I mentioned a while back in Sushi Showdown: The Chirashi Challenge that the first test a sushi spot must pass to win my heart is chirashi don — an assortment of fish “scattered” over sushi rice. If the fish is fresh and the presentation is pleasant, we’re good to go. If not…well, just don’t order any spicy tuna rolls. Turns out I’ve been doing chirashi wrong, as a Japanophile friend recently taught me by calling me out at a restaurant. All food writers love that; more people should do that to us.
Instead of eating each individual piece of fish with a little soy sauce, alternating with bites of rice like I’ve been doing, you’re meant to mix up the whole bowl with your chopsticks and enjoy the amalgamation. Apparently I’ve been “segregating” and am guilty of “sushi racism.” Thanks, pal. That’s nice, air quotes and everything. Keep it coming, I can take it.
That brings me to bibimbap, which translates roughly to “all mixed up.” Again, easy as the artful presentation is on the eyes, you’re supposed to dig your chopsticks in, break that yolk and mix the whole thing up with chili paste. It pains me to mar all that loveliness, until of course I take a bite and realize yeah, that’s for sure how you’re supposed to do it.
Finally, we come to one of my very first words: bhusi-bhusi. When I started talking, it was apparently a bizarre and totally incomprehensible combination of Punjabi (which my nanny spoke but my Indian father did not), Hindi (which my dad kinda spoke but my mom did not) and English (which my nanny did not speak very well at first). Not only is bhusi-bhusi fun to say for a 2-year-old who’s having trouble grasping the concept of “one language at a time,” it’s also the most concise way to explain how to eat Indian food, which my nanny made a lot of. Put some of whatever on top of rice, dollop with yogurt and your choice of spicy accoutrement — I like this stuff — and mix it up thoroughly. The resulting combination of flavors and textures is how Indian food is supposed to taste at home. You know, as opposed to at a restaurant where you’re afraid to be seen scooping up bites of rice with your fingers.
Moral of the story: do not judge a dish about to be eaten in its proper state by its appearance alone. Unless it’s a hot dog made into a little man.
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