I do not like sashimi. This might seem surprising since Ivan is Chinese Indonesian and I enjoyed a decently multicultural upbringing. But the fact remains – I do not like sashimi. You could almost say I detest it.
My unfortunate dispensation toward raw fish began at age seven, when my family moved to San Gabriel while Dad was in seminary. San Gabriel is a fascinatingly diverse area of Los Angeles, where over half the residents identify as Asian, and less than a quarter identify as white. What I remember noticing about it the most was that I couldn’t read very many signs. It was difficult to find affordable housing while Dad was in school, but somehow my parents heard that an apartment complex in San Gabriel needed new managers and they applied for the job. After all, apartment managers live rent-free.
The complex owner, a businesswoman from Hong Kong, invited my parents to dinner to “seal the deal,” and Mom and Dad asked to bring us along since childcare was as unaffordable as rent at that time. Ms. Dong agreed – although I’m sure this was not what she had in mind – and we found ourselves in a dimly-lit Cantonese restaurant in the heart of San Gabriel. It bears mentioning that we were still relatively fresh from the South, so everything about the restaurant and Ms. Dong’s business dinner was bewildering. First off, she ordered the whole meal. Americans are used to selecting their entrees individually, but in many Asian settings the host orders dinner for the entire table. This was disorienting but ended up being expedient since I don’t think my parents could decipher the menu.
Then there was sake. Sake is a heated rice beer, and is often part of sealing business deals. Except my parents didn’t drink. My seven-year-old self fixated on the sake immediately, and was so curious to see what Mom and Dad would do with it that I didn’t pay attention to the unfamiliar foods they were spooning onto my own plate. I’m assuming that Mom didn’t really notice what she was serving me, either, since she hates most kinds of seafood. I can imagine her forcing me to taste the sashimi out of sheer politeness – and possibly out of guilt about the forthcoming sake debacle – but I can’t imagine her letting me bite into a piece of raw fish with zero warning.
Yet that is exactly what happened. I remember looking down at my plate and marveling that Asian people ate giant slices of raw carrot. I remember chasing the three-inch orange oval around my plate with my chopsticks unsuccessfully. (The fact that its texture was decidedly not that of a raw carrot must have escaped me.) I remember finally chomping down on my prize and being horrified by the tough, juicy, fishy thing that was everything a fresh garden vegetable is not. Somehow I swallowed it. I was so mortified by my non-carrot morsel that I can’t even tell you what my parents did with their sake.
The dinner must have gone decently well, however. Mom and Dad managed the complex until a rental house opened up next to the seminary, and we greatly expanded our knowledge of Asian culture during our time in San Gabriel. Dad went on to serve at a Mandarin church, where I developed a deep and enduring love of most Chinese food…except anything to do with fish. (I realize sashimi is technically Japanese, but still.)
Fast forward to dating Ivan. We hadn’t been together very long when he brought up the dreaded “S” word. His family had driven down to Riverside to attend his senior piano recital one weekend, and they took me out for my first taste of Indonesian food before they drove back up to Northern California. (Ivan describes Indo food as something like a blend of Indian and Thai cuisine). I thought it was delicious but rather tame compared to some of the edgier Mandarin dishes I’d sampled as a kid, and apparently this analysis emboldened him to bring up the one category of Asian food I desperately wished to avoid.
“How do you feel about sushi?”
“Uh, sushi?” I froze. I could either play the dumb white girl who didn’t understand what sushi was, or agree to go on a sushi date and choke in front of him. “I don’t really like raw fish.” Dumb white girl it was.
“Yeah, but you wouldn’t be eating straight raw fish. Sushi has sauce, and seaweed, and rice, and all sorts of things. Sashimi is raw fish.”
Of course it was. But I was (irrationally) hoping that ignorance could somehow rescue me from the whole predicament. I felt sure that if Ivan got me in a sushi bar, I would wind up eating sashimi all over again. “I dunno, raw fish just really grosses me out. Even with all that rice and wrapping and stuff. I bet you can still taste it’s raw.”
“I’m serious! Sushi is a whole other thing. It’s totally different from sashimi. Promise.” Ivan looked so sincere – and like he so sincerely needed me to try sushi – that I realized I was at a crossroads. Dating him was going to mean revisiting things I thought I knew about myself, and things I thought I knew about Asian culture. I’d entered our relationship confident that my childhood had given me all I needed to be the ideal intercultural girlfriend. This sushi dilemma was a micro-issue, but it alerted me to the fact that I might not be as ideal as I thought I was.
“Okay.” I sighed. “But this is a one-time thing. And absolutely no sashimi.”
“That works. I’m pretty sure you’ll find something to like. And if not, there’s always those California rolls. But what’s with this whole sashimi thing?”
I debated divulging my childhood trauma this early in the relationship. “Umm…why don’t I try it first, and then, umm…tell you later.”
I did tell Ivan my sashimi story later, albeit not during that first sushi lunch. He reacted more compassionately than I expected, even refraining from ordering sashimi until I finally observed that he could eat whatever he wanted as long as he stayed on the other side of the table. I’m pretty sure I ordered a California roll for our first lunch, and for many lunches afterward. (California rolls are made mostly from avocado and cucumber, plus a little raw crabmeat in the center.) Eventually I did take my life in my hands with other “safe” choices like salmon rolls, tuna rolls, and yellow tail rolls, but I confess that California rolls are still my favorite. The salmon and tuna ones are often too fishy – unless they’re prepared just right – but yellow tail is a decently solid choice.
Needless to say, I still do not like sashimi.