Sushi is generally an expensive meal in a restaurant. It’s also one of those meals that has so many variations that people rarely remember what they ordered last time, and more importantly, what they liked and didn’t like. Luckily, it’s easier for vegetarians. We have a choice of cucumber roll, avocado roll, egg roll and tofu roll. You can have it inside-out or outside-in. People are surprised that I like sushi. “Aren’t you a vegetarian?” they say. “Yes,” I say. “How can you eat sushi, then?” they say. “Easy,” I answer, “I just eat the cucumber roll, the avocado roll, the egg roll and the tofu roll. Depending on my mood I choose it inside-out or outside-in.” “Hmm,” they respond.
My girlfriend and I like sushi. We particularly like wasabi. When we eat sushi, we compete to see who can eat the biggest portion of wasabi at one time. She always wins. The wasabi that we have eaten, and that you have probably eaten too, if you have eaten wasabi, is not real wasabi. Wasabi is difficult to grow and cultivate, and in the West, a substitute is made from horseradish, mustard and food colouring.
But it burns your scalp nonetheless. If you’ve never had wasabi, or its western knockoff, the effect is different to other spices. Chilli, as an example, is oil-based, which means it stays in your mouth and burns for around thirty minutes. Wasabi is water-based and washes away quickly, which means the burning sensation doesn’t last, but which can also lead to abuses of the spice. When you eat a lump of wasabi, a tingling begins in your mouth and you exhale loudly to let everybody know that you’ve eaten a great lump of wasabi. The tingling moves into your nose and you are surprised at the rapid advance of sensation. Then it moves into your brain and you can’t speak anymore. Finally it reaches your scalp and your hair stands on end, you are paralysed and the other diners in your group ask you if you are okay. You can’t answer. You can’t move. With great determination, you can bang on the table with your hand. After some seconds and concerned looks from the group, the sensation subsides and you feel normal again, albeit exhausted, yet with a calm sense of satisfaction, rather like the sensation you get after great sex.
We found a sushi kit in the supermarket. We bought it. It had everything you need to make sushi at home, except most of the ingredients. My girlfriend wanted avocado sushi. She said we had avocado at home. We didn’t. We found out when we got home. Rather than go out again, into the Polish winter, we decided to make our sushi from carrot, tofu, pumpkin and cream cheese.
Boiling sushi rice is difficult. It’s a short grain sticky rice, which means it has to have just the right amount of water at the start so that once the water boils away, the rice is perfectly cooked and is the right stickiness. Making good sushi rice requires experience. My girlfriend and I had little to no sushi rice making experience. The supermarket sushi kit, designed for those who have no sushi rice making experience, had a novel solution. When we opened the box, we found two sachets of sushi rice, perforated. All we had to do was drop the bags into the pot and boil them for exactly fifteen minutes. We did that. It worked well.
While the rice boiled, I prepared the filling. I cut the carrots and the pumpkin and the tofu while my girlfriend set the table and poured the wine. Wine is very important to a meal, and you must choose the right wine. When eating sushi, or any meal for that matter, we prefer the wine that contains alcohol. She poured a nice white of something for me, while she had a classic red from California or France or somewhere.
When the rice was boiled, I added the vinegar that came in the box, and the kitchen immediately smelled like a sushi restaurant. I then laid out a sheet of seaweed (the box contained about ten or twelve sheets) onto the sushi mat, which also came in the box, and spread a layer of rice over it. I then placed the carrots in a row and rolled the sheet inside the mat. The sheet of seaweed stuck to itself and I had a large roll of sushi, which I cut into what I believed were manageable portions. My girlfriend went next.
She laid out a thinner layer of rice, added the carrots, tofu and pumpkin at various intervals and then added a layer of cream cheese. I had forgotten everything except the carrots. When she rolled and cut her sheet of seaweed, the result was a sophisticated meal of sushi to rival any restaurant. By comparison, my attempt looked like an orange man wrapped in a green carpet. Her pieces were about half the size of mine.
We sat at the table to eat our respective meals. Her sushi had a subtle blend of flavours which mixed together smoothly, accentuated by the soy sauce and given a pleasant kick by the wasabi. My sushi tasted like carrots and rice. I also found out on the first bite that my manageable portion was exactly the same size as the interior of my mouth, and when I had a whole piece in it, I couldn’t properly close it. She was kind enough to share her meal with me. I offered her some of mine, but she said that after her own meal, she was too full to eat any of mine, but she was sure that it was delicious.
While eating the sushi, I experimented with the wasabi. At one point, I ate enough of it so that I couldn’t speak and my scalp tingled. It was enjoyable, though I wondered if it might cause mild brain damage over an extended period of time. Under my cajoling, my girlfriend ate the biggest piece of wasabi I had seen anybody eat. She invited me to attempt the same. She held out a dollop on the end a chopstick (also from the supermarket sushi kit), and I looked at it. It looked menacing, poisonous, dangerous. I declined. She shrugged her shoulders, smiled at me, and popped it into her mouth.