During my first Communications class in the first semester of my first year of college, my professor entered the room and began handing out tongue depressors. She then told us to close our eyes and hold out the tongue depressors. Bewildered (and quite naive at this point), we obeyed while she went around putting something on the depressors.
Then she said to taste what was on them, without opening our eyes. It was a fiery explosion in my mouth that shot straight up my nostrils: wasabi. I’d had wasabi before as a kid, and remember having spat it out along with a mouthful of sushi, so the Japanese condiment did not exactly sit well with my tastebuds.
My professor’s next instructions were to write about what happened, not just describing how the wasabi tasted but also the experience of having been, quite literally, force-fed something that was not very pleasant for many of us.
Now, I love all kinds of sushi and sashimi and I know that in Japanese cuisine, wasabi is a traditional and prized part of eating sushi. In fact, authentic wasabi is difficult to come by, as the plant only grows in Japan, and is quite pricey. But it really is an acquired taste. Even the “western” kind of wasabi, made of horseradish, mustard and food colouring to imitate the real kind and that many people are more accustomed to eating, is something I’d not readily smear over my food. However, I’ve found that since that time in my first year of college, the smell and taste of wasabi has become less undesirable. In fact, the two times I tried it again with sushi, I realized that the Japanese and sushi connoisseurs the whole world over have very good reasons to extol the role of wasabi in bringing out the flavours of the many kinds of sushi.
Like a lot of things in life, wasabi needs to be given a second chance by people like me who are not used to it before we can appreciate its finer points. It still takes a little getting used to, but give me a couple more years, and I just might be able to truly enjoy the taste of wasabi.