Monday, August 11, 2008

Of Turning Japanese And Hi Sshou

Here's a theory: There are three kinds of people in the world -- (1) those who like sushi, (2) those who don't and (3) those who still don't know what it is.

It's not as bold or insightful as The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention by the Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman's, which states "No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's." But it pretty much sums up what I've learned about other people in relation to the now world-famous sushi since my own discovery of the delectable Japanese delicacy several years ago. By the way, the Golden Arches Theory has since been disproven.

My theorizing was a result of two seemingly unrelated events brought together by a common ingredient: my dining at hi sshou last Thursday and my reading of Sasha Issenberg's The Sushi Economy, Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy.

Hi Sshou

The Land of the Rising Sun is a little over five thousand kilometers away. But a mere twelve MRT stations and three bus stops away from City Hall, tucked innocently in a corner of the Pasir Ris Community Centre lies hi sshou, a little Japanese getaway, if only for an hour of good food.

It was a good thing that my dinner date, who opted for a combination of sushi and sashimi from the menu, was also fond of Japanese food. I went for the bento set, which was comprised of miso soup, assorted sashimi, chawamnushi (custard steamed in a cup), fried chicken, mackerel, rice and a bowl of fruit dessert.

I was happy with my choice as it was as satisfying as I remember it. The bento set was really filling but the serving sizes for the sushi and sashimi were rather small in comparison to other restaurants and sushi bars. As for the ambiance, there is noticeable improvement from last year's; the lighting must have done the trick.

Would I be going back to this restaurant anytime soon? You bet!

Turning Japanese

I wasn't always a fan of raw food. I started out with the less demanding Japanese cuisines such as shrimp tempura, yakitori (skewered chicken), tonkatsu (breaded deep-fried pork), yakisoba (fried noodles) and agedashi dofu (deep-fried tofu) before eventually moving on to the maki, then the sushi and finally graduating to the sashimi. Once I had discovered the irresistably chunky, otherwise evanescent, juicy, fatty flesh of fish and had grown accustomed to the potent yet exhilarating combination of wasabi and soy sauce, I was hooked.

Going back to the theory, over the years I have found friends who also have a liking for Japanese food, the raw stuff included. One such friend is Odie. Together, we went around looking for authentic Japanese restaurants. We were quite successful at the endeavor that we were soon bringing other friends, especially those who have had a chance to live in the "sun-origin" archipelago for a number of years, to the restaurants we really liked. Most of the time, they confirmed our findings.

Of course, also all around us were people of the second kind, the ones who have declared they didn't like sushi, sashimi or even the California maki.

"I don't like Japanese food, particularly the ones with raw fish."

"Why?", I ask.

"I don't know. I just don't like them."

"Have you ever tried them before?", I try to probe deeper.

"Umm.. Not really."

Such conversation reminds me of a former boss's story who had taught his kids to try a particular food before saying they didn't want it. His advice to his kids, "It's stupid to say you don't want something until you've given it a try."

His advice backfired when once, they had a guest whom they offered some food but had refused. One of his kids bellowed, "Daddy, is he stupid? Because he hasn't tried the food yet but he's already saying he doesn't want it."

I can name a few people off the top of my head who initially thought they didn't like sushi but changed their minds after their first try. The most recent one was Chung Mon, who gave me a lunch treat at Sakae Sushi in Harbourfont a few days before I permanently left my former company of six months.

This is not to suggest that it's wise to try every food there is before deciding if one likes it or not. However, it might be a good idea to know the reason behind the disliking. Is it the taste? The smell, perhaps? Possible high mercury levels in sushi can be a real concern especially for those who are pregnant. Anisakiasis, a parasitic disease, might be another thing to be wary about but this has been more or less addressed by the process of freezing the meat before it gets to its final destination.

To complete the theory, there's the third kind. I really can't blame the guy if he's a vegetarian. But someone else:

"Hey! You wanna go eat sushi tomorrow?"

"What's that?

"Come with me and you'll find out!"

He'll either be among the first or the second kind after that.

On The Sushi Economy

It's a great book if you want to learn about how that Japanese delicacy made its travel all the way from Land of the Rising Sun in the previous century to the sushi bars of the present; all in celebration of globalization. Among other things, get to know about The Day of the Flying Fish, how the favorite part of the tuna nowadays was once saved for cat food and how General MacArthur might have had a hand in raising the price of tuna.

By the way, you might chance upon kids practicing their kung fu in the open area near the Pasir Ris Community Centre after your dinner at Hi Sshou. It's a delightful treat as well.

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