I should let Alan have my share.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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