A huge sushi fan, I’ve been dying to go to Japan. However, when I found that Taipei, Taiwan – the last destination of our Asian journey – was known as the best city to find Japanese cuisine outside of Japan, I was pretty thrilled.
Being that Mike’s birthday fell during our trip, I hoped to take him to Nomura, a Michelin-starred sushi eatery in Taipei. However, by the time I was able to ask the concierge at our hotel to call for a reservation, they were all booked up.
So, we did the next best thing – we asked a Taiwanese employee at the hotel where she liked to get sushi near the hotel. She pulled out a map and drew a star on a side street a few blocks away, but couldn’t even give us a restaurant name we would understand – “they don’t have an English translation yet.” All the better!
Luckily, some Taiwanese students took pity on us on our trek as we studied our map and pointed us in the right direction. We soon sat down inside the quaint sushi spot and a server dropped off some menus. “Sparkling water?” I sounded out, trying to make a bubbling motion with my hands. Nope, no understanding. “Asahi?” asks Mike. That one rang a bell.
We looked at the pull-out menu, a jumble of Chinese characters that obviously meant nothing to us. Thankfully, a neighboring diner spoke some broken English, and explained that we can pick anything from this menu within a 90-minute period for 700 New Taiwan dollars (about $24 per person).
So, we picked it all. I put little 2’s – as in two pieces – along every Chinese character on the first line. A colorful plate of sushi pieces soon arrived, featuring fluorescent orange roe, fluffy yellow uni and bright pink tuna carefully tied onto sticky rice with strips of seaweed.
We were instantly hooked. At home, we go out for sushi about once a week, ordering fat rolls which are tasty, but are mostly mounds of rice hiding smidgens of passable quality fish. Here, the impossibly-fresh fish pieces took center stage, rivaling the best sushi restaurants found in Jersey which will cost you more than $100 per person.
More and more sushi pieces followed, the menu returning each time for us to wipe out our previous line of 2’s from the paper’s plastic covering and replace with a new line on the next row. It was only lunchtime, but I knew I could skip dinner already – I was so full and so satisfied by the time we finished every row.
The bill came to a meager $50 or so, which is roughly what we pay anyway at home for some half-assed all-you-can-eat sushi that had no comparison to this meal that American sushi fans would clamor for.
At home, you can find cheap imitations of authentic cuisine, and you can be happy with it. Really happy with it. But it isn’t until you find the real thing – whether or not you can even put a name on it – that you can be really satisfied.