Letter of Recommendation: Cheap Sushi – The New York Times

Posted: December 20, 2019 at 6:50 pm


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To sushi snobs, part of the allure is surely that no other food demands such austere discipline of its makers. At some sushi bars in Japan, prospective chefs begin making rice only after a long novitiate, then wait even longer before they are permitted to pick up a knife. Like the apprentices themselves, diners submit to the will of a master. The Japanese word omakase a menu of the chefs selection, often requiring weeks-ahead reservations carries overtones of entrusting yourself to anothers superior judgment. Even as some see cultural appropriation in cafeteria sushi, it is surely preferable to sushi meant for only investment bankers.

Everything about the sushi at middling pan-Asian restaurants and in cooler cases the underseasoned rice, the thick slabs of fish, the jagged piece of artificial turf on the tray is an affront to such connoisseurship. It demands little of anyone. But it manages to be delicious anyway. Its tender, yielding. A little fatty, a little sour, a little sweet. It soaks up your spicy-salty wasabi-and-soy-sauce mixture. It might even crunch. Were lucky to enjoy such delights, as I do every couple of weeks, downing pieces of a California roll like Cheez Doodles as I walk down the street, thinking about the preposterous confluence of historical and economic forces trade, technology, migration, transport, diplomacy that made such an experience not just possible, but possible for $6. Now fully democratized, this taste of sublimity can become a habit.

A few years ago, I came across a Zen koan about someone named Banzan, who overhears a conversation between a butcher and a customer:

Give me the best piece of meat you have, the customer said.

Everything in my shop is the best, the butcher replied. You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

A friend who is a scholar of Japanese Buddhism tells me the parable is about how enlightenment is not elsewhere; its always here. Connoisseurs complain that mediocre sushi is ubiquitous. Well, so is nirvana.

In a sense, connoisseurship is the enemy of enlightenment: It is craving for something that is not here, and as the Buddha taught, to crave is to suffer. When I made sushi, customers would sometimes ask me, Whats good tonight? These men (and they were all men) misunderstood where they were and what I did. The restaurant was in a ramshackle strip mall, a few doors down from a laundromat. I didnt sample the fish before dinner service or skulk around a market at dawn. As far as I was concerned, all our fish was sourced from the same place: the freezer. I would tell the customers it was all good. I wish Id told them the truth: That it was all the best, the best in town, the best in the world.

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Letter of Recommendation: Cheap Sushi - The New York Times

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December 20th, 2019 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Enlightenment