Facing My Darkest Fear

I came across an article the other day about dining etiquette. Always searching for ways to improve…okay, so fine, always searching for ways to complain about my fellow diners, I perused the article eagerly. Much to my dismay, it was a “how-to” on eating sushi. Did you know, you shouldn’t use a fork? Or chop sticks apparently. Sushi was meant to be eaten with one’s hands. Sashimi on the other hand, IS supposed to be eaten with chopsticks. Forks are just a no-go altogether. Go light on the soy sauce. Ginger is a palate cleanser, not a condiment.

So yes, I did read the article – I’m nothing if not tenacious…when reading. As for putting these dining rules to the test? That will be a resounding no, thank you very much. I have absolutely no desire ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever (to save blog space, just add about 100 more evers when you’re reading that) to ever eat raw fish in any form. But hey, it’s not my fault.

Ichthyophobia – “the fear of fish, eating fish, or touching raw fish.” Now, I love fish – to look at, that is. I used to keep Bettas (such beauties!) and I would love nothing more than to have a huge, complex tank set up with all kinds of different, beautiful aquatic creatures. The National Aquarium is one of my favorite places. However, the thought of going the distance by eating raw fish drives me into paroxysms of revulsion.  I guess that makes me a “super ichthyophobe.” In case you couldn’t tell, I just don’t like sushi.

Now a lot of my crazy insane sushi-loving friends give me a hard time about it, reminding me that hundreds of millions of people worldwide eat the stuff. They’ve even forced me to go with them to a sushi restaurant, determined to alter my views – forcibly if necessary (by forcibly, of course, I mean alcohol-induced). Upon relating my son’s green pea fiasco and explaining that he is after all, my son, and got his attitude will-power from my genetic contribution, they opted to forego their plan and I ended up, happily, with fried rice.

After giving it some thought, and following up on the old adage, “Know thine enemy,” I decided to do some research into the food that I hate. I discovered things that made me wonder even more, “Why in the hell do people eat that stuff?”

The first thing I discovered is that the meaning of the word “sushi” doesn’t have anything to do with fish.  Sushi is specially made vinegar rice. It is served in a wide variety of ways. Some common types are:

Nigirizushi (hand-pressed sushi) – A small, thumb-sized piece of sushi than can be topped with vegetables, cooked egg, fruit, and yes, even raw fish. Not sure why they have to ruin it with raw fish, but there you go.

Makizushi (rolled sushi) – These are the “rolls” you find on a menu. A bed of dried seaweed is laid down and then covered with sushi rice.  That can be covered in turn with a variety of vegetables, sauces, and yes, even raw fish (enough with the raw fish, already!). The entire thing is wrapped into a roll and cut into six or eight pieces and served. It can also be rolled into the shape of a cone and be eaten as a hand roll.

That doesn’t sound too daunting…except the fish part. Further exploration of my darkest fear led me to the real villain.  It wasn’t sushi.  I never realized that I could order sushi without raw fish.  My arch-nemesis is in fact, sashimi…raw fish!  That was the Kraken lurking in my subconscious terror.

I found that there were different levels of sashimi “adventure.” At the “basic” level the most popular types of sashimi are:

Maguro (Blue Fin Tuna) – This is the most popular type of fish for sushi and sashimi. Because of the worldwide demand for it, a whole tuna at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market can sell for over $70,000. Some restaurant owners, for the publicity, have paid over $1,000,000 for a whole tuna. I don’t know why.  To me it still reeks of fish Jell-O. And not in a good way.

Toro (Blue Fin Tuna Belly) – This cut is very expensive.  It’s very high in fat and supposedly melts in your mouth like butter.  I’ll take their word for it. I have no desire to eat a fatty tuna belly.

Uni (Sea Urchin Eggs) – Definitely a “no go” for yours truly. Ugh. This gooey stuff looks like something you’d find in a diaper. Seriously.

Ikura (Salmon Eggs) – Basically, caviar.  Been there, done that. Long story short, I was tricked, won’t happen again.

There are many more varieties of “basic” raw fish. But the basic level barely scratches the surface.  Here are some of the more esoteric types of sashimi:

Shirako (Cod Milt) – The male equivalent of caviar!  That’s all I’m saying about this. You figure it out. Google is your friend.

Fugu (Puffer Fish) – This can only be prepared by licensed chefs as the fish’s liver contains high levels of lethal neurotoxins.  In fact, one puffer fish contains enough toxin to kill 30 adult men. If prepared incorrectly for consumption, well, you get the idea. Um, yeah, no thanks. I have absolutely no desire to play Russian roulette with my dinner. Precariously calculating the number of tequila shots I can do where I’m at the point of not caring how I look on the dance floor but just shy of throwing up is the only risk I like to take while dining out.

Shiokara (Fermented Fish Viscera) – Viscera sort of gives this one away. It is said that every part of the pig can be used for food except the oink (blech). The same is true here. The insides of a fish are mashed and salted, then left to ferment. Yummmmmmm

So, yeah. I did my research. It hasn’t gotten me any closer to trying any form of sushi and/or sashimi in any way whatsoever. However, it has given me an arsenal of useful, albeit gross, trivia that I’m anxious to try out on my friends the next time we go to dinner. Anyone hungry?

 

 

Day Drinkers Club

There is a café in my town that recently expanded from a simple coffee shop to more complex food choices. It started with some fancy sandwiches, but quickly grew to have a fairly expansive menu. They offer breakfast, lunch, and even serve ice cream. Overall, the food is pretty decent. They’re not going to get a Michelin star anytime soon, but what they offer passes. The atmosphere is nice and it’s great to have someplace to spend time that isn’t McDonald’s or Starbucks. The prices are a little high for what you get, but outside of that I really have no complaints. I’m glad they’ve gotten enough business that they can branch out and offer more as time has gone on.

What’s puzzling is that in addition to breakfast and lunch they also just got their liquor license and are now serving alcohol. Shouldn’t seem too puzzling, I know. Most places that serve food also serve alcohol because sometimes you just want a glass of wine with that grilled cheese sandwich. But it’s not just wine. They have a sign espousing their wide variety of Irish coffees and they also serve cocktails.

The thing that vexes me is their hours. They close at 3pm every day.  Every. Day. There’s no dinner menu, only breakfast and lunch. Even with such an early closing time they still felt the urge to go through the hassle of getting that liquor license which isn’t exactly easy around here.

My question is, what kind of drinkers do they think we have in this town? Obviously, the day-drinking afternoon brunch variety. The kind that wants to tie one off in the early afternoon and then go back to work or home or wherever they might be headed, because come 3pm they kick you out.

I realize the need to add to your services in whatever way that will increase revenues, but it makes me wonder about the people in my town. How many of them have a buzz on when I’m passing them in the aisles at Walgreens after work? Who wouldn’t be able to pass a breathalyzer test by the time Ellen comes on? The hell with “it’s five o’ clock somewhere.” Come 7:30am all bets are off.

Jimmy Buffett should visit my town. He would be proud.

 

When Irish Eyes are NOT Smiling

As most of you know, I live in a very small, rural town, and it’s not as though people expect to go through our historic streets with the one traffic light and come across an Irish pub, let alone an authentic one. Believe it or not, though, we do have one…well, technically speaking anyway. In reality, what we have is a posh bar, with a fancy sign. You’d think the owners would at least try to make it a legitimate Irish pub, but there, you would be wrong. Oh sure, the menu is covered in clovers and Celtic knots and has elaborate dishes with the words ‘Irish’ and ‘Dublin’ liberally strewn about, but that doesn’t make it a decent Irish pub. Although I have yet to make my heart’s desire journey to Ireland, one thing I do know is pub food. As a matter of fact, there is a quintessential Irish pub about an hour away, so I do have that oasis…but still, it’s quite the hike for fish and chips, no matter how good it may be. And trust me, it’s amazing.

So when this new joint first opened, I had high hopes of ditching the long commute in my quest for bangers and mash, and the aforementioned fish and chips. But alas, those hopes were dashed like a bottle of Guinness caught in a wave against the Cliffs of Moher. My main gripe with this place is its hours and upscale, hipster vibe. It gives every impression of being an upper crust establishment, with upper crust prices for extravagant dishes you’d never see in Ireland, let alone any self-respecting pub. Calling a brie-cheeseburger covered in crab imperial (a Maryland specialty by the way) a Dublin Burger does not a Dublin Burger make.  I won’t even get into the portions that look like they’re meant for an elf, and a smallish elf at that. As for the hours – now I know my town rolls up its streets at dusk, but still…no self-respecting Irish pub closes before 10 PM on any given day. I mean hell, that’s when all the best drinking starts. I can’t be the only one who thinks that, right? Right!?

But their ploy is working, this bar was actually voted ‘Best Irish Pub’ in the area. Although given what else is in the area with regards to food and entertainment, maybe that’s not so hard to believe after all.