Daily life of the vegetarian #6
ONCE IN A while I get pondering life’s big questions, like “why the heck is sushi so popular?”
I was faced with this unanswerable question again this week on a visit to Tauranga, where I dutifully checked out the favourite sushi haunt of my Doctor Feelgood colleague, Ashley Kramer.
Located at 109 Devonport Rd, Sushi Takeaways (yes, I know, you’d think they’d be capable of a real name, but then again, it’s clear that their talent is in the kitchen, not making up names) does in fact make some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten. There’s a sizable selection of vegetarian sushi, and instead of the standard selections (no sign of the ubiquitous cucumber, carrot, egg and avocado) they’ve got very hotly spiced spinach sushi, eggplant sushi, great rice-balls and awesome field mushroom sushi.
But… you know what? It’s all just sushi. To me, it’s an unappetising dish, partly because it’s cold, but mostly because it’s made with tasteless, sticky white rice, held together by tasteless, dry nori (seaweed ‘paper’), and topped with fairly small amounts of salad ingredients, some of which are simply sliced or diced, others of which have been treated with sauces.
Don’t get me wrong, I can eat it, and it will fill my tummy, for a time. But I don’t get the sensual kick from sushi that I do from a really good meal, and it never feels like a real meal to me.
Probably the one exception in the sushi world is the tofu pocket, which comes encased in a delicious, tasty soft tofu shell, inside which is not just plain rice, but some magical blend that I have never analysed. You can even warm them up.
This might sound like sacrilege given that I’m married to a Japanese woman, but luckily, she hasn’t yet taken offence to my less than enraptured response to probably the majority of Japanese food items. But the thing is, even she doesn’t see sushi as something people should be consuming every day.
Sushi started out in Japan – and remains – an occasional food for special occasions. In New Zealand, as in other Western countries, it’s considered a kind of healthy alternative to all the junk food you can buy for lunch, and there’s no doubt that it is healthier than a burger and fries.
But really, the main ingredient in sushi is overly processed white rice that has lost most of its goodness; rice which is then treated with sugar to make it sticky and vinegar to preserve it while it’s waiting for a customer. Nori has to be good for you, but it’s paper-thin, so don’t count on that having much nutritional value. Then you’ve got the topping, or filling (depending on the design of that particular sushi). Fish eaters extol the benefits of sushi without considering the facts: that it’s precisely the burgeoning success of sushi bars in Western countries that is helping to deplete the planet’s waters of its fish. And then there’s the issue of pollutants like Mercury, which reside in dangerous doses in larger fish like tuna. But let’s not talk about fish, because we’re vegetarians and vegans. Let’s instead assume that with our sushi lunch we’re mostly getting carrots and avocado and creamed corn and cucumber and a few slithers of tofu. Is that really enough to make for a healthy lunch?
On top of that, most of us douse our sushi with generous amounts of soy sauce to give it some taste, without thinking about the fact that soy sauce is loaded with salt and, for the gluten-conscious out there, wheat.
But I shouldn’t be trying to make a case against sushi to justify the fact that I find it tasteless and unexciting on a culinary level. However, it’s true. GARY STEEL