Thursday, February 27, 2014

Food in Japan: Attack your snacks.

Ahh, the first post of what I hope will become a regular series:

Food in Japan. 

There are so many beautiful and breathtaking and curious and wonderful things about Japan. Right up there on the list is the food. 

And it's not what you're thinking. 

Sure, I loved a good sushi roll (or ten) over a glass of wine (or ten) with my girlfriends when I was in college. And my naive little self thought that it would be 'awesome-girlfriend-sushi-night!' every day once we moved to Japan. Then I arrived; pregnant with morning sickness that could rival a junkie on day three of meth detox. Nauseous and throwing up all day in a country that smells like fish. 

But I had to be a good gaijin! I had to eat all the fish! Fatty tuna! Fatty Salmon! And... wait a minute... why isn't it rolled up with scallions and and cream cheese and where is the decorative drizzle of that mayonnaise based deliciousness? And does that menu really say 'chicken womb'?!

Don't get me wrong; now that the childbearing time in my life is no more, I will indulge in the authentic (and culinarily supreme) sushi that is sold all over Japan. However, during those first couple of years when I was making and having babies, fish in Japan was not my jam. 

When we lived in Misawa, our neighbor would go fishing on the weekends and bring us back fresh squid. He invited us over and demonstrated how to properly cut the slippery cephalopod and how to use every part of the thing. You eat it all; some raw, some cooked. My legs wobbled, and my mouth watered from fighting the very intense and very real urge to vomit all over their bamboo cutting board. 

It was somewhere between my first experience at a kaiten sushi and watching our neighbor (whose name, ironically, is Misawa) separate the mantle from the funnel of the squid that I became… opinionated.

And I was totally in the closet about it. Jeff would invite me to lunch or dinner with his coworkers and I would go, reluctantly. I would scan the menu, select the safe entree and avoid those that seemed suspect. But all the while I was secretly in anxious agony, completely expecting a my gut to flip flop at any moment. But I would smile and act excited about the wonderful opportunity to eat authentic Japanese cuisine while living in Japan. I couldn't let on that my palate wasn't up to par; how gaijin can you get!?  

One particular evening Jeff and I were invited to a celebratory affair at a very Japanese (as in, usually do not serve Westerners… we were with Jeff's Japanese friends and this was the only reason we were granted entry) establishment; fugu was the main attraction. 

Being a once in a life time opportunity, and not wanting to offend our hosts, I did partake in the fugu gamble. And it was not bad at all. And it didn't kill me. Dinner WIN. 

After almost six years of living in Japan, I can honestly say that I now am one of those people who rave about the food. I have come a long way from the flip flopping tummy; once I got over myself (and my gag reflex) I was able to really appreciate all the wonderfulness around me. 

I didn't go all total emersion; I started small. Baby steps to loving the Japanese-way-of-eating.  

If you want to learn to love a different cultures cuisine, start with the snacks. 

Walk into any connivence store, market, grocer, train station… all over Japan in all the different stores there are all sorts of SNACKS. Just grab a pack, any pack, and give it a try! 

These little corn puffs are snacking perfection. I love every thing about them; texture, flavor and packaging. Although, that peanut man lied to me… there was not a single peanut in that bag. Nonetheless, I am in love with this caramel corn (sweet corn puffs; not popcorn). To the point where, if I could, I would have a third child just to to name him or her Tohato. 

Don't judge me. I am Frito name my imaginary third child after a Japanese snack food if I want.

So, if you find yourself in a foreign land, intimidated by the gastronomic selections… just go for the snacks. You will build confidence in selecting new things, and chips are almost universally delicious. Before you know it, you will be ordering off of a menu written entirely in a different language, asking the waiter to bring you whatever the chef recommends.  

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