Don't get me started. I'm serious. Okay, so what is it about the Japanese and food? Most of it is not heavily spiced or seasoned. In fact, the first time I made Mexican food for Sayaka's family they ALL thought it was way too spicy. I used one packet of El Paso taco seasoning spread across twice the amount of meat it required. This water downed seasoning mix was no where near spicy... but that's the difference between Japanese food and anything else... it's subdued.
All the flavoring in most Japanese dishes consists of natural flavoring. Crab soup is a sea-food soup which is cooked with the crab shell in it because they believe the nutrients and flavor will come out of the shell and flavor the soup. So yeah, as I practically fractured my teeth on impenetrable shards of crab shell, the soup was delicious. Most Japanese food uses this theory in their cooking. Almost all of it is sea food related, and if not, it will definitely be served with Miso soup.
Miso soup is God's gift to earth, and the Japanese gift to humanity. It's the healthiest and best tasting light flavored soy soup ever invented. I have to have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to be satisfied, and I drink it up on cold days and days I'm sick. There's nothing better than a hot bowl of miso soup and a cup of white rice. Imagine when I tell you it took me about two months to get used to the flavor of miso. When I first tasted it, I thought, ick. This is bland. And there is tofu chunks floating around. It's no surprise, I'm pretty picky when it comes to what I like, but I'll be willing to try anything (even more than once) to put on a show of good faith.
It's no wonder that acclimating into a new culture can be full of pleasant and sometimes not so pleasant culture shocks. But the most fun I've experienced of all the "culture shocks" I've ever had has always revolved around food. Whether it is that Indian curry I shouldn't have ordered at 50+ the hotness level, which physically bloated my stomach and gave me a fever in a not so friendly allergic reaction, or the time when I ate bad (spoiled) sushi and threw up all day long... the truth is I have had my share of interesting experiences with food.
The Japanese love food. It's almost a game, to try and sample as many of the various foods you can. Japan has the densest and most abundant foreign restaurant franchise I've ever seen. In fact, I've never seen so much variety in my life. My Japanese fiancé loves to sample every "new" place that is not Japanese in origin, and I personally like to try all the "Japanese" restaurants. Eventually we keep mental tabs on the ones we enjoyed and the ones we will never go back to again. It's one of the fun things to do in Japan.
The Japanese offer a very inventive and creative look into what you can do with food. Especially stuff you would never think of as edible, they some how have made into a side dish or part of a three course meal to be eaten. Then there are foods like Nato, fermented beans, which stick together like snot. Yeah, it sounds gross, but that's the only real way to describe it. I still haven't been able to get used to Nato, but it doesn't bother me like it first did. There were lots of Japanese foods that challenged me. As I mentioned, I'm a bit picky, but I'm willing to try anything.
I haven't had Calpis in a long time. For a westerner, especially a grow up in the wild wild west of Montana, where the real cowboys are, that drink had me laughing so hard the first time one of my Japanese friends offered it to me.
I said, "Cow piss, what? You want me to drink -what?!"
Imagine my relief when it turned out to be a sweet tasting beverage, and not what I thought it was.
Speaking of mistaking food for other things... don't get me started on Uni (sea urchin). When Sayaka's mother plopped down a plate of Uni for me to try I did a double take. I said, "What this? I hope it's not what it looks like." I took in a deep sniff, trying to smell what it was, but it had the faint smell of sea food, like everything else in Japan. Heck, it took me half the year to get used to Sushi... now I love the stuff. You see, uni looks like diarrhea to the layman. I'm not kidding; it looks identical to a heaping pile of feces, the very wet and oddly orangish brown kind. Uni was one of those big "culture shocks," but it wasn't as startling as the "odori ebi" they made me eat. Oh my God, seriously... I grew up on a staple diet of beef and potatoes. After all, beef -it's what's for dinner. Think about it, after 25 years of solid foods... all of them cooked, singer, blackened, or burnt, I was up against the dancing shrimp. I looked pale... like I was about to lose my stomach.
If their not eating living things, or freshly killed and still writhing, the Japanese are finding new ways to shock you with what they put into their iron stomachs. Whether it be bamboo sprouts, or still squirming squid and octopus tentacles, odds are, the more food you experience in Japan the more traumatized you'll be. But I wouldn't change that for the world.
Sayaka has a very “specific” look she gives me whenever I start freaking out about my food. It’s the kind of look that says, “You’re a big sissy who whines too much. Shut up and eat your food.” Needless to say we have a ton of fun enjoying our meals together. We could be described as the big timid American and his bold and invincible Japanese fiancé who will eat until happiness, at least until satisfaction. If only eating out wasn’t so darn expensive, this would be the perfect world. Eating together is our way of sharing something we both love with each other, the love of food. After out grand adventures and miles of meals later, we tend to cool down by taking evening walks in the humid Japanese spring evenings, partly for exercise and partly for our love of spending time together. Sometimes we stop off at Seven Eleven or at Lawson for a cold Coke and beverage. Nothing beats a nice Coca-Cola at the end of the day, or for that matter, nothing goes better with a freshly fried plate of Yakisoba noodles.
The truth of the matter is most Japanese food is unusual in one way or another. Even many of the Japanese love or hate certain foods they have in their own culture. Japan has a very unique flavor and way of eating, and coming from America, where anything from any culture goes, Japan's very specific but very unique pallet was something I had to adjust to. But now that I have, these once terrifying foods are something I crave on a daily basis. Just goes to show you, trying new stuff is always good for your soul.