VIDEO: Inside the Fiery (and Somehow Fun) Hell That Is Harumi's "Sushi Challenge"
March 2, 2012
It's rare to hear your dining companion from the night before report that the raw fish dish you shared tweaked the Scoville Heat Scale of his urine.
"It kind of burned when I peed," he said.
The feeling came from a rather rare endeavor: The new, fiendish and deliciously evil "sushi challenge" at Harumi Sushi (899-9988) in Seaside.
Before we got to the challenge we steeled ourselves with cold Kirin and hot sake, plus the yummy orgy of tempura everything that is the Captain Crunch Roll ($13.50) and the stylish—but significantly smaller—Big Sur ($11.50) with its unagi, crab salad, avocado and ebi wrapped in cucumber.
We also took down the tasty Garden Roll ($8.50) and its yam tempura and fried cream cheese ingredients and marveled at the seemingly endless other maki—the Bamboo Curtain, Eternal Sunshine and Sexy Sexy ($10.25-$12.50) among them.
Then came the challenge: Eat the secret-recipe one-piece nigiri Chef Joey Kim makes under the cover of the sushi bar. Only then does he tell you what’s in it.
"I talked to the nigiri while I made it," he told us as he delivered the two big bites to the table.
Soon I was talking to Buddha—asking why I had to chomp it in one bite, among other things—and simultaneously sweating, crying and hiccuping, to the joy of a table which promptly produced camera phones and started videoing.
Here's a peek at the amateur foodie footage:
Through the red haze occupying my eyes—my eye-socket spigot must've run for 15 minutes—I could see Kim grinning his chopsticks off. (That's him at the start of the video visiting the table to cheer us on/taunt us/generally enjoy the fun.)
It was Gabe Skvor who also ate one. Moments later he was dumping sugar packets in his water.
Apparently that helped. Scared water would wash the hellfire all over my mouth and throat, I stuck with starchy udon noodles to temper the torture.
And suffice to say that scorching 10 minutes—that felt more like 100—was only the beginning. But such is life when the sadist at the sushi bar has carefully worked ghost peppers, ghost-pepper sauce and ghost pepper flakes into spicy tuna before adding a happy face of spicy mayo on top.
“It looks delightful,” he laughs, “but inside it’s Satan.”
Hence the next morning Skvor was amazed at what was happening in the bathroom.
"I've never had the clap," he said, "but I imagine it feels a little like that."
“Ghost chili pepper,” he emailed later, while my own stomach continued to knot and unknot and my not-so-cool-and-soothing bathroom visits multiplied. “What a motherf***er. Glad I did it, but you won't catch me doing that again.”
He went on: “[I] was high last night, from eating that thing, in a different way than I've ever been.
“Slept like s***. Woke up in the middle of the night, heart racing, and had to take off the blanket.”
In a crowded buffet of sushi joints, Harumi does something smart: It pays attention to what customers want. If one of them conceives a tasty special, they roll with it.
Note the appealing Megan’s Roll (salmon, avocado, jalapeño, cilantro, masago topped with tuna, yellow tail and spicy mayo, $12.50) or the Lana Roll (shrimp tempura, cream cheese, avocado, topped with tuna, yellow tail, unagi, sweet sauce, green onion and Siracha, $12.50).
In fact, the challenge was first inspired by a client named Charles—the seeds from 10 jalapeños weren’t hot enough for him, Kim learned. Then Kim heard word of ghost peppers. Now he’s thinking about charging for the nigiri—until now it's been a free challenge, no charge for the after-effects, either—if the eater has to drink water.
“It’s like you told me last night,” Kim says. “‘There are two kinds of people in this world. Those that take challenges and those who don’t.”
When I called the next day I also told him something else: I was a lawyer representing the two men who took the challenge a night earlier.
The response: Silence.
“Damn,” he laughed later, “I was thinking, ‘I’m going back to jail!’”
Check out our recent cover piece on local farmers' mission to make ghost pepper a local cash crop, "Hot on the Trail: The ghost pepper, the world’s spiciest, presents a goldmine of an opportunity—if Salinas farmers can get it to grow."