Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yes we eat raw fish. Whole.

"What would you recommend?"
"...hmm. Will you eat raw fish?"
"Wait. But... You're American."
"We are indeed."
"Really?  Wow.  Well then, let's get ___."

We ate out every meal for a week, and we had this conversation at least once a day with our hosts or the wait staff of whatever restaurant visited while we were in Japan.  I love the idea that The Mister and I are "cultured" enough to buck cruddy American stereotypes, though I am disappointed that our country's inability to be adventurous precedes us.

"Cultured" I think in this instance is sort of a mash up.  The Mister and I don't spend our spare time trying to find the next new exciting food trend.  For the most part, we'd be perfectly happy to eat the same rotation of menu items each week (and when we're home in the states we always sort of get to that point).  It's rare either of us ever say "hey, you know what? let's try something new." Mostly,  our "cultured" is just an understanding we both have that if you pause too long to bother with what you're eating in a foreign country, then you are going to get really hungry, really quick, and you're going to miss out on the best damn food you've ever put in your face. And truly, our "rotation of go-to's" all came to us in just that way.

Great examples:
-Literally any type of meat you can put in a fresh-made tortilla and call a taco.  A baby goat?  The throat and tongue of a cow you say?  I would legit stab a man for just one more of those tacos.  (but like, a man who's already done something deserving of being stabbed... and not a mortal wound, just a nick.  But you get the point.)  ((haha, point, get it?  like the point on a knife?))   
-Sushi.  Specifically I'm a real big fan of eel and fatty tuna.  Have you ever seen a real eel?  I can't say if I would have stopped to think about it that I would have been super like "Yes, let me take a bite out of this thing."
-Sweetened read beans mashed up and stuffed into a rice-flour dough, aka mochi, aka if I get fat in Japan this is the sole reason.  It's not overly sweet, and it tastes lighter than most American pastries.  It is the first thing I wanted to find when we got off a plane in Nagoya.  And it IS the first thing I found (and summarily devoured) in Nagoya.   I used to have an international RA on my staff who made them, and I've been addicted ever since.
Mochi.  Sweet, beautiful, mochi.

What's the best "out of your bubble" food you've ever tried? 
Tell me in the comments!

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do,"  is probably the best advice a traveler can heed, and that's how we approached our meals.

Breakfasts were pretty straight forward, because our hotel had continental breakfasts.  I had some mixed fruit, a hard boiled egg, and a warmed raisin bun each morning.  The mister had eggs over rice, little sausages and fruit.  We ate with chopsticks (because other utensils are not an option. anywhere. finger dexterity had a great workout that week), but I think both of us would agree that our meals were VERY American-looking compared to the other offerings on the buffet.

In American schools, little kids are taught the five senses.  In that same lesson plan, they are taught that there are four kinds of tastes: bitter, sweet, sour, and salty.  The Japanese culture has added one more taste category, and they're BIG fans.  They call this flavor umami, which actually means "delicious taste."  It can be described to the uninitiated as a savory, almost but not quite salty taste, most recognizable in seafood -or- if you've tried dried seaweed, that's pretty on the money.  It's such an ever-prevalent part of Japan's food culture, that it's taken over on breakfast buffets to replace things that Americans would more readily recognize as breakfast foods.  There's no toast or cereal, bacon, or french toast.  The other hotel patrons eating breakfast around us were always nursing a cup of coffee over their seaweed soup, or pickled seaweed and egg mash over rice.  Much as we're up to explore, breakfast was a tough spot for us to branch out.

Lunches were more adventurous.  There were a lot of convenience-type restaurants around where we stayed in Nagoya.  Not convenient in a fast-food type of way, but in a "all the menus are pictures so we can point to what we want" or a "all the food is on a conveyor belt so we can grab what we want" type of way.

Did I say conveyor belt? YES I DID.
That is fresh-made sushi whirling around that dinner.  We ate at this place twice because I found it so novel.  You just wait until a plate goes by that looks good to you, and you nab it.  Once you're done, the waiter counts your plates and charges you accordingly.  Also, holy cheap sushi batman.  Between the two of us we walked out of that place, FULL, for less than 15 bucks both times.  I would guess in the states we would have been batting around $60 or $70.

Other lunches included tonkatsu (fried pork), ramen (way better than the crappy packs you buy for a quarter at the 7-11) curry rice, and udon (a bowl of broth that contains meat, thick noodles, and in my case, a quail egg).  All delicious.  Our only disappointment with lunches was that we discovered we're not super big fans of iced green tea.  Which is everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  By the end of the trip, we finally got smart and asked someone how we could properly ask for "hot tea."  Which is still green tea, but somehow the heat makes it palatable.

Then came dinner.  Obviously.  Dinners were by far the most adventurous meals, because we never really ordered for ourselves.  We asked for recommendations.  And whatever that recommendation was, we went with it (see that conversation which started us off today).  Three such meals are notable in my head.

Click to embiggen.  The place
beneath the fish sign is where we ate.
1.  Yakiniku - a friend of The Mister's from years ago met us out at a type of restaurant that features a small propane grill at each table.  You order your food and it arrives raw.  Then you cook and eat it.  We started with some sashimi (think sushi, but just raw fish, no rice), and once we'd successfully proven that we are more than happy to eat fish, our host ordered sardines.  Which arrived whole.  He cooked them on the tiny grill just enough for their eyes to *pop,* and then he instructed us to eat them with a little bit of mayo.

what, you thought I was lying?
We tried to approach it with optimism, but an entire fish (bones, guts, scales, ect) dipped in mayo was not as favorable a taste as either of us had hoped for.  I couldn't help but feel like we were reenacting the last scene from "A Christmas Story" except with a fish instead of a duck.  The rest of the food at that meal was good, though I have to say we ordered a chicken kabob variety platter and were amused when the variety that came out was arranged thusly: one kabob of chicken meat, one of chicken skin, one of a chicken blood sausage, and one of chicken gizzards.

What's the weirdest/ not good "out of your bubble" food you've tried?  
Tell me in the comments!

2.  The fancy-pants dinner - The Mister's new work associates invited us out to dinner at a place called "D Square."  We assumed with such a name it would be a casual meal, and so we showed up in jeans. Turns out the D in D Square is for the D in The Mister's company's name.  The company in that area of Japan is a big, fat, profitable deal that smells of many leather bound books and rich mahogany.

So much so that D Square is a collection of 4 VERY upscale restaurants and a banquet center, which is only for the use of company associates and their families.  We arrived to this dinner and were lead to the table by a beautiful hostess in full traditional kimono dress.  We were each served the most beautiful (and large!) spread of sushi I've ever seen.  Long story short, I was a bit embarrassed about our attire.

The Mister smoothed it all over by eating a giant ball of wasabi paste to impress our hosts.  Apparently most Japanese don't use much wasabi, if any (thank goodness for me), so they thought this was pretty ballsy.  Our hostess then informed us that for such brave patrons, the chef would prepare a sushi roll that was just wasabi root and rice.  The Mister enthusiastically agreed to this, and aside from one piece, he ate the WHOLE darned roll.  The remaining piece was eaten by the only other guy from our party who had used any wasabi paste with his meal, and he very quickly had a coughing fit then excused himself to presumably hork.  So that was interesting.

That's all just for ME.
the dreaded wasabi roll

3.  The Last Night's Meal - The last full day in Japan we were wandering the train station's restaurants looking for something to just feed us enough to go back to the hotel and sleep.  We were exhausted, and had already eaten our fill of umami flavor for the day.  We wandered past a fire-oven pizza joint.  And then we wandered past it a second time.  And then we stopped and just stared at the outdoor menu (I really loved that most places have a menu with pictures posted outside their door so you can decide if you actually want to eat anything on their menu before walking in.) and we stood there staring until the waiter came out and insisted upon showing us to a table.  We were a little cautious, as we'd been warned that pizza in Japan commonly comes with mayo and corn.  But then we read the characters on the menu and ordered deliciousness in the name of a Margherita pizza.  I think some of this is a "you had to be there" type moment, but I was super amused that this menu, if you read the characters out loud, it really reads as "ma-ru-ge-ri-ta."  So it was a pretty safe bet our pie would be corn-free (the one underneath that says "ma-ri-na-ra.").

After that, we stocked up on green-tea flavored kitkat bars (way more delicious than the actual liquid tea) on our walk back to the hotel, and now here we are, back in the states just counting down the time until that is our everyday life for a few years.

In conclusion, try foods even if you think they might be gross.  They might be, but they might NOT be, you know?  

I think when I talk about Japan type things from now on, it might be fun to do a japanese vocab spotlight.  Wanna join me? Here's today's lesson:

little language lesson
O-su-su-me-wa, nan des ka?
What's your recommendation?  
I can't believe how much we used this, and how excited people were to share their favorites with us.  It's not specific to food, either, so we used it when picking out our appliances (which vacuum do you recommend for pet hair?), our car (which car is small enough to traverse these narrow roads?), and our curtains (dark brown or light grey?)

The front of this year's Christmas Card. :)
That's all I've got for this week - have a safe and happy holiday, I'll see you once we get back from our festivities in the New Year!

1 comment:

ScoobyKara said...

The only time I think I've really be adventurous with food was when I went to France. I tried to adopt the whole "try everything once" attitude. I found I really enjoy escargot and frog's legs (both were just very garlicky, which works for me). Goat cheese was the one thing that really didn't work for me.

And oh how I love green tea kit kats. Yum!