Naked Sushi

Find a willing model, and you too can practice the arts of Nyotaimori and Nantaimori. Lizzy Hill gets the bare details.

A woman and a man lie eerily still on two long tables. They're completely naked, with the exception of a few strategically placed flowers, seashells and a colourful pile of sushi. A crowd of drunks swarms the duo with chopsticks, picking their supper off their arms, legs and stomachs.

Eating raw fish off of naked people used to only be a delicacy for the Japanese elite, but in recent years, seafood-clad men and women have washed up on tables across North America. Naked sushi hit Toronto in 2005, making its debut in Vancouver, Edmonton and in Montreal shortly after. The fad also has its own breed of hedonistic enthusiasts in Seattle, California and New York. Though many would say it's a good thing, most Maritimers have yet to enjoy their sushi extra raw. Here are some pointers for gastronomic adventurers who would like that to change.

I hit up sushi expert Kevin Chen for advice before coercing my hairdresser Red Giovanni and government worker/burlesque performer Natalie Chavarie into serving as human platters. The Hamachi Kita chef studied sushi for five years in Japan, where he witnessed the practice first hand. The art of adorning bodies with sushi is called Nyotaimori when the platter is a woman and Nantaimori when a man. Chen is originally from China, where officials have outlawed body sushi, claiming it offends public decency."It's just a fun thing at clubs," he says.

There are two main rules: No talking to the models, who remain silent. No touching the models, except with chopsticks. Traditionally, chefs lay sashimi directly on models' stomachs, Chen explains. Many Canadians have a hard enough time eating raw fish, let alone from someone's bare belly, so he recommends placing sushi on garnishes such as shredded carrot, cucumber or banana leaves (available frozen for $3.25 at Cafe Aroma Latino, 5780 North Street). The coolness of the vegetables also helps keep sushi cold. True germaphobes can place cling wrap over the skin, a common Californian bastardization of Nyotaimori.

Avoid that grocery store taste when enjoying sushi off a friend or lover. Sushi grade sushi (fresh caught) is available at The Fisherman's Market (607 Bedford Highway). This time of year, fresh tuna is imported at $16 to $18 a pound. The Market also carries sushi grade Atlantic Canadian Salmon, ranging from $6.60-$7.50 a pound in the winter. Don't have time to grab the fish yourself? Try an assorted sashimi platter from a local sushi restaurant---$15-$27 at Dharma Sushi (1576 Argyle Street) and $18-$34 at Hamachi Kita (5537 Young Street). Extra lazy? Hamachi Kita sells enough sushi rice to make four or five of your own rolls for $1.50 when they have extra on hand.

It's hard to think of anything grosser than sweaty sushi, so some recommend spritzing models with cold water. We take the opposite approach, cranking the heat to 25 degrees Celsius. (Probably not the smartest idea, but it kept our unseasonably attired models happy.) To ensure your sexy foray doesn't induce vomiting, eat the sushi quickly. Human skin on average is around 33 degrees Celsius. Raw fish left out at this temperature can grow bacteria after an hour. For lengthy events, don't put all the sushi out at once and make sure you use fresh garnishes or clean models' skin before restocking. According to Chen, sushi is best enjoyed at around five or six degrees Celsius.

Understandably, many find the idea of body sushi demeaning, but don't knock it till you've tried it. When feasters are respectful and gracious the experience can be exciting for all parties involved. Chevarie recalls that staying dead still for an hour was challenging. She says the overall experience, however, inspired her to continue serving her community in more creative ways.

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