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May 29, 2007

Layers of Absurdity

Dominic Armato
I know I shouldn't let stuff like this get to me. I know I should just smirk and move on. But I have to call this out.

This week, the Boston Globe saw fit to publish a comprehensive comparative tasting of Japanese food, conducted by a nine member panel of whom "two were native-born Japanese, three had studied and lived in Japan, and four were sushi devotees." What could require such a carefully selected panel? Various types of sake? Brands of soy sauce? Wagyu steaks? Try supermarket California rolls.

No... really.

Setting aside, for the moment, the fact that California rolls aren't even Japanese, the absurdity here has more layers than a three-tiered wedding cake. Don't get me wrong, unlike some sushi purists I have absolutely nothing against the California roll. But do you really need to assemble a panel of "experts" in Japanese food to judge fake sushi featuring fake crabmeat sitting next to fake wasabi lovingly (I trust) prepared by a fake sushi chef? And I have to wonder, what purpose does this tasting serve, exactly? As awful as it is, I can understand grabbing grocery store sushi if you happen to be shopping and are looking for something on which to nosh. But even if you subscribe to the theory that grocery store sushi is worthy of a taste test, it isn't as though this is valuable comparison shopping. I've never seen a grocery store that carried more than one brand. Are we to believe that readers might actually use the information contained within this report to plan their shopping excursions? I mean, I know there's a certain amount of hysteria that goes along with the Red Sox riding so high, but I didn't realize the good people of Boston were THAT delirious.

And then the piece is filled with howlers, like the explanation that they "judged presentation, which is important in Japanese cuisine," and inaccuracies, like the claim that if pickled ginger is pink, that means it has been dyed (it frequently is, but pickled ginger will also turn pink without the benefit of dye).

This would all be kind of funny coming from some random blog with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. But this is the Boston Globe we're talking about here, and it seems clear that this treatise is being delivered with a totally straight face. I have to say, I can't wait for them to convene a panel of Mexican immigrants for a comprehensive survey of movie theater nachos. Maybe they can get Rick Bayless to dispense the cheese gloop. And in the meantime, I've bookmarked the article so that anytime I get annoyed by an inane article in the Trib's food section, I can thank my lucky stars that Debra Samuels' byline won't be found therein.


I felt the same way when I read that article. Totally absurd... and sad. Reminds me of the useless Taster's Choice columns in the SF Chronicle, which reviews whatever pre-packaged stuff they feel like. Last week, they reviewed Canned Vegetarian Chili. I mean, c'mon, not only is it (food heaven) San Francisco, but it's also Spring... and they spend more energy comparing brands than intelligently explaining how to work with fresh food. Oh, and of course, to add insult to injury, they rarely really like anything that they review.

Sorry, but this is something that I've wanted to rant about for a while... And yeah, the Great Boston Supermarket CA Roll Taste-Off just set it off. :)

Personally, I take refuge with the LA and NY Times food sections.

Here is link to "fake sushi chef":

Hey, Dom, be sure to check out the article titled, "If You Knew Sushi," by Nick Tosches, in this month's issue of Vanity Fair. It's about the history and evolution of Tsukiji Market and the American sushi phenomenon.


Hey, Erik...

Just did. Great piece. Reminded me of two things that make me profoundly sad. First, that some sushi restaurants are operating on a completely different plane, and I'm not eating at them. Second, that the Tsukiji I've come to adore will be going away in a scant five years, and I've only just barely started to know it.

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