I saw Kung Fu Panda last night – perhaps the first movie I’ve seen in Japan that actually felt worth the 1800 yen ticket. I left the theater energized, hungry for dumplings and, as always, in awe of Jack Black’s awesomeness. I fear that a desire for dumplings will grip me as did the desire for soumen, which I have eaten perhaps 5 times a week since returning from camp. It is just so delicious and refreshing in these scorching dog days of Japanese summer. It is cheap as well, and so easily customizable. Today, I enjoyed soumen with cucumbers, tomatoes and okra. I then took the remaining cucumbers, threw them in a plastic bag with soy sauce and vinegar and squeezed out the air to kick off the pickling process. Tomorrow, I will have a bag full of delicious Japanese cucumber pickles to enjoy with … tomorrow’s soumen.
This isn’t unusual for me; when I discover something I like, I am very easily obsessed. Any of my roommates will tell you that I become unbearable when I get “into” a song, playing them on loop for weeks. Anyone looking through my personal photos will notice the same shirts following me throughout the years, becoming increasingly tattered. Food is no different and in some respects, since it is food, I become even more zealous.
My time in Japan has seen me through quite a lot of food obsessions. First there was negitoro (tuna and scallion) onigiri: cheap, delicious, and super handy for a quick lunch on the go. Then there was Japanese curry, which inspired such a fervor that I dubbed Wednesday evenings “Curry Night.” Then there were bento lunch boxes – so compact and delightful to behold. Green tea. Vitamin Water. It’s the same story every time: I become obsessed and must, absolutely must, eat these delicacies several times a week. And then, after several months, I can eat no more. What was once delicious becomes bland and I subsist on foods that, while tasty, just don’t move me the way the others did. And everything is still until the moment I discover what that new food obsession might be.
Funnily enough, I’ve never OD’d on sushi. I’ve been steadily obsessed with it since Koko introduced me to it back in high school. Sushi: that first taste of raw tuna cradling the packed white rice opened the floodgates to heaven for me. Never had I eaten anything so exquisite. Never had I eaten anything so exotic. The fish combined with the wasabi and the ginger only catapulted me further into ecstasy. I was immediately and irrevocably obsessed. But in Crystal River, Florida, sushi was so scant that I was never able to eat enough of it to OD. Sushi dinners required at least an hour of driving and their prices meant I was always hungry afterwards, even if my itch was sated. When I moved to New York sushi was ubiquitous but, again, the cost kept me from eating my fill. When I moved to Japan – the land of sushi – my Japanese vocabulary consisted of “train,” “ticket,” “name,” and all of the names for sushi fish, which I’d learned from years of staring at the standard issue menus in sushi shops; printed with pictures of each kind of sushi and its name in Japanese. Sushi is everywhere here, and at kaiten sushi shops, finally affordable. I even live across the street from such a shop where the dishes are as cheap as 135 yen.
So why have I never become obsessed with sushi? Perhaps this is because, subconsciously, I know myself too well. Even though sushi could not be more available to me than if I lived in the sea, I still find myself eating it only sparingly, a physiological guard against what I know will be the physical result of eating sushi every day: revulsion.
I ate curry for the first time in months last week. It was tasty, but inspired none of the same euphoria it used to send tingling up and down my nerves. Already, I see where my obsession with soumen will end as the summer heat dissipates into the early fall.
Sushi is ecstasy. It must never become anathema to me.