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Walking into the dimly lit, crowded restaurant, my first instinct was to walk right back out. I was in Chicago, why was I dining at some dive bar? I walked past the skimpily dressed hosts and was seated with the rest of my party at a large round table. My day had been wonderful up until that point; I had went to the top of the Sears Tower that morning, visited the Chicago Art Institute, dined at the Grace for brunch, and shopped along the Magnificent Mile. My stay at the Dana Hotel could only be rivaled by a luxury suite at the Westin. Everything on this trip had been absolutely perfect, up until this moment.
“You’re going to absolutely love sushi,” said Connie. “It’s the most amazing array of textures and flavors.”
As a chef, Connie Freiberg knew exactly what food was delicious, and what food was gross and inedible. I trusted her, to a point. I knew that I had to try everything at least once. However, I hated fish. I hated the texture, the taste, the color. Sushi was just raw fish and rice, wasn’t it? It seemed disgusting. I didn’t want to voice my opinion on the matter in case she would be offended, so I humbly agreed and pretended to be excited to try sushi.
Soon, the waitress came around to our table and asked us for our orders. I didn’t have the confidence to order sushi, so my boyfriend, Axel, gladly ordered for me. It’s a bit unnerving when you’re in the early stages of a relationship with someone and their family is in better economic standing than yours. It’s hard to know what to say and how to act when you’re afraid that your ‘peasantness’ will come out and make you seem like a fool. I hoped I didn’t seem standoffish towards their family.
Our appetizers came out shortly, and the sushi itself only moments after. Salted edamame, young soybeans picked and steamed within their pods, held a salty aroma and delightful texture. Following the suit of the others, I popped the pod lengthwise into my mouth and pulled it out between my teeth, extracting the tender soybeans from within. The mixture of the crunchy, yet soft, texture was a pleasant surprise, and the oaky flavor of the legume was extremely satisfying. I had noticed that the initial busyness of the restaurant hadn’t died down, but somehow had begun to feel calmer. My stress was diminishing, if only for a fleeting moment.
“First take your chopstick and dip it into the soy sauce and see if you like it. Here, try mine. I added some wasabi.” Axel told me. I did, and I liked the taste of the wasabi combined with the sauce. The spiciness of the wasabi combined with the sharp saltiness of the soy, yet it wasn’t overpowering. I swirled a conservative amount into my own soy sauce and optioned to add more shortly after.
“Then, grab a piece of sushi, dip it into your soy sauce and wasabi mixture, and try it.” Axel further instructed.
“Won’t it just fall apart? Do I put the whole thing in my mouth, just all at once like that?” I asked. I was trying to find a way out of eating this. I didn’t want to try it. It smelled fishy, quite unpleasant to me. Was there even raw fish on this? I almost vomited in my mouth. I could feel my anxiety begin to creep up. My heart rate was rising, I was beginning to sweat. I was more scared to try this food than I’d ever been in my life.
“You’re fine. Just do it.” Encouraged Axel.
“Hey wait though, I’m allergic to fish.” I lied.
“No, you’re not. You had shrimp this morning.” Protested Axel. “Besides, not all sushi has fish in it. It’s like pizza, almost. You just need your sushi rice and nori, and you can put whatever you want in it. This, for example, is a California roll.” He picked up one of the greenish sushi rolls. “It’s the most common sushi roll that you can get. All that’s in it is imitation crab, avocado, cucumber, sushi rice, and nori. No fish at all.” This made me feel a little bit better about the situation.
Slowly, I reached my chopsticks towards the piece of sushi. I gingerly picked it up, dipped the edge lightly in the soy sauce mixture, and raised the piece to my lips. I expected the worst. I bit down on the piece of sushi, and a multitude of flavors suddenly flooded my mouth. The crunch of the nori, the salt of the soy, the tender avocado, and the flavor of the delicate crab developed into a musical array of tastes and textures into my mouth that made me want to sing. It was the most delicious thing I had ever tried in my life! Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough. I chewed that bite quickly, and reached for another.
After a few more bites of the delicious California roll, I realized something. I would have never enjoyed this experience if I hadn’t have ended up tasting the sushi. Before I discovered the enjoyment of the delicacy, I was angry that I was in such a cruddy restaurant. My entire day had been absolutely perfect, and I felt angry that this was how it would have ended. I didn’t want to seem off putting to my boyfriend’s family, but that was really the only thing I was accomplishing. The vibe of the restaurant made me want to leave, but now that I was enjoying myself, I found several things about it that I liked. The open kitchen style left me staring in amazement as Japanese chefs created my sushi, and the décor of the restaurant seemed to give off a gorgeously modern and plush vibe. Even the colors of the sushi itself seemed to scream “Eat me and enjoy me!”, the vibrant oranges and pinks colliding with the green of the nori and the sharp white of the sushi rice.
Now that I was enjoying myself, I had finally realized that I needed to learn to try new things, even if I thought that I would hate them. Sushi taught me that I need to experience new things and ideas with an open mind. This attitude has since then opened many doors for me, in both my academic and social world, allowing me to be successful. This sushi experience was a waking moment for me, and it taught me a lot about my personality, and I am glad that I learned so much from it.
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