Forty-four years ago, my husband and I celebrated our first New Year’s Eve together. It was our third date and we were having dinner at Sabella’s Seafood Restaurant on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. I pretended to impress my new boyfriend by suggesting he order for both of us. In reality, I was too embarrassed to admit that I was not a fish eater and always ordered lamb chops at seafood restaurants.
He ordered something called sashimi for our appetizer. When the platter of little pink cubes arrived, I had no idea what they were. My date gallantly speared one of the cubes, dipped it into some soy sauce he’d mixed with wasabi, and offered me a bite. I tentatively chewed and swallowed the tender bite, trying to figure out what I was eating.
“What exactly is sashimi?” I asked.
“It’s raw fish,” he answered.
I wanted to spit it out, but remembered my goal of trying to impress him. I swallowed quickly.
“How do you like it?” he asked.
“I could acquire a taste for it,” I answered diplomatically.
Fast forward 44 years to December 31, 2011. My husband and I are preparing our New Year’s Eve dinner, a tradition we’ve been enjoying for several decades. Our ritual is to plan a menu, cook it together and after we’ve eaten, review our calendars for the year that’s just ended.
This year our menu had a Japanese theme. We sought help from another married couple, Seikichi (Sam) Kurose and his wife, Ikie. They are the owners of Nak’s Oriental Market, a Menlo Park, CA institution on Chestnut St. for over 40 years.
Ikie is shy because of her limited English, but exudes warmth as she explains the secrets of Japanese cuisine. We told her our menu included miso soup and sushi. She moved around the cramped store, handing us all the ingredients we needed for our soup—packets of fish broth, dried seaweed, white soybean paste, and fresh tofu that she picks up everyday from a market in San Jose on her way to the store.
Sam advised us on all the equipment we needed to create our sushi: a bamboo mat, a package of 10 sheets of nori (roasted seaweed), a tube of wasabi, sushi seasoning vinegar for the rice, and fresh pickled ginger to cleanse the palate. He also advised us on which sake to buy: Oregon Silver Sake.
“And of course you’ll need some sashimi,” Sam added.
“Oh, I love sashimi,” I smiled, fondly remembering my first encounter with the delicacy.
We went home with two bags of groceries and several sheets of scribbled instructions for the miso soup and rolling the sushi.
With the right ingredients and advice from Ikie and Sam Kurose, I’m proud to report that our New Year’s Eve miso soup and sushi tasted as delicious as what we’ve eaten in Japanese restaurants.
Happy New Year! May 2012 bring you new adventures to savor with all your senses!