A few weeks ago, I went to dinner with a coworker of mine, George. George is the most serious connoisseur of sushi that I’ve ever met (not counting sushi chefs themselves). We just went to the sushi place across the street, but George has developed a relationship with one of the chefs there, and that transformed the experience into something different. For one thing, this was the first time I saw someone hand-annotate the a la carte sushi menu to request a combination of sashimi, sushi, and hand rolls. Plus, we wrote in a sushi roll that wasn’t on the menu. A whole new world! Afterwards, George and I discussed our various theories of what consisted of levels, or dividing lines between various sushi eaters. First, I present my general theory of sushi diner progression:
- Cooked sushi. Basically california rolls, cucumber rolls, and the like.
- Raw fish (not sashimi). This starts with tuna and salmon and progress from there.
- Differently textured raw seafood. Octopus, squid, clam, flying fish roe.
- Salmon roe.
- Fried shrimp heads
Basically, this is a progression from the familiar to the unfamiliar in the American palate. Obviously, it isn’t a hard and fast progression, but it roughly corresponds to my own progression and to that of other friends that I’ve seen. YMMV. George basically agreed with my theory, but insisted that it was only half the picture. The key, he said, was saba (mackerel). Now, in my progression, typical Americans will eat saba fairly early on – it is just another form of raw fish, after all. But they won’t like it. But once it becomes your favorite, and you can convince the sushi chef that it is your favorite, then the relationship with the sushi chef changes, and they start to take you seriously. Saba is apparently the first step to the Japanese sushi progression. We had saba (sashimi) that night, and I have to admit, I thought it was pretty good. Of course, we started the meal with the fried shrimp heads.