The Wasabi Warrior

I never ate a strawberry until I was fourteen years old. Ranch, as it turns out, is a condiment I like, which I discovered my sophomore year of college. I ate a plum for the first time this year. Pickles are a new addition to my diet. And sushi is a food category I began enjoying when I was eighteen.

These are all examples of my ignorance with food. I’m from a very small town that boasts culinary diversity such as pizza, subs, and ice cream. That’s it. I hear they have a Chinese restaurant now, but it was too late for me. So I am a professional at pizza, subs, and ice cream. I am seasoned (or perhaps more accurately “unseasoned”) with these food groups.

I also used to be an incredibly picky eater. I was timid about food. Very particular about what I ate. And so when I moved away, I was surrounded by all these new food possibilities and a new courage for my taste buds. I’m not such a picky eater now, and I try to learn about new food when the opportunity arises. I’m getting there.

With that as a preface, you can now understand this story a little better.

My boyfriend Bryson and I went out to eat the other day. We chose to eat at a Japanese Steakhouse that we both like, because we were in the mood for crab rangoon and sushi.

At the Japanese steakhouse, we ordered crab rangoon and sushi. I usually get the same sushi every time–the Philadelphia roll–and so I decided I wanted to try something different. After reading through all the descriptions, I found one that sounded good.

“I’ll have the volcano roll,” I ordered.

After the waitress collected our menus and left, Bryson turned to me and asked, “Do you know what you ordered?”

“What?”

“Volcano?”

I hadn’t thought anything about the name “volcano,” but upon his prompting I considered. ‘It is a Japanese steakhouse… I am ignorant about food,’ I thought.

“Oh my god,” I said. “Do you think it’s going to be huge? Are they going to bring out a volcano?”

“Oh, I wasn’t thinking about that,” Bryson said. “I mean is it gonna be too hot?”

Shit. I’m a lot better about spicy food than I used to be, but I still would never apply hot sauce as a condiment. So if it was anything hotter than “mild salsa,” it would probably be a bit much for me to eat… And I was starving…

I started stressing out about my volcanic meal–that is, until the crab rangoon came out and I cheered up. Crab rangoon is so good, and it’s something that’s so hard to do wrong. Every time I order Chinese food, I’m splurging on crab rangoon.

Bryson and I were winding down on the crab rangoon when our sushi arrived to dinner. He ordered a variety of sushi, which came out on a long, rectangular plate, and mine? Well, there was no volcano, but there was a plastic miniature cherry blossom tree adorning my plate. Six beautifully dressed sushi sat in the shade of this cherry blossom tree.

“What do I do with this? Can I eat it?” I asked, picking up the cherry blossom tree. “Like in Willy Wonka?”

“Let me get a picture,” Bryson said, pulling out his camera.

“This is so extra,” I said, putting the tree down and smiling for the picture. “If anything, I’d want a plastic volcano on my plate.”

The sushi didn’t look too hot, though; they were beautiful little rolls with red and orange sauces drizzled across the top. I was excited to try it.

So, knowing what you know about how I am with food, it’s likely no surprise to you that I can’t use chopsticks. I haven’t really tried, but it’s never been that important to me to learn when I have tools like forks and live in America. I mean, all I’m saying is that I can eat rice with a fork and it still works out, so I haven’t been motivated to master that skill. So when I eat sushi, I usually use a fork or my hands. I’m not proud of it or anything, but it works and I enjoy the food regardless of how it gets in my gullet so no harm, right?

Well, harm. The sushi rolls were kind of big for one bite, so for some reason I decided to cut it in half with the side of my fork. Which didn’t really work out too nicely. The seaweed wasn’t cutting and the whole roll got disassembled and so I just had to take a couple bites of it to get the whole thing.

If you haven’t eaten sushi at a formal restaurant, then you should be aware that with sushi, they serve a portion of ginger and a petite dollop of wasabi on the corner of your plate. Typically, I do not partake in these sushi additions. I leave them on my plate untouched and offer them to other people if they wish to have more. Wasabi is very hot, I hear. I used to watch a lot of Japanese game shows when I was in middle school, so I know that eating wasabi in certain quantities is somewhat of a daring challenge to undertake. Ginger I am impartial to (ironically).

As I was scooping up my disemboweled sushi roll, the sushi particles spread out to the corner of the plate, near the wasabi and ginger neighborhood. I, however, was not of sound mind, and, upon seeing the little green dollop, imagined it to be avocado that had fallen from within the sushi roll, and so quickly scooped it up with my bite and put it in my mouth. To eat.

The whole dollop of wasabi.

That I didn’t know was wasabi.

So when the steam started shooting from my ears and the tears falling effortlessly from my eyeballs, and the heat spreading from my mouth to my nose and eyes, I was grappling to understand what had happened. Damn, this volcano roll was spicy after all–ohhhhhhhh.

I looked at my plate and–ohhhhhhh. It clicked.

As I was trying to rapidly chew and swallow the burning contents in my mouth.

All the while, Bryson was sitting across the table from me, staring helplessly, asking, “Babe, what’s wrong? Is it hot? Are you okay?” because my mouth was full and in pain and my eyes were red and I was dying.

Quickly I choked it down and greedily drank from my water cup. I grabbed the last crab rangoon and ate it hastily, hoping for it to drive the burning in my mouth away.

“I’m–I’m fine,” I choked out, laughing.

By that point I had realized my mistake and found it hilarious. But I was still dying a little bit, so my eyes were watery and my throat stung and my stomach flipped and it felt like I had just done a shot of moonshine or something. I was fanning myself and saying, “Oh my god, I feel drunk or something,” and “Wow that burned,” and “Okay, so I just ate WASABI.”

Bryson was finally able to relax after I was coherent enough to tell him what happened, and to eventually reassure him that I was okay, despite my apparent insanity. I couldn’t stop laughing but I was still in “pain” and so I know I looked positively delirious to him, and I felt positively delirious.

After the burning died down, I started getting salty that I had been able to eat it, because people eat wasabi to win cash prizes on game shows, and I just accidentally ate wasabi for no gain? Via pure ignorance? I could be a hundred-aire for a stunt like that!

I tried the sushi after I was able to taste again, and it was actually very not-spicy sushi, and was actually very good. The cherry blossom tree started feeling like a trophy for my suffering.

But, I write this as a cautionary tale: Do not, my friends, mistake wasabi for avocado. You may think you are too wise not to slip up, but it can happen to even the best of us. And even if it couldn’t happen to the best of us, please just agree with me so I feel a little less stupid about my brush with death via a dollop of wasabi.

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