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Archive for August, 2009

Bento Buffoonery?

Almost on cue, following my epic fail of a sushi expedition, I got an email from one of my close friends, telling me that they were sorry they had missed my birthday, and that they wanted to make up for it. Attached to the email was an electronic gift card to Jlist!(she knows me well haha) Now I’ve always wanted a bento box, and in 3-5 days time, thanks to my awesome friend, I’m going to have one.

Hopefully that will mean a semi weekly segment ala Leang’s, chronicling all my bento buffoonery. I’m really looking forward to escaping the drudgery of the dining hall, as well as being able to make real lunches at home the night before work; at least for the next few weeks that I’ll be able to call it home that is. I’ve already been planning the first few dishes, and like pots full of steam, I’m ready to get it crackin’.

If you’re interested in bento boxing yourself, some great places for reading and recipes are:

justbento.com

lunchinabox.com

annathered.wordpress.com

More to come soon.

When Patrick Bateman cant get reservations...

When Patrick Bateman can't get lunch reservations...

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Sushi in the Swamp

Heaven help me, I've seen its face!

Heaven help me, I've seen its face!

For the first 18 years of my life, sushi was an utter mystery. Despite living in coastal Florida, sushi was hardly a staple food. My need for protein rich food on the cheap, dictated by my life in sports, also failed to help the cause, as did a serious shellfish allergy. Sushi just didn’t seem to be in the cards for me. It took a move to the northeast for college, and the browbeating of my girlfriend to finally get me to try it. As always seems to be the case, her instincts were spot on. The first time we went out for sushi, I was so assured I was going to hate it that I insisted that we eat something familiar beforehand(damn you Angry Whopper!). Sweet Jesus was I wrong. I’ve never since been as unabashedly angry at wasting money and precious stomach space on fast food. Now, I’ve become something of a dabbler, even venturing so far as to make my own rolls on occasion(a prospect that invariably never ends as well as I hope), yet until this spring break, I’d yet to try down home Florida sushi. That experience led the girlfriend and I to come away a bit more than disappointed. After living amongst the relative smorgasbord of New York and New Haven, the fish just as wasn’t fresh…something I found mind boggling considering we were steps from the ocean. Call me a simple man, but when a sushi restaurant’s ‘most popular roll’ section leads off with the Kentucky Fried Chicken roll, something is amiss.

But being he of slightly more than little faith, I decided to give my quest another go this summer.

The result was like so many other things in Florida, a dumbed down version of something, made more for people looking to reminisce than for people looking for something new and exciting. Of the three places I patroned, not one would I go to again. What was the deal? The ambiance was there, as were all the subtle touches, like real green tea made with powdered leaves, and soy sauce with all the sodium. But the fish seemed just thawed, not just caught. The rolls themselves put more emphasis on the sauces and toppings than the fish. Even the rice fell apart. The only consistency was how bad each restaurant was, and that they each inexplicably had a KFC roll. Given the fact that at each restaurant, I was accompanied by a different person, one being my father, hardly a picky, the other two being friends who were wildly different in their food preferences, all of whom were unequivocally unenthusiatic about the sushi, made me feel safe in assuming that the sushi was just empirically bad.

But this isn’t a uniquely Floridian problem. Yes we are essentially a retirement community for New York and New Jersey, but this is a nationwide problem. How does this sort of disappointment always happen? Why is it our culture to badly misappropriate things? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy American ingenuity as much as the next guy, but sometimes, being appreciative of a culture and its food means leaving well enough alone. As much as our collective palate has been shocked and corralled to where the fast food and convenience food industries want us, people now more than ever appreciate tastes other than sweet and savory. A little fresh or even ~gasp~ raw food goes a long way these days. Taking a cookie cutter approach to sushi belies a tradition of balancing the delicate flavors of a variety of ingredients, and instead eliminates the conceived risk by sticking to what works; slathering something in a sauce and hoping it goes down easy. What in other countries is a respected culinary craft has become something of a line order cook; just throw some stuff together and hope for the best.

Perhaps making my own sushi gave me a sense of how difficult it really is. Perhaps it makes me appreciate it all the more when it is done right. So while my amazing first experience has yet to be topped, I’ve always found enough good to live through the bad; but that trend could change. What I do know is that while I love the explosion in sushi popularity, I hope the quality sees an equal upswing, or it will quickly become another fad food(I’m looking at you ostrich) in many places, even some that seem natural locations for the good stuff. In the mean time, I’ll just have to wait for school to start.

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