A few months ago, I found myself sitting in front of a plate of sushi, being instructed on how to eat it. I wasn’t entirely sure how I had gotten there (The last thing I remembered was excessive nagging and the waitress’ arrival), but regardless of how it had happened, I was about to slip raw fish down my throat. I did so, convinced that it would be a traumatizing experience. However, not two weeks later, I found myself consciously ordering sushi on my own. I had, with one roll, become a sushi-lover, just as millions of Americans already were and are. Across the country, seaweed-wrapped, rice-rolled snacks are the fetish du jour. We grab them whenever and wherever we can, which, for the sushi industry, is wonderful. But, for our stomachs, it can be a completely different matter.
The Anisakis, a parasitic worm, occasionally accompanies the anticipated rice, seaweed and fish. When that happens, one of two things occurs. Either you feel it tickle your throat and immediately cough or vomit it up, or you swallow it. The worm itself can’t survive in your body, but its larvae attach to the tissue lining your stomach and intestines, causing cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. In the most severe cases, you develop a bowel obstruction. It can send you to the hospital and result in serious medical complications, leaving you with no option aside from surgery. While this possibility shouldn’t keep you from eating sushi, it should make you pause before ordering the dish at the drop of the hat.
Raw fish will never be as safe as cooked fish, so you have to be particularly careful when consuming it. Make sure that it has been properly prepared and handled. This is easiest if you go to a reputable restaurant. A sidewalk sushi-stand may not be the best idea. Also, if you can, ask the server if the fish has been frozen. Freezing it at four degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours can effectively kill any worms and larvae. When you’re at home, avoid the raw-fish sushi. While it’s the most commonly known type, it’s not the only one. Vegetables and blanched, boiled, broiled, marinated or sautéed fish are all delicious ingredient options. You don’t have to swallow a parasite to have an authentic sushi experience. There are considerably safer ways.