Wassup with Wassabi: or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the evil green paste from hell.

It only took ten years, three countries, and six separate moves for it to happen, but I finally achieved the impossible.

I have learned to like wasabi.

Wasabi and I go way back, to when I first really struck out on my own.

Not everyone strikes out on their own at the same time. Some kids run away from home at twelve and join the circus, some move into the basement and pay rent. For me, it was a gradual process.

Stage 1) Move to Ottawa for university. While technically on my own I was still going to school and didn’t have a job.

Stage 2) Move to Toronto. Finished university and started working, but I moved in with my brother.

Stage 3) Moved to Vancouver. At first stayed at my dad’s place in Chilliwack, but soon enough had a crappy little apartment in the bad part of East Hastings all to myself, got a job at Angus Reid doing surveys, and had my first encounter with the green devil paste known as… wasabi.

It happened one day at Angus Reid. Usually I did my surveys over the phone, a monotonous, repetitive job only highlighted when doing the Z95 radio surveys, where I got to listen to snippets of music all day long. The only other interesting job on offer there was going out and doing live surveys in front of stores, and they were rarely available.

The one time I went out on such a survey was for the liquor board, standing outside a booze hut at a mini mall in the middle of nowhere, asking people what they like to get drunk on. The mini mall had a sushi shop in it, and I had never tried sushi before. Sushi might be everywhere in Vancouver, but at that time it wasn’t in Ottawa or Toronto, or at least it wasn’t common enough that I ever thought about giving it a try. But even then part of me was thinking about travelling to Japan, so why not try some now?

I went inside and ordered some tuna roles. They served it with what looked like pink slivers of salmon and a green paste. Of course everyone knows that’s pickled ginger and wasabi, but I didn’t have a clue. I tried some of the pink slivers on a piece and was pleasantly surprised by it.

Then I tried the green paste. A lot of it. You could characterize my expressions like this:

Hmm. Huh? Ack! ARGH! HELP! KILL ME!

I was unprepared for the intensity of it, how it burned, how it even inflamed my nostrils. And aside from the heat I didn’t care for the taste one bit, either.

The next year when I biked across Canada, my brother joined me from Toronto to Ottawa. Up there we got some sushi, and I warned him about wasabi. He didn’t believe me. I told him to try it, so he dabbed a tiny bit on the tip top of his finger. Barely enough to give a green hue. He placed his finger on his tongue, pondered for a moment, grimaced, and said “That’s just evil.”

I dare you to try me.

So you can imagine when I actually did visit Japan how horrified I was when I saw a sushi eating competition. Well, I say competition, but it was more like a game show. The sushi roll ran down the length of a bowling alley, and in the middle of it all was The Wasabi Zone. The audience shrieked when the competitors reached it, as did I.

I’ve stayed away from the evil green paste ever since, other than to remind myself why I hate it so much. But now, back in Vancouver, I found myself in a sushi shop with Gillian and for god-knows-what-reason, tried it again.

It wasn’t half bad. I only put a tiny bit on, but it gave the sushi a nice kick. As long as there’s not too much of it, the rice counteracts the wasabi, much like naan bread does to a hot curry. I’ve even adapted to the taste as well. Maybe they use a milder wasabi. Maybe my tastes have matured. Maybe years of curries in England have killed all but two of my taste buds. Maybe I’ve been replaced by a doppleganger and won’t even know it until the command phrase has been uttered.