This post is dedicated to my dear friend Sean Rogers who drunkenly advised me that I must write this story in no fewer than 4 to 6 pages.
At 18, I didn’t have the broadest of palates. My culinary adventures had taken me as far as Americanized Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese food, which, to be honest, was fairly impressive considering I ordered my McDonald’s hamburgers plain through age 16. Even still, I preferred my potatoes instant and my green beans canned. I know this because when a family friend brought us green beans fresh from her garden, I felt convinced my mother had prepared them wrong – she’d either undercooked or overcooked them. Vegetables weren’t supposed to be such a vibrant shade of green, and they certainly weren’t meant to crunch like that. But I did as I was taught throughout my girlhood and took “three big, brave Girl Scout bites” before I set my fork down and declared myself finished with dinner.
Girl Scouts had seldom steered me wrong in life: I’d been lucky enough to behold jars of preserved animal hearts permeated by skinny, yellow worms in thick, glass jars back when my ambition was still to become an animal surgeon, despite sobbing uncontrollably every time a dog died on Animal Planet’s Emergency Vets; I’d gotten over my fear of spiders; and I’d even met my best-friend-to-be, Christine, at various events (although we wouldn’t become consistent friends until a basketball game in my hometown, where I sat with my cousin Austin and his best-friend-at-the-time, David, who, when Christine ventured over, asked to borrow her lip gloss and went on to eat it).
So when Christine and I ended up at a sushi bar in Nebraska on the first leg of our road trip (before the creepy trucker guy encounter here, but not much before), I felt, if not appetized by the thought of eating raw anything, determined. Christine’s friend Kayla directed us to the place: Blue Sushi Sake Grill. The place certainly looked cool, which I expected at this point, because Kayla had proved to be a good guide to the city so far. Inside, everything glowed blue as if we were underwater and fish swam in tanks throughout the dining room, which made me feel vaguely uneasy – not that raw has to mean freshly dead or recently alive.
In fact, the only time I’d encountered sushi before was at Chinese buffet-style restaurants; once, my dad and I had dared to put what must have been a piece of raw fish on top of a square clump of white rice onto our plates. Neither of us had the gall to actually put one in our mouths.
Christine and I both stared at the menu as if it were written in a foreign language. I probably read it half a dozen times without much comprehension. Eventually, Kayla ordered for us: a California King Roll. And snap peas. Either that, or the snap peas automatically came with. I didn’t pay too much attention, because I kept my eyes fixed on the aquarium situated in the top, left-hand corner of the room.
When our order came out, first thing first, we took pictures of it, because if you don’t take pictures of your food, it doesn’t really exist. (1)
Once I selected the piece I wanted, I stared at it for a while. Once I finally braved up and shoved the piece into my mouth, I felt overwhelmed. The thing about sushi is that once it’s in your mouth, it commands your full attention: it fills your mouth with its size, taste, and texture, and there’s no way out of your senses. You can’t mindlessly eat sushi the way you can munch on, say, potato chips.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
However, in my case, my body rebelled against my head:
Head/Mind: This is food. This is food. This is food. We like food. We put food into our mouth, chew it, chew it some more, and then swallow it. This is food.
Body: This is the worst thing you’ve ever put in your mouth.
And so I gagged.
Kayla suggested I try again with some soy sauce and passed it over.
Head/Mind: Good idea. Maybe that will help!
Body: Okay, no. Now this is the worst thing you’ve ever put in your mouth.
Cue gag reflex.
Lucky for me, Christine had her camera ready to commemorate the moment. (2)
We decided that, for me, it must be a texture issue. Christine and Kayla handled the sushi just fine and finished off the roll while I ate most of the snap peas and tried not to be too embarrassed about my unsophisticated taste.
Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest and can see the Puget Sound from my dangerously unscreened apartment windows, it seemed a downright shame that I’d never in my life consumed sushi. (Let’s face it – it just isn’t fair to say you’ve eaten something just because it mixed with your saliva for thirty seconds and ended up in a napkin.) In six months, the opportunity hadn’t presented itself, and I’ll admit I hadn’t sought after it. Even after hearing coworkers boast about this or that restaurant. One such coworker informed me that she went out with her two sons for sushi the night prior – her sons who are both about a decade and a half younger than me.
Something had to be done.
(To be fair, something would’ve been done sooner, but Greece doesn’t really do Japanese-style restaurants; who knew?)
The conversation involving my experience with sushi was starting to get old:
Them: Do you like sushi?
Me: Well, I’ve only had it once. In Nebraska.
Them: * disconcerted face(s) *
Me: I know, I know. Nebraska is even more landlocked than Iowa.
Them: Good thing you live in Seattle now!
So I took a bus to Portland to meet up with my friend Emily. We both grew up in Charles City – America’s Hometown. On multiple occasions in our youth we hung out in a closet full of mattresses at Washington Elementary School, where we danced and sang to the Spice Girls on cassette while my brother did his speech therapy with her mother. Needless to say, I felt confident enough that if I gagged on sushi in front of her, no lasting damage to our friendship would ensue.
She drove us to a place on Division Street, which looked as nice and quaint as every other street I saw in Portland. Honestly, Portland looked like what I’d expected of Seattle: small, quaint, and lovely with lots of local color. Since I’d never been to the region, I figured I didn’t do too badly – I’d only overshot my vision by three hours. We took our seats in a booth with a view of the bar. Some of the décor included plastic masks – one of which I recognized as Pickachu. Per usual, I stared at a menu for entirely too long, until, with a little counsel, I decided on a Spicy Salmon Roll.
I would’ve liked to do a fair comparison between the California Rolls; however, back in September, I ate eight stuffed mushrooms and subsequently had a minor allergic reaction (3); I’ve since sworn off all the included ingredients until my parents visit for Christmas. Once they’re here, I’ll happily eat a crab cake and risk my throat swelling shut, because if anyone’s going to rush me to the hospital or accompany me in an ambulance, it’s damn well going to be my mommy and daddy.
Once the roll arrived, I took a few minutes (yes minutes) to maneuver my chopsticks, and then continued the tradition of staring at my food. I wished I could cut it in half and made a half-hearted attempt to do so, but of course, that’s not how sushi works. After a deep breath and a silent prayer, I put it in my mouth. Again, I felt overwhelmed by the experience: size, texture, taste.
With the first few steps of the digestive process accomplished and my mouth emptied, I exclaimed: “Oh thank God!”
After – but not before I had a chance to check out and photograph the bidet (4), as I’d developed the habit of taking pictures of strange toilets when studying abroad in Greece – we went for ice cream at Salt and Straw. There, I sampled the Honey Lavender, Peppermint Cocoa, and Strawberry Honey Balsamic Ground Pepper flavors. I ordered the latter, and once I’d finished I wished I’d tasted the Pear Blue Cheese as well. And I would’ve, too, except dirtying three tiny silver sampling spoons already seemed like enough.