Playing With Food
Perhaps you’ve seen that bumper sticker, perhaps not. Anyway, it summed up my experience with both karate and sushi. I knew the words, but avoided the actions. I heartily feared making a fool of myself attempting ninja moves. I had no intention of gagging down raw fish smothered in green horseradish stuff.
Confronted with a collection of nori – a seaweed paper – chopped veggies, and avid sushi-rolling teachers, any potential objections were a moot point. My plans were hijacked; I started rolling sushi. Truthfully, I never objected to playing with food or rolling sushi. I just didn’t want to eat raw fish.
Ancient Japan was a culture replete with formalities and protocols. Sushi, in true Japanese fashion, follows strict guidelines. Lay a sheet of nori on the counter. Dip your hands in a bowl of water. Gently, taking care not to break the soft kernels, spread a wide carpet of sticky, white rice down the center of the nori. Like any carpet, the rice should form a thin, even layer completely covering the nori. A nascent sushi roll resembles a Nigerian flag – two green bars separated by a wide white band. I presume this connection between Nigeria and sushi to be purely coincidental. Ribbons and tassels of cucumber, bell peppers, mango, green onions, and of course, fish, are added to the center of the flag. The colorful windrow of vegetables decorating the nori signals time to roll. Nori resembles ancient parchments: crinkly, warped, ripping at the slightest stress, requiring delicate handling. Tightly rolling sushi within this fragile skin takes practice. To prevent unraveling, a bead of water is run along the edge of the nori. This water glues the nori to itself, much like the sticky on an envelope.
The final stage, cutting the long log-like rolls into stubby firewood rounds, also requires water. Dip a knife tip in a bowl of water, point the knife up, and allow a bead of water to run the length of the blade. Now lubricated, the knife can slice through the nori-wrapped roll without tearing it. Afterwards, clean the knife on a damp towel, wet it again, and cut the next piece.
Turns out, sushi is pretty fantastic – raw fish, wasabi and all. Before dinner was over, I’d eaten six or so rolls – roughly forty five little round pieces. Topping it all off, we made a few sweet rolls using bananas, blueberries, coconut, and chocolate rather than veggies. Chocolate and fruit in a rice-lined nori shell – not Asian, by any means, but still genuinely yummy.
Sushi rolls are small; bite sized, in fact. They look like appetizer-tray delights. I expected them to be as lightweight as most inhabitants of the appetizer tray. I was wrong. The sushi sated my ravenous appetite. It was solid enough to keep a growing boy running for hours on end. A meal that conquered the hollow leg – at least for a time.