The Toronto Chum-n-Rice Festival

More than any other food I know, sushi is something to be eaten as much with one’s eyes as with one’s mouth. When well prepared, sushi are edible pieces of jewellery: slabs of shining marble nested on translucent pearls. Each slice of fish, cool, supple, and smooth against one’s tongue, each grain of rice sweet and tender, yet slightly resistant against one’s teeth. When done right, sushi is sublime.

Done badly, what is served as sushi is no better than mounds of hacked-up raw fish dumped on wads of bad rice, which is sadly all too typical of the fare from Toronto and most North American sushi restaurants. To distract the unenlightened from this fact though, the same restaurants would thickly ladle on the gimmick, offering mutilated Frankenstein creations with inane names, smothered in some horrid type of whitish/pink mayonnaise sauce. Sometimes, I think the creation of the “Kamekaze” was desperate and subtle plead from the self-respecting sushi chef forced to bring them into existence.

Which brings me to a recent article on BlogTO dissecting the gigantic shortcomings of the recent Toronto Sushi Festival. Analysis of the finances and logistics of the festival is good and all, but the article misses the point ENTIRELY. This question of “What went wrong?” can be easily explained by reviewing the heading image of the post and dispensing with the article altogether.

I cannot un-see this horrific scene. (Credit: BlogTO)

Quite simply, the festival did not serve sushi. What they did serve were a mass of sad misshapen objects, which in the case of the picture was barely held together by flaccid nori. If you had trouble swallowing this garbage, have no fear, there is even a giant bottle of mayo to lubricate the descent. How incredibly considerate of them.

True be told, these results are not entirely surprising given that most Toronto sushi restaurants could hardly craft an acceptable piece of nigiri or maki (or hold off on the mayo) on their best days. Shut them in the same convention hall with a cranky mob and what gets produced is “sushi” of disappointingly high quantity to quality ratios.

While all this is lamentable, what ultimately leaves me in utter dejection are the complaint of many of these festival goers. It seems they minded ever so slightly that they were being serve crap sushi, but they were furious that they could not be served enough of these wads of chum-n-rice fast enough. Seriously people, are you so desperate to eat badly prepped raw fish that being prevented from doing so makes you so irate? What is being signalled here to the restauranteurs is that they can get away with serving terrible things with minimal repercussion and will thus attempt to get away with even more next time. [See Things to Avoid 14: Sloppiness

For people that love sushi, spend the time and educated yourself about the food. Become the descerning clients that your favorite sushi restaurants deserve, and demand from them food made with craftsmenship that honour the flavours and textures of the quality ingredients they use. Be vocal. Complain loudly if your sushi is made with warm rice and demand they remake your kappa roll if the nori is not crisp, but also comment on how well the fish is sliced if it is uniform and beautiful and if the rice is a joy to look at and delicious to eat. If they meet your challege, support them and eat there everyday, otherwise leave and never go back.

This is a battle we must all willing to fight for. Should we success, we shall see in the future a glourious Toronto (or your favourite city) with well-priced pieces of jewel-like sushi served throughout its neighborhoods. A city where its gentle souls can go to actual sushi festivals and be served real sushi. But should we lose the battle, Toronto will see its streets filled with restaurants serving that delightfully “innovative” chum and mayo filled maki-roll, named after the city itself.

And that is not a future I want to live in.

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