I'm not going to lie: I am pretty proud of the fact that my kids are not finicky eaters. Honestly, I don't know if there is anything Clint and I have done to contribute to this phenomenon, but I like to think it's all due to stellar parenting--and delectable cooking--skills.
Whenever we go to a Chinese buffet, I pick a variety of foods, trying to make healthy choices and avoid the deep fried options. And when I get back to the table and look at the kids' plates, there are all sorts of weird things going on there. Tentacles sprawl like stretched out starfish on Lauren's plate, and she's made a smiley face of those sushi roll things; Jonah's got a mountain of crab legs on his plate and he bites on each section to crack it open and pull out the meat. They love to touch their food, to try new things, and the more legs and tentacles a food item has, the happier they are.
(Side note: Certain unnamed people make fun of me because 1) I don't like to eat food with visible fat and 2) I don't like to eat meat off the bone, and they insist that I'm a picky eater. I'm not picky, I'm delicate. I just don't like to eat like a caveman.)
So Lauren said she wanted to go to a sushi restaurant for her birthday this year, and how could we say no? It was her thirteenth birthday.
I had only tried sushi twice. The first time was at one of those Chinese buffets. I had watched her eating her selection, and she offered one to me. And I'm thinking, what kind of baby will I look like if I say no? I took one bite. It tasted just as bad as it smelled: exactly like the can of gold fish food on the shelf at home (not that I had EVER tasted those nasty flakes, but I couldn't ignore the odor every time I fed Fred and George Jr., may they rest in peace). The second time, my dad made the sushi rolls. He's a great cook, and after my first dubious bite, I was pleasantly surprised. It didn't taste fishy at all. I'm guessing that freshness has a bit to do with flavor in the case of seaweed rolls.
So the sushi restaurant? I was ready. We were a big group, with Mom and Dad and Ilona's family joining us as well, and Dad (the expert on sushi) ordered for us. He told the waitress we wanted the sampler "boat"--chef's choice.
When she brought it to the table, it looked beautiful. All these colors, shades of red to pink to white. Then I realized what I was seeing. The boat was stocked with little piles of quivering raw fish. I had not prepared my stomach for this. I had been gearing myself up since we walked in, telling myself that the seaweed here was probably just as fresh as the seaweed at my dad's house.
I closed my eyes and gulped. Everyone else was grabbing at little slabs of fish and swishing them around in soy sauce, wielding their chopsticks with a grace that would have made Marco Polo weep.
I swallowed hard again and passed my plate down, asking for a selection of items from the bountiful boat. When my plate got back to me, there were all these quaking pieces of raw stuff and a few seaweed rolls. I picked up my chopsticks and tried to force them into cooperation. Figuring I should start with something familiar, I tried to pick up a seaweed roll. There was nothing delicate or graceful about my attempt. I ended up mashing the roll between my chopsticks and dipping it into my dish of soy sauce and wasabi. I popped it into my mouth and chewed fast. Swallowed. Not too bad. Not too fishy.
Then I looked down at my plate. There was just one seaweed roll left, and all the others had been snatched from their berths on the boat. I had to eat the raw fish or go hungry. Lauren was chasing some little red beads around on her plate with nimble chopsticks. She must have felt my glance, for she looked up and smiled. "Mom," she said, "fish eggs!" There were a couple stuck to her bottom lip. My stomach turned over and I smiled weakly.
I had to do it. I fitted my chopsticks between my clumsy fingers and poked at the smallest pile of raw fish. After drenching it in soy sauce, I tried not to watch its slippery ascent toward my mouth. I forced my lips apart and stuck it in. I chewed. The fish melted against my teeth. It was moist and tender and surprisingly not disgusting at all. It tasted good. My senses were having a little sushi party in my mouth. But my brain was in a state of shock and it was pretty stubborn. Kir, it said, you are eating raw fish. You don't even like to look at raw stuff. You cook chicken before you cut it up so you don't have to touch raw meat. What the heck are you thinking?
I started to eat faster, my chopsticks were a bumbling blur, but as each bite passed my lips, I fought a little battle. Tastes good vs. rawness. It was tough. Finally, I swallowed the last seaweed roll and sat back in my chair.
Everyone was watching me (I don't know why) and my dad was smirking. "How was it?" he asked. And I had to admit, it was not bad at all.
I would never have thought I would say this, but raw fish tastes pretty good (and so do soy sauce and a little squirt of wasabi paste). I might even be able to eat sushi again--in about 5 years.