Back in late April, Will decided to trash the Philly roll, totally unfair slander towards what is undoubtedly a top-five sushi roll. In fact, I will go as far as claiming that post is the most offensive thing I have ever seen and I saw W. Kamau Bell’s interview with Richard Spencer. Will attacked it from a purely intolerable bougie viewpoint, failing to address the most important issue here — the flavor.
In a brief summary, Will’s argument states that fresh sushi is a luxury that needs to be enjoyed the traditional Japanese way (according to him, plain with little more than the fresh fish, rice, and vegetables) without being “contaminated” by the fatty, salty and creamy goodness delivered by the cheese of the masses. The people’s cheese. Cream cheese. Of course, this is nonsense. Anyone worth their salt, from your proletarian sushi novice to your sophisticated socialite, knows that the real beauty of sushi lies in variety.
If you go to a quality sushi joint, the menu should be sizable. There could be fifty different rolls or more in some cases. There are all different species of fish, shellfish, or other seafood. It can be raw, cooked, or deep fried tempura. It can be wrapped with soy wrap, seaweed, or served alone, like sashimi. Want to enjoy the luxury and pureness of fresh fish? Eat sashimi, pure, sushi-grade fish with no “contaminants.” It’s nice and soft on the tongue, never slimy or fishy if you get it at the right place. Sushi can be rolled with avocado, vegetables, or a variety of other things, including, of course, cream cheese.
So let’s get to the Philly roll and other rolls with cream cheese. Obviously, there is plenty of variety among sushi and sashimi to go around depending on your taste and mood. Sushi with cream cheese, however Americanized, adds yet another layer of flavor. Anyone who knows good food at all knows that, if done right, complex layers of flavor and complementary flavors and even different textures can create a sensual culinary experience. Cream cheese on sushi is no different.
Cream cheese with fish is, in fact, not a radical concept. Anyone familiar with lox, nova lox, gravalox, and smoked salmon know what I’m talking about. Salmon and cream cheese on a bagel…an unlikely yet delicious treat. In terms of the sushi, the salty, fatty flavor of the cream cheese, as well as its density, helps the sushi roll be more satisfying and filling, and contrasts well with a light piece of fresh fish and sushi rice. Too much cream cheese can overwhelm the palate, sure, but steaks can be overcooked and you can over-egg hollandaise. Food can be messed up, just follow Gordon Ramsey on Twitter. But cream cheese on a sushi roll doesn’t mean “Mikey” the white Rust Belt sushi chef is making low quality sushi. In fact, if he knows what he’s doing he can complement the flavor and texture of very fresh sushi grade fish quite well.
The fact of the matter is that cream cheese sushi rolls exist for a reason. People enjoy them. They sell. And at the right places they can be one of the best things on the menu. Variety is the spice of life, and among many sushi rolls, some of the most complex and full flavor experiences come from sushi with fresh avocado, cream cheese, and fresh fish. It’s really about having the right sushi chef. If your cream cheese sushi rolls are coming out low quality but your simple nigiri or maki fish-veggie rolls are coming out good, maybe you need to find a better sushi place and explore the menu just a little more. .