Making sushi

My friend and I have different approaches to sushi – I stare at the recipe books and decide it’s terribly complicated and not worth doing for one (my partner hates it). My friend declares that it’s easy and invites me round to make it with her. She’s a sushi diva. Look at this:


But life isn’t sushi. She has a complicated life – things happen to her. And the trouble with things is that you generally can’t control the degree of difficulty of the things you have to face.

Back in February 2006, when we didn’t know each other all that well, she invited me round for sushi. It was a cold winter’s day – she’d had been out for a run and her gloves had got soaked. Before I arrived she put them on the heater to dry. Many Dutch apartments still have quaint stove-style heaters, they’re bloody useless unless you sit right on top of them.

That time she made the dinner while I kept the conversation going. I had made veggie sushi myself at home, but frankly the idea of all that raw fish scared me. Not the eating of it, but somehow if I got involved in the preparation and the fish was bad it would have been my fault.

Somewhere during evening we became friends. Ever since then she’s been the kind of person I can tell my secrets to and someone who I can talk to and not notice the hours flying by. That night we talked until a strange smell alerted us to her singed gloves, on the heater just above my head. And that night she was worried because her partner was in Colombia on business and the moment he arrived some of his colleagues were kidnapped by the FARQ (I told you things happened to her). He ended up negotiating their release.


Since then we’ve been out to Japanese restaurants a few times but never made sushi together. I’ve had a go at making my own sushi at home but the fish has always scared me and I’ve ended up cooking it, or using it for something else. I even have a sushi book: “Vegetarian sushi made easy” but the complicated patterns scared me even more.

Last week, we planned another sushi night and this time I promised I’d help. So I arrived with two avocados, one carrot, some trout caviar and a bottle of cava. She had procured salmon, tuna and the sweetest scallops I’ve ever eaten raw (actually only my 2nd time by there was no comparison to the cotton wool buds I’d eaten in what’s supposed to be one of Amsterdam’s best sushi places).

As we started to make the sushi she told me how things were going in her life. There was the make or break incident at work and a matter of principle she had to decide on; whether, while she was in London, she should drop in on the agent who had just taken on her mother’s book; and her partner, sick and away from home, and whether she should miss a key meeting at work to fly out to be with him. All this since two days before when I’d seen her last.

As we talked I chopped vegetables – I still didn’t want to take responsibility for the fish. But then the moment of truth came and I had to get involved. I started with nigiri, patting some rice together and adding a sliver of fish on top. My confidence grew as I made a maki, a sushi roll filled with cucumber, avocado, sweet red pepper and some more of that fish. I was feeling quite proud of myself.

“And now you’re going to make one of these!” she said, pointing to a complicated maki where the seaweed was in the centre and the rice on the outside. It looked impossible, but I had a go, and even managed to get the trout caviar to sit on top. Before I knew it we had two plates full and it was time for dinner.


In some ways life is like making sushi. You can keep it simple or make it as complicated as the designs in my recipe book – that’s up to you. And in the end, even if it falls apart between chopsticks and mouth, it doesn’t matter – half the fun was in the construction.
All the ingredients are there, it just depends on how you put them together.


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