One of my friends is a sushi chef. I’ve been begging him for forever to please teach me the secrets of making sushi. At first I thought he was brushing me off because he was nervous, worried about me becoming a better sushi chef than he is. I told him there’s no reason to be afraid, that I’m not after his job. But he kept telling me stuff like, “Go search on the Internet,” or, “Just look at some Youtube videos.”
I thought he was just being an asshole, but finally, one day after months of nonstop asking him, every single day, he agreed. Apparently this is the first test in becoming a sushi chef, constantly begging, not stopping the begging, not even for one day, even though your requests are flatly denied. It’s like getting into Fight Club, but much more annoyingly.
Sushi is an ancient tradition that stretches back thousands of years. I didn’t know that. Did you? My sushi teacher told me it on day one of my training. There would be a lot of history lessons. Like, for example, do you know what sushi means in Japanese? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the name of the guy who created sushi, thousands of years ago. Mr. Sushi. He used to just call it “food,” not in English, obviously, but in Japanese. But over the millennia, his name, sushi, became synonymous with his style of cooking.
Too many lessons. “When are we going to get to the sushi making?” I whined and complained. Finally my sushi sensei took out his knives, big knives, little knives, a spatula. Wait a second, a spatula? “Since when do you need a spatula to make sushi?”
I didn’t realize that, according to the thousand year old technique of learning how to be a sushi chef, one cannot learn the art of sushi without first learning the art of hibachi. “Why?” I asked. I didn’t want anything to do with hibachi. I didn’t even have a hibachi grill. But apparently the guy who invented sushi, his brother invented hibachi. You know what his name was? Yep. While Sushi was a better chef, Hibachi was better at passing things down from generation to generation. And so, riding on the coattails of his brother’s successful culinary style, he insisted that anybody wanting to learn how to cook sushi had to first master Japan’s second favorite type of food, hibachi.
Hibachi’s rules are exacting, demanding. Even more lessons. Did you know that every house in Japan has at least one giant hibachi table per kitchen? It’s a law. I didn’t believe it, but it’s true. Also shocking, even homeless people have hibachis. That’s a law also. You’re basically not allowed to do anything in Japan unless you have a huge hibachi grill.
As my sensei patiently taught me the time honored Japanese tradition of quickly chopping up a white onion and layering it on the grill to look like a volcano, I would ask questions, like, “What if you’re living by yourself and you want to use the hibachi, do you have to go through the whole juggling of the salt and pepper shaker? My teacher stood there, nodding. Exactly. Every single time, the traditions must be honored.
I finally passed the hibachi final exam: by using only my spatula, I had to skin, season, and expertly grill five jumbo shrimp. But that was the easy part. The hard part was using a spoon to leverage the spatula into a sort of catapult. And then I had to fling each shrimp into my sensei’s open mouth. Mild applause. This is what history tasted like.
Finally, finally it was time to start learning about sushi. I learned everything. The rolling. The cutting into sushi pieces. The art of placing it on a wooden serving boat to feed large parties of people. I learned about all-you-can-eat sushi specials. I learned how to combine that special with the celebrated tradition of all-you-can-drink sake-bombs. I can’t overemphasize the importance of a strict two hour time limit. Also, if you break any of the glasses, two dollars will automatically be added to your bill. Fatty tuna’s going to cost you a little extra.
Did you know that the city of Philadelphia was actually named after the Philadelphia roll, and not the other way around? I didn’t know that. After I mastered the perfect Philadelphia roll, there was just one more challenge I had to conquer before I could join the ranks of the sushi chef. “Your final test is,” I was really nervous. I didn’t know what was in store for me, “A wasabi-eating contest with me, your sushi chef.” And he took out this grapefruit sized ball of wasabi.
After I destroyed him, we both sat there on the floor, nursing our wasabi burnt stomachs. “Rob, you’re one of us. You did it. Welcome.”
“Thank you, sensei.”
“Just remember, use this information wisely. Keep it secret. We’ve been honoring this pledge for thousands of years. Do not tell anybody else about how to make sushi unless they can pass all of the trials you have completed here today. Don’t mention it. Don’t talk about the tests, about any of this. Understand?”
And that’s when I was like, “No way buddy, I’m telling everybody. This stuff is crazy. I couldn’t have made any of this up if I tried. Sayonara sucker!”
And so, yeah, I went right home and wrote this all up.