Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Japan #10 - J-viddles #1

(At the end of August/beginning of September 2004 I took a pleasure trip to Japan. I meant to have all the blog postings done in the first week, I'm now on track to have it done within 90 days months of the trip.)
(UPDATE 1/20/05: Justin responds)

For the most part I like Japanese food, and I have to say that I liked 95% of everything I ate over there. The only problem is, that in general, 95% of it was the same food everyday. I'm spoiled rotten living in America, and rare is the week when I take in only one ethnic group worth of food. I loved the salt fish and rice for breakfast the first several days, but by about halfway through the trip, I was done with it. Add to this the fact that bacon simply doesn't exist over there, and it made for slim pickin's. One morning they had a little hit of ketchup with the Japanese omelet (which I never got tired of, the omelet or the ketchup) and I was as happy as a brain eating zombie (I was quite tired and didn't realize it, but my wife said that I was sucking the contents out of the packet). I got the definite impression that the Japanese don't make a habit of coating their food with anything (ketchup, BBQ sauce, gravy, or even wasabi).

Here in Cleveland, we went out to a well known Asian shopping location one weekend and stocked up on some much missed Japanese goodies. We picked up some Pocari, Kirin bottled tea (no one makes bottled tea better), and the bottled 'milk tea' product of which my wife is a fan of (I still don't know what to make of it; I think it tastes way better than it deserves to taste). We also picked up some okonomi sauce and I took it upon myself to try to replicate the okonomiyaki that we had eaten in Hiroshima.

I was amazed with my first attempt as it came within 80% of the original version. I didn't think it would matter, but the okonomi sauce makes all the difference. You could coat a roofing shingle with the stuff and still come within 40% of the taste. I don't have any pictures from my first attempt because I ate all the evidence, but here's a pic of my follow up try:

On the griddle

The batteries in the camera died when I flipped them over, and I failed to take pictures of the other two three four times I made them because I ate them before I thought about taking pictures.

I also picked up some tsubo ume(brand name?) at the store. For anyone who watches that Top Model show, these were the things they made them eat at the end of the first Japan episode. It's a type of pickled plum that I had in my rice for breakfast several times. Mashed up in rice, it gives a pleasant, mild 'zing'. However, if you eat the large ones straight up like they made the girls do on that show, it's strong enough to bring you to your knees.

Other viddles of note:
  • At the quite fancy wedding reception, they served a quaint little fruit plate. It featured a slice of melon that had the taste of honeydew, and the skin of a cantaloupe. I wondered why I'd never seen them before, but when I learned they were $30 a pop (in season) I wondered no more.

  • I learned the melon factoid while we were at a nice buffet in Kyoto. You could get all the shrimp you wanted, and could then cover it in copious amounts of that mysterious brown curry gravy found only in Japan and the U.K. However, the access to the fruit was tightly controlled (think Oliver Twist). And it's weird how at least my brain works. When I'm at a buffet in the states, I rarely fish out any watermelon from the ten gallon bucket of it they have on the bar, but when I suddenly have little or no access to it, I start craving it incessantly!

  • Speaking of which. When at a hotel on one of the Fuji lakes, we partook in an all-you-can-eat beef dinner. This was quite a change from the all-you-can-eat fish flavored stuffs to which I'd grown accustomed (good fish stuffs in Cleveland are nearly impossible to find). I think I ate half a cow that night... (at least I hope it was cow)

    Bring on da meat!

  • Noodle places are copious, and I have a deep love for spaghetti, I ate half a (ok, whole) box of spaghetti just last night. Fortunately, although they can't spell it, Japanese make respectable plate of spaghetti. (This compares unfavorably to my brief stay in an outlying area in Wales. Boiled starches of any kind (i.e. the best kind) were not to be found at all!)

    $5 for a bowl of noodles, sweet!

  • Also on the beef night, I had something for the first time during the trip - raw squid. Now I don't mind the cooked kind, and the flavor didn't bother me, but the texture.... The most polite way of putting it is, imagine if a stranger hocked up a big, thick, mildly fishy loogey and put it in the fridge, and the next night you accidentally dined on it. It sounds gross, but the first thing that popped into my mind was much more disgusting (it's best not to think about it). I found my out when I cooked the squid briefly in the boiling water for the beef.

  • Later on at a Tokyo sushi bar though, I did not have an out. This place featured a couple things that were good to try once. For whatever reason, I didn't take many pictures of the cool food here (I think I was pictured out by that point). In many meals in Japan, they would put these dried, tiny, baby sardines as sprinkles over a dish. I didn't mind these one bit; but in this place, they weren't so dry, and weren't so tiny. To add insult to injury, they were served in a bowl with cold, greenish noodles that were about the same texture as the fish (sans eyes of course). I hesitantly ate my 'snot noodles', but I couldn't bring myself to choke down the fish snot sitting at the bottom of the bowl, it makes my stomach light just thinking about it. They weren't done with me yet though. They then brought out more raw squid (which my wife and son gladly shared with me, thanks!) and...........raw shrimp sushi. The sensation of the gray, wet, cold, fishy, slightly salty, sticky goop that raw shrimp turns into in your mouth is (almost) indescribable. My mouth screamed "that should not be in here, get rid of it!". Needless to say, it took quite an effort to keep from gagging that bad boy up!

  • What's that at the bottom of the bowl? Some mysteries are best left unsolved.


    TrappedinJapan said...

    Just a quick piece of advise. In our place it's polite to choke down food you don't particularly care for and pretend that it's good assuming that the torture will soon stop. In Japan this rule doesn't apply. It's best to come right out with it and spit that repulsive bit of glop directly in your napkin with a nasty-how-could-you-make-me-eat-this look on your face. Japanese people love it- they all crack up laughing, but then the torture stops. The longer you eat, the weirder, more disgusting the food will get (and there's lots more disgusting stuff out there- take sea caterpillar for instance.) I can't even begin to list the things I have eaten in Japan- let's just say that while watching those Fear Factor shows where the people eat all kinds of strange things- you know sheep eyes and earthworms- I just watch and think-what's so bad about that!

    Evil Sandmich said...

    Now you tell me! Of course the situation was complicated by the fact that my buddy (who is an expert an embarassing photos) and his wife, who is Japanese, were there as well. If I was to spit something out, I could look forward to getting no end of grief.

    I'll also take this time to echo something I read over at Sushicam: I never really minded the taste of anything, but the texture of the food can be a killer!