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The dreaded Wasabi-head. [dun dun duh!]

2004-03-08 - 12:37 p.m.

I am not a huge fan of raw aquatic creatures. I know that the chance of poisoning/parasite acquisition is very low when it’s been properly prepared but it’s really a texture thing with me. I’m not such a fan of smoked salmon for the same reason. And I will spare you the little knowledge that can be a dangerous thing, by refraining from telling you what makes up the bulk of a bivalve’s body.

However, I love me some sushi. I stick to the vegetarian kind or the kind with cooked crab/pollock in it. Heck, I’d even eat a roll of just plain rice wrapped with nori. Sushi, you see, is just a vehicle for me to eat the wasabi and pickled ginger doused with soy sauce. When I try to explain to non-sushi fans the appeal of getting that balance of ginger and wasabi just right so that you get just the slightest sting in your sinuses without going over into full-blown wasabi head, they Just. Don’t. Get it.

The wasabi-head phenomenon came up during dinner conversation a few weeks ago, and my good friend H-bomb, got quite worked up over it. You see, he is part Jamaican and the food he eats at home includes a lot of traditional Jamaican fare. He has a problem stemming from, believe it or not, the fact that he doesn’t look Jamaican. In fact, he looks like pretty much any other white guy in Ottawa – average height and build, pale skin, brown hair. He even gets a few freckles. However, his lovely girlfriend AM is of east Indian descent and whenever he goes to functions with her extended family, the well-meaning relatives keep being very vocally solicitous about how he shouldn’t feel compelled to eat any of the food that’s “too spicy” for him.

He’s tried to tell them that he’s used to “spicy” and that he eats food “even spicier than this” at home. They don’t stop making the comments. Once he had something go down the wrong way and he coughed. Uh oh. There were immediately people at his elbow with water outheld and an “Oh is this too spicy?” on their lips.

So he relished being able to recount the tale of introducing some of AM’s relatives to sushi.

H – Watch out for the wasabi. You don’t want to use too much. It’s really hot.

AM’s brother (idly smearing on a layer of the greenish paste) – Ok, sure.

H – No you don’t understand. It’s not hot like spicy. It’s a heat that you feel inside your head. *makes hand gestures indicating the top and front of his head*

AM’s bro (distractedly and a little skeptically) – Mmmhm.

If you, yourself, are familiar with wasabi-head, you can guess what happened next. He bit into the sushi and the fumes from the wasabi filled his sinuses. His eyes started watering, he had to grab his glass of water. H’s recounting of the tale was a classic mixture of feeling bad for the guy and overtones of vindication. Revenge might normally be sweet but this time, it was spicy.

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