So You Want To Be a Sushi Snob?

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The boss and his high fallutin’ friends at work are getting you down because they keep mispronouncing in Japanese the names of various sushi and you don’t have any idea as to what it is they are talking about? The hoity-toity types who hang out at the water-cooler think they are hot stuff because they know the best sushi restaurants in town where all the "in-crowd" conjugate and you don’t? You figure you can’t climb up the ladder to success and get that juicy upper-management position because you don’t know the difference between a raw deal and cooked eel? Man, you are a worthless sod!

But fear not! For today, I have come to your rescue. Together you and I, with the help of this delectable article — which you’ll have to save for future reference — or buy my book, will give these sushi snobs their up-and-commence. Let’s face it, I hate these sushi snobs just as much as you do— if not more. They make me sick. So it’s time to put them in their place.

Imagine the pride you will feel and the jealousy you will create when you show your co-workers who is the real expert — who the real sushi snob is at work — you! Think about the satisfaction you’ll have when Mr. Bigwig is making a speech at a shareholders meeting and he blows the pronunciation of some raw fish. You’ll stand up in front of everyone and shout out at the top of your lungs, "It’s not knee-gee-ree, you cretin moron! It’s nigiri!" Imagine the oohs, ahhs, applause, and looks of admiration from the shareholders and coworkers you’ll receive!

Now today’s article will not have lessons on the names of different sushi. Why? Well, you’ll just have to learn those for yourself. Either way, you’re just going to mispronounce them anyhow. So what’s the point? This article will merely help you to be able to BS with the best of them when it comes to sushi talk.

Lesson One:

Well, becoming a sushi snob is simple, actually. Don’t let all those slabs of raw fish tell you any different. The first, and most important, lesson in becoming a sushi snob is to remember these few shorts words: Bad attitude, bad attitude, and bad attitude. That’s right. Having a bad attitude is all a part of the truly traditional sushi experience.

"But gee, Mike, how is having a bad attitude going to help me become a sushi snob?" Well if you would just shut up and quit arguing with me for a millisecond, then I’ll tell you how. You see, long ago — up until about 10 to 15 years ago — all sushi chefs in Japan had bad attitudes. Really. Sushi was considered a sort of culinary art and these sushi chefs showed their customers that they were deadly serious about their art by not joking around. (They were even more deadly if you were a fish — but that story will have to wait for another day). The customers would enter the sushi restaurant, bow their heads and say, "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu." This is difficult to translate for you English speaking savages as your language isn’t nearly as polite as Japanese, but a close translation would be, "Please take care of it for me." This would mean that the customer was bowing their head and asking for the sushi chef to deliver his best.

Nowadays, this type of sushi chef has gone by the wayside as the younger generation doesn’t like it when the sushi chef seems surly. Today’s sushi chef must smile to all the riff-raff who enter his studio of culinary art and fantastic taste. Oh, how I long for the old days. Things aren’t what they used to be; although they never were.

Lesson Two:

The second thing to remember about dealing with sushi snobs in the United States is that there are no good sushi restaurants in the entire country. Nope. None. Zip. Nada. They don’t exist. So being a sushi snob in the USA is kind of like being a cowboy in Tokyo: A tad bit ridiculous, wouldn’t you agree? A halfway decent sushi restaurant in anyplace Japan blows away the best you got in New York or Los Angeles. Okay, well, I do know of one good sushi restaurant in L.A. But you’d have to be out of your mind to pay $250 for some sushi that you can get anywhere in Japan for $15. What? Are you nuts? God, have a clue will you? Roundtrip airfare to Tokyo and back is only about $400 so figure it out.

And this works both ways, you see; for there is not a single decent burger shop in this entire country. And if you like Mexican food, well Japan is not the place for you! Ever have a taco that had cabbage instead of lettuce in it? Try it out sometimes and you’ll see what I mean. So you Yankees stick to your burgers, us Japanese will corner the market on the raw fish.

Okay, so now you have the confidence and bad attitude to go with it, you’re ready to go onto the next lesson.

Lesson Three:

No! No! No! What are you doing? You do not put the Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) directly into the small bowl of Shoyu (Soy sauce). No one wants to see your plate with some revolting muddy green sludge — a putrid floating pile of flotsam and jetsam — in it. Disgusting. Have you no class? Take your chopsticks and lift the raw fish off of the top of the Nigiri (raw fish on a small rice ball), turn it upside down. Place a small portion of Wasabi on the underside (now facing up) and dip the upper-side (now facing down) into the Shoyu. Do not touch the Wasabi into the Shoyu. Then replace the fish, right side up, back on top of the Nigiri and eat. Try not to get any Shoyu on the rice directly. Also, please, in-spite of yourself, don’t have little pieces of rice floating around in your Shoyu bowl either. What do you think this is, an Olympics swimming competition? Of course please refrain from using your unwashed fingers to touch your food — we’re trying to eat with adults who have some class and a proper upbringing. We’re not eating with a bunch of animals here. Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?

After eating each piece of Nigiri, take some Gari (Ginger) — and it had better not be red colored ginger, either — and chew it to clear your palate so that you may enjoy the fresh taste of the next piece of sushi. Repeat.

Lesson Four:

California Rolls and so-called Maki-Zushi (sushi that is rolled up in seaweed) is for kids and drunks who cannot hold their chopsticks. So we shall certainly not be ordering any of those. Now there will most definitely be some sushi snobs who will argue with me on this point. There might even be some sushi chefs who will take me to task on this. But let me remind you I am living in Japan. I know what I’m talking about. The guy who tells you otherwise is living over there, so he doesn’t know jack. And if a sushi chef from Japan tells you any different, then I can tell you that he is a youngster and doesn’t know the ancient ways of my people. Well, actually, eating sushi is not so ancient in Japan — but it sounds better that way.

Lesson Five:

Now that we are on the subject, here’s proof that there ain’t a decent sushi restaurant in America, East or West of the Mississippi river. It has to do with Wasabi. Real Wasabi is one of the most difficult plants to grow in the world. Few geographical areas are suited to grow it.

That green clump of "Wasabi" on your sushi plate (that you always get in America) is not actually Wasabi. It is green-colored Horseradish. Real Wasabi is a rhizome that must be peeled before grating. And when grating, it must not be grated on a metal grater. It must be grated on a sharkskin grater. Here is a picture of real Wasabi.

Now if your boss takes you to some place that doesn’t have these, then that’s a dead giveaway that he is not really up to par in being a sushi snob; he is nothing more than a despicable sushi-posuer; a ponce hair-dresser. If, by some miracle he does take you to a place that has real Wasabi, then that means you have passed the test! You have risen above. You have shown enough knowledge — or BS ability to become upper-management — to enter into the elite group of sushi snobs in your company. Congratulations.

Now get out of my sight. I hate sushi snobs.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has the distinction of being fired from every FM radio station in Tokyo — one of them three times. His first book, Schizophrenic in Japan, is now on sale.

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