the first time i ate sushi i popped the dollop of wasabi into my mouth and swallowed it whole . . . it took a few seconds before the vapors hit my sinuses . . . and a few seconds more before my eyes started to water. and then, i heard the siren of an ambulance going by, and i remember having the hope that it was coming for me.
it was the late 70s and i was visiting a friend, diana, in new york city. she asked me if i liked sushi, and suggested we have lunch at a japanese restaurant. "sure thing" i responded not wanting to admit to the sophisticated, modern, diana, that i had never eaten raw fish, edamame, or seaweed before. coming from a small farm in greenville, indiana, my experience with ethnic foods wasn't just green, it was chartreuse. i thought the strange, rectangular plate set down in front of me looked like a little stage. and, i was just glad to see some rice on it . . . rice, i had eaten before.
after i regained my composure from the wasabi blast, i learned from my naive mistake and followed diana's lead on how to proceed with the meal. she took me on a journey into the exotic, fresh tastes of the cuisine, and i remember being delighted with the surprises that came with each bite. crunchy and smooth textures. delicate and bold flavors. cold fish and hot wasabi. it all resonated like timpani and triangles banging and pitching into my senses.
i have eaten nigiri, maki, and sashimi countless times since that blunder in the japanese restaurant with diana. and every time, the symphony of flavors underscores my pleasure in eating it. i actually crave it sometimes. so i taught myself to roll maki with a sushi mat– that way i can have it whenever i get the urge. serve these vegetarian california rolls with an entree of teriyaki-marinated tuna. or serve them with some tofu and miso soup for a vegetarian meal. but please heed this advice, make sure you dilute the wasabi!