When I ask him if he sees anything in the magic spaghetti, he never has an answer. But my husband always eats every last bite.


Adventurous Eater | Eric Schaefer

Nearly 10 years ago, my wife and I had our second date at Hiro Sushi, an authentic Japanese restaurant in North Scottsdale that defies nearly all the Scottsdale stereotypes. It's low-key, no-frills, and has a very solid following among Japanese nationals. But unbeknownst to me, this was more than a date. It was a test.

Read musings on 
love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on 
www.phxfood.com.
Read musings on love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on www.phxfood.com.
Read musings on 
love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on 
www.phxfood.com.
Read musings on love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on www.phxfood.com.

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Read musings on love and food from more Chow Bella writers through the rest of February on
www.phxfood.com.

Though my requirements for a wife were relatively simple — beyond the usual criteria, she had to eat red meat, know how to drive a standard transmission, and not get seasick — her requirements for a husband included me being an adventurous eater. And, at the time, her idea of "adventurous" meant ordering amaebi, which are raw shrimp served with the deep-fried heads as a crunchy accouterment. Without hesitation, I ate the shrimp and devoured the heads and, as they say, the rest was history. That was the easiest test I ever passed.

Fast-forward to a recent Friday night, when, not having made any dinner plans in advance, we decided to go to Hiro and take a seat at the all-too-familiar sushi bar. Except this time was different. Instead of our usual order, we just said "omakase" and let the chef do the rest. I said, confidently, "Bring out whatever's fresh, and we eat everything." Little did I know he took that as a challenge.

So we indulged in a Sapporo, had some sake, and waited. Our son's 7th birthday party had been earlier that day at Peter Piper Pizza, so we were happy to have some downtime and peace.

And then without fanfare, we were presented with two small bowls accompanied by an unintelligible Japanese description. Inside was a grayish lumpy liquid that looked like poi from Hawaii mixed with unidentifiable "parts." The only color was a sliver of yellow from a delicate slice of lemon on top. Without much hesitation I scooped some up with my chopsticks and put it into my mouth.

All at once, my palate was hit with what can best be described as "the flavor of death."

Ammonia, bile, vomit and the distinct flavor of salty decomposition. I swallowed but knew that I was mortally wounded. I turned to my wife and said, in a quiet voice, "This isn't good" — an unintended double entendre referring not just to the food, but to my physical state. She took a bite and — shockingly — took a second bite before turning to me, expressionless, proclaiming, "I can't eat this."

Imagine a rotting dead sea monster, thrown in a blender, poured into a bowl, and then left to rot some more and served with a lemon slice. Then imagine someone eating it and throwing it up — into your mouth. That's what I tasted.

Except we're too damn polite. We didn't want to offend the chef, who was clearly pleased to serve us this delicacy and took seriously my claim that "we eat everything." He wanted to please us. We knew that he would be sad if we returned it to him, mostly untouched. Eating it was categorically out of the question. Yet we were also taking a chance that if he thought we loved it, he'd continue to push the culinary envelope with each subsequent course.

Given the circumstances — and the fact that the color in my face was quickly going from "pale Jew" to "Shrek" — it was a chance worth taking. My wife stealthily handed me a plastic cup that was still in her purse, a cup used to hold video game tokens at our son's party earlier in the day. I quietly put the cup under the counter and poured out the contents of the two small bowls into the cup. My wife took it to the bathroom and threw it away.

My wife described it perfectly: "pourable, vomit-flavored fish guts."

Toward the end of our meal, I asked the chef what it was. His response: "Squid guts, served raw and cold, salted, and left overnight. I thought you would like it since you were drinking. Did you like it?"

My response: "It was . . . challenging." I can only hope that he thought we ate it and that it enhances our Japanese food street cred. I also hope he doesn't read Chow Bella.

Sadly, the night couldn't be salvaged for me. Though the rest of the food was delightfully perfect — as it almost always is at Hiro Sushi — I had suffered a blow from which I could not easily recover. Each subsequent course was a challenge, and my mind was completely fixated on whatever it was that we had been served at the beginning.

On our way home, we stopped at the grocery store and picked up a few pints of Ben & Jerry's to cleanse our palates. Even Chunky Monkey did little to quell the lingering taste of death. And as I write this — two days after the incident — my mouth still suffers from pre-puke excessive salivation each time I think of the flavor. Yet, in hindsight, it was something of an intimate moment in what I can only surmise is similar to the way in which survivors are brought closer together by a traumatic event. We suffered through this. We survived. We can survive anything!

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5 comments
mstails
mstails

I would love to know, too!  I haven't been able to find a good Italian restuarant since I left the NY/NJ area in '86 to move here.  Keep trying different places, but none measure up, so I'd like to make my own gravy and meatballs.  PLEASE share!

naoma
naoma

Er,  what kind of "gravy" is served on your spaghetti?  I come from an Italian background on my Mother's side  and it is called "sauce" and made with tomatoes.  Just curious.  

shazam47
shazam47

@naoma 

In second and third generation Italian families from the NY/NJ area, it's ALWAYS called gravy, never sauce. Got another flash for you, we call it macaroni, not pasta. My grandparents called it pasta, but they were from Italy.......both sides. Matter of fact, there's a cook book by a women from NY/NJ titled "We Call It Macaroni"

naoma4man
naoma4man

@shazam47 @naoma   How lovely to hear from you.  My Grandmother was from Italy and spoke no English.  She lived in Pittsburgh.  I think it was called:  "spaghet."  Had a dear friend whose parents were also Italian and her Mom made her own spaghet -- and hung it over a chair after she cut it in thin strands (with a dish towel to hang it on.)  Her Dad made wine in the basement and if we'd bring guys around for them to meet her Dad would give them a glass of WINE (it was killer stuff) and her Mom always pronounced the guys:  "he's a so cute."  Loved her family.  Long gone; long ago.  I have a friend living in Paris who is Italian but now he considers himself French.  Speaks 4 languages.  

shazam47
shazam47

@naoma4man @shazam47 @naoma  Yes, that's another one, "spaghet". Wow, as soon as I read that word, it was like a wave of memories came over me. Living here in AZ for the last 39 years has dulled some of that "culture". Thank you!

 
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