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She set her menu down with conviction. The sexy kind of conviction that exudes confidence and an expertise in sushi, nigiri, and sashimi that screams, “I watch Chef’s Table and Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix, and I may have even studied abroad in an Asian country when I was 21.” Needless to say, I set down my menu shortly thereafter and thought, “I’ll let you take control of the situation and foot the bill.” It was seemingly a match made in heaven.
That is, until the token-white-guy-who-works-in-a-sushi-restaurant-and-has-been-accepted-by-his-Asian-counterparts waiter approached our table and asked if we’d decided. I’ll say this – her order started off exactly how I’d hoped. Salmon belly and Norwegian mackerel ran rampant. I could taste the wagyu beef and salmon roe dribbling down my chin. She even requested not one, but two orders of the yellowtail because we’d playfully exchanged our favorite types of sushi during a late night in iMessage past.
But then words fumbled out of her mouth. Foul, unforgivable verbiage that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemies. The type of hate speech that would make women and children cry; that would devastate the lives of those less fortunate.
“…and I think we’ll add a Philadelphia roll and be all set.”
Ah, Philadelphia. The Sushi Capital Of The Rust Belt, a region known for their fresh fish taken straight from the beautiful waters of the Delaware River. Naturally, when you think “Philadelphia,” you think, “fresh fish coupled with crisp cucumber and a thick layer of cream cheese.” The bagel and lox board of the sushi world, if you will. When Japanese chefs from thousands of years ago first began combining fresh fish with fermented rice, they undoubtedly dreamt that supermarkets and Americanized sushi restaurants from coast to coast would serve their delicacy with the spread better known for bagels and cholesterol.
I looked at my first date directly in the eyes as if I had the power to manipulate her thoughts. I yearned to make her change her order from the dreaded Philadelphia Roll to something more traditional than the Guy Fieri of sushi. I wanted her to simply be better.
“What?” she questioned. “Do I have something in my teeth? Oh my God, this is so embarrassing.”
She did not, in fact, have something in her teeth. But she was correct in one vein – this was embarrassing. Embarrassing for her that she thought it was socially acceptable to put cream cheese on anything other than a bagel or as a baking ingredient. Embarrassing for me that I took someone to dinner who thought it would be a legitimately good idea to order something so vile. Embarrassing for the waiter who looked at me in disgust. Embarrassing for the restaurant that they still had yet to take the once-popular roll off the menu.
There’s simply no debate. In a court of law, a judge would find a prosecutor in contempt of court for even deciding it would be prudent to argue that cream cheesed sushi is acceptable in a modern society. You should be laughed out of your book clubs or blacklisted from the Zagat Guide for even internally debating whether or not to order a Vegas roll where deep-fried salmon, avocado, imitation crab meat and cream cheese strive to ruin an entire Japanese tradition.
The beauty of sushi doesn’t lie in anything but the fish itself. The fresher, the better. The thinly sliced, raw product of a fisherman’s hard work touching the lips of the consumer is a circle-of-life experience that should be cherished. Whether you’re eating it nigiri-style flung over a pod of rice or rolled with fresh vegetables, there’s simply never an excuse to partner a fresh tuna or salmon with the density of a cream cheese. It’s like drinking champagne while eating SPAM, or sprinkling Siberian beluga caviar onto your Fruity Pebbles. These combinations are a waste of a delicacy; a disservice to the luxury you’re paying for up front.
Cream cheese in and of itself isn’t the issue at-hand. Cream cheese is an incredible addition to several different food types. One might argue that a bagel is simply a vehicle for the beauty of a fat-filled cream cheese. Cucumber slices become chips when topped with a chive cream cheese, and a brown sugar cream cheese can transform the blandest of desserts into a five-star revelation.
But once a sushi chef named “Mikey” slathers it all over a piece of salmon that’s sat dormant in the fridge since it came in fresh from Gordon Food Service? Well, that’s when the line needs to be drawn. That’s when friends need to urge friends to rethink every decision that’s lead them to the moment in their lives where the words “Philadelphia Roll, please” come out of their mouths. Because friends don’t let friends eat sushi with cream cheese – and first dates don’t get second dates either. .