A Japanese friend of mine texted me this on Valentine’s Day. This is how it is pronounced in English: “happī barentaindē!”
Not much lost in translation.
As a custom, it’s the women in Japan who observe this day, offering gifts to the men in their lives- usually chocolates. “Obligatory chocolates” are given to those you wouldn’t approach with a ten-foot chopstick romantically- speaking, while “chocolates of love” are meant to signify or express a more substantial yearning. If he is truly the one-and-only (and not a mere friend-with-benefits), the chocolates would, of course, be homemade. The men have their own day, called White Day, in which they return the favour plus some. The term sanbai gaeshi (“triple the return”) which is used to describe the etiquette of this day says everything. So, for the fiscally-challenged man or the dude who is couch-surfing in his parents’ house, he might be hoping not to receive any chocolates on VDay.
I went on a date to a sushi restaurant on Valentine’s Day here in Toronto. Nothing fancy. No reservations; no candles; no maitre’ d. Just one of those astonishingly average and ubiquitous sushi bars on Bloor Street that I have been to a few times. It was meant to be a casual date, since we had only met the previous week, but the moment we walked into the restaurant we realized we were in for something else entirely. Love (and lots of red streamers) was in the air. Whitney Houston was a poor choice to play in the background since her death was still so raw and deflected away from the light chatter I was hoping for. The lights were unusually dim- the fish took on the color of turnips just pulled from the soil- and even the usually morose sushi chefs seemed to have a lightness about them, occasionally smiling mischievously in my direction. Of course, the female servers had an exaggerated bounce to their step and the Milky Way in their eyes. I could read what was running through their minds: “Oh, that’s so sweet. How romantic.” “Look at them, so cute together.” The whole charade had a cloying, saccharine, and claustrophobic feel to it like we were all trapped in an elevator with a woman wearing cheap perfume. I don’t know if my date felt it, but I certainly did, and it made things a bit emotionally confusing for me. And it may have have also contributed to the over-playing of my aloofness- “compensation”, according to the great sex doctor, Siggy Freud.
Clearly, we had picked an inappropriate night to have a simple dinner. Valentine’s Day is, of course, a day when couples go out to celebrate their love for each other and, if permitted, to parade their affections publicly- why else would they be in a public space on presumably the most private of the big calendar days? Flaunt it to the fullest, thinks the cynic, even if you intend on breaking up the morning after. The food was mediocre as expected, the service was exaggerated in ‘niceness’, and we went separate ways that night. I went home and cozied up to a great book about solitude. Then I fell asleep and dreamed about a box of chocolates.
Moral of the story #1: Forget the DAY. The only longing I feel on Valentine’s Day is the one that draws me to a good book or better friend, and lots of wine.
Moral of the story #2: Come out to my singles sushi class, EATMYSUSHI. It’s a ton of fun, no pressure, lots of laughs, lifelong connections, and the odd (I have received two already) wedding invitation. Did I mention that is also VERY popular? Which is why I am doing a Twitter contest (it’s cute) for the limited number of seats (12 women/12men). Go to the CLASSES page to find out more info and email me if you have any questions. Lots of prizes to give away! At this single’s event, everybody walks away with something of value.
Please accept my most sincere apology for not having responded to your email about my broken string of promises for sushi classes in August and September. I have been burdened with an equally important, but much more pressing commitment: the opening of a second location of Liberty Noodle in the Eaton Centre. Many years of opening restaurants should have had me anticipating a later opening than planned, with all the delays in construction; of design pieces that just wouldn’t fit and had to be returned; the plumbing mishaps; the human resource challenges etc. And it was as a consequence of this that lead to my postponing the classes. I am happy to report, however, that the launch of the new restaurant, opened two weeks ago, has been an unqualified success. I hope you will be dropping by in the not-too-distant future to sample some of our dishes.
In the meantime, please accept my humble offering of make-up sushi-making classes for the following dates:
Saturday November 12th and Friday November 25th, both at 7:30pm.
Cost is $15 per person (not including taxes and 18% gratuity). As you may recall, this consists of making 2 sushi rolls (Spicy Tuna, California) and 2 handrolls (Salmon, Seafood Medley) and eating them too. This is the least I could do after leading you aimlessly back and forth from this site to Groupon’s and back again all these weeks.
Please feel free to email me directly (email@example.com) about which night might work best for you, using the following subject heading: “The Next Great Sushi Chef”. And feel free to comment or ask questions in the comment box below.
I hope all is forgiven and that you will be honoring me with your presence on one of those nights.
A video from the talented Trevor Tse. Gives a real impressionistic idea of the singles event. I have received one engagement party, and one wedding, invitation from this event. Will be catering the wedding.
Sushi and Romance- it works.
The one question I get asked at every sushi-making class is: “what is Sushi Grade fish?” It’s as inevitable as heartbreak. And it comes usually in response to my own question: “what are the first two words that come to mind when thinking about sushi?” The answer is, invariably: “fresh” and “raw”. So I tease the students by meandering around the issue and speaking to the total sushi-eating experience in North America. And sushi-eating is full of rot. Literally.
Consider soy sauce. A by-product of the miso-making process, which is as low-tech as it gets when it comes to making rotten food a gastronomic enterprise. You mash cooked soybeans and steamed rice, throw in a bit of salt for seasoning, infest it with koji-kin (an enzyme-producing mold) and let it sit in a warm, dank room for weeks, and out comes miso. The black tar-like liquid oozing out at the end of the process is soy sauce. Sure, full of glutamate, which our body craves, but rot nonetheless. Bonito flakes, just to cite another example, and one of the few key ingredients making up Japan’s ubiquitous seafood broth, dashi, is also a product of the koji-infested rotting process. And it is in everything we associate with eating sushi.
So, here is the truth about “Sushi Grade” fish: there is no such thing. Having said that, there are complexities, which will be discussed in another post. Suffice it to say for now that a truly sushi grade tuna, for instance, would have to be hauled onto a boat, killed, cleaned and gutted, and its flesh carved up immediately for consumption, to be considered Sushi Grade. And good luck to your teeth and gums in your attempt to chomp down on it. You might as well chew on a Goodyear radial tire. In truth, a fish becomes Sushi Grade depending on how long it has been dead. Each species of fish undergoes enzymatic breakdown at a different rate then every other. At Tsukiji market in Tokyo (and there is no less an authority), depending on how long each fish has undergone this process, they stick one of two stickers onto a fish for sale: “For Cooking” or “Sushi Grade”.
Timing is everything with dead fish. Decomposition adds to the flavor of fish just as it does to beef. For the latter, we call this process “aging”. Sushi Grade is determined by aging, too, but unlike beef, the longer you let it decompose, the more likely it will make you very sick. In North America, Sushi Grade is as much a marketing gimmick, allowing fishmongers to reach deeper into your pocket, as it is based on a widespread confusion about what happens from ship to table- from dead to even more dead. Further obfuscating the issue is the type and size of fish, as well as if it is caught in freshwater or saltwater.
“So, Sang, what do I do if I want to serve sushi at home for my friends and family?” For now, purchase only fish the fishmonger- even the $12/hr part-time student standing behind a counter at Metro- knows the origins of. Then, make sure that this jives with what credible organizations like Seafood Watch or Fish2Fork says is cool to eat, that by making fish purchases you will not be doing needless harm to the environment. Forget about the tags of “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade”. It means little at most fish counters. Or, at your own peril (and mine), buy mindlessly. It’s up to you. But if you are going to invite me to your sushi party and you can’t tell me where this “fresh” and “raw” fish is from, best you pass me the apron.
I will work the grill.
I receive emails all the time by gun-shy Casanovas who are unwilling to play footsies under the table unless there are enough damsels’ feet to play with. They’re statisticians, enjoy working the ratios. Generally, they prefer two to three female feet to each one of theirs. If they were not very good at math during school, they’re pretty good with numbers at a singles sushi-making class. And once they are satisfied with the odds, they pull out their Visa cards. If- and this happens more often than you can shake a chopstick at- I tell them that they waited too long, that all the seats are accounted for, that there is no more room, bribery is the next card they pull out.
“C’mon, we can work this out.”
“No. It’s too late.”
“Just give me a chance.”
“Sorry, you should have thought about it sooner.”
And, as it turns out, the more adamant I am about not giving in, the more fierce is their- how shall I say it?- ardor. Can it really be true of men (even when they are dealing with a heterosexual sushi instructor dude like me?): that every “no” is really a “yes” in disguise? That every “no” is really feigned protest, an obvious attempt at seduction? There is narcissism at work here, the kind that has the guy genuinely thinking “wait, this is NOT happening to me! This is me- The Dude.” They’re not getting the rose. So when they find themselves in a Bachelorette episode, they’re pretty certain that the show is really about them. The roses are meant for them- all of the roses. The truth is really less cynical than accusations of narcissism: there is a genuine fear of not getting lucky. They put up (in this case, $50 for a dinner) and didn’t even land a coffee date. It’s a fear we all live with: “will I be liked?”; “will I be picked last on the losing team?”; “will she choose the uninteresting, but (only just) better looking guy over me?”.
The boys in my singles sushi-making classes are cool, interesting, pretty serious about finding The Right One. Most of them have been around the corner of the singles bar enough times to make most of us dizzy. They just don’t like playing footsies under the table unless the odds are in their favor.
Dudes, you better move quickly for the next event. There are some beautiful feet under that table. And who knows, you might just find yourself in the right pair of shoes this time.