Culinary Mis-Adventures

Giving props where props are due, I’ve got a lot of respect for Loblaws and their President’s Choice line for opening up new gastronomic horizons for the good people of our country and our neighbours to the south. Without the folks from PC offering us everything from peanut sauce to cheesecake, mango dressing to balsamic vinegar, we’d likely still be a society in which meat and two veg was the order of the day. President’s Choice has allowed Canadians to expand their palates and learn about the food of other cultures without shrinking their wallets.

I buy a lot of PC products, and have been known to get ornery as a bear when various items that I like but which sell poorly are discontinued – hello! Wasabi rice chips!!

However, the one thing President’s Choice really doesn’t do well – at least to my taste – is their prepared foods. Their chana masala is bland. Their fish pie lacking in fish, their pad thai is a glommy clomp of noodles that tastes of ketchup.

But my curiosity got the better of me and I had no choice but to try the President’s Choice Teriyaki Salmon Bento Box and California Roll sushi. Prepared – hang on to your hats – in the microwave.

Yes, it really was as bad as you’re all probably imagining.

The Bento first, because it was at least edible, if not actually good. A small portion of overcooked salmon, a hefty portion of rice (which is so NOT good frozen and reheated), one veggie gyoza in a chicken-based broth, and a portion of mushy edamame with carrots and mushrooms. What can I say? It filled the hole and that’s about it. The ingredients list is too terrifying (and long) to recount.

The California rolls were one of the most horrible things I’ve ever put in my mouth. I managed four of the six and gave the other two to the dogs. The idea is to microwave the package of frozen rolls for 1 minute and then let them sit for an additional 10 minutes to defrost. They’re shrink-wrapped to keep the rice from drying out, but it doesn’t work. The rice formed hard clumps that fell away as I tried to bite the rolls. The avocado was mushy.

The packets of condiments fared poorly as well. Pickled ginger should apparently not be frozen – all I got out of that little packet was nasty pink mush. I’d also like to know why there is fucking sorbitol in both the wasabi paste and the pickled ginger.

Most terrifying of all was the serving instructions:

To serve, remove one piece of sushi from its compartment and place on top of another, in order to leave one compartment empty. Pour contents of soy sauce packets into empty compartment and using chopsticks, mix in wasabi small amounts at a time, to taste. Do not pour entire contents of wasabi packet in at once. Dip sushi into soy wasabi mixture. (Emphasis theirs.)

Now besides offering directions that are dumbed down to the point of idiocy but not especially informative (ie. if you need to be told to dip the sushi in the soy sauce, or to add the wasabi a bit at a time, odds are you might not even know which of the many packets actually contains the wasabi – there’s no instructions to that effect), the serving instructions worry me for another reason. Obviously, these direction are intended for someone who has never eaten sushi before. And while President’s Choice most definitely is bringing sushi to the masses, spreading the trend of Japanese fish and rice to tiny little small towns where no sushi restaurants exist – is this really what we want those folks to be eating for their very first sushi experience?

Good sushi is an ethereal experience. Sitting at the bar at a place like Hiro while the chef prepares omakase from the finest fish available makes you truly believe that food is full of both art and beauty. Even a mid-range sushi restaurant can be an enjoyable meal as long as there’s an effort to keep it authentic. I don’t even look down upon those pre-prepared boxes you can get at various food courts, if they’re fresh. The stuff from Sushi-Q in the Toronto Eaton Centre is great if you get it right at lunch as soon as they open.

But my concern with the PC sushi and bento offerings is that someone who has never had sushi before will try it, hate it, and never take the opportunity to eat good sushi again, under the pretence that they tried it once and didn’t like it. Because this is so truly not what anyone’s first sushi experience should be. It’s not what any sushi experience should be.