Japan in context: food
As I prepare to leave the land of the rising sun, I’d like to share some reflections, in the next few posts, on things Japanese, as seen through the eyes of a first-time visitor, and someone who has sped his way from one end of the country to the other.
Food in Japan
I have to say that I have developed a taste for Japanese food, and my gut has handled it very well for the duration of this journey. Rice and noodles are the universal staples, bulking out every meal, even breakfast. But the common denominator at breakfast is something called ‘miso’, a soup that seems to have seaweed and tofu as its ingredients.
Above: scallop, miso and green tea
But I have to admit that some of the time I have little idea of what I’m eating, especially when buying in convenience stores. In the EU, we are used to food labelling in several languages. In Japan, it’s only in Japanese. As a result, I’ve been guilty of a few ‘faux pas’. The bread rolls I bought to go with sardines had chocolate spread in them. A carton of what looked like apple juice was, in fact, cold green tea. A small plain baguette turned out to be a jam sandwich….and the list goes on.
In restaurants I’ve been in, the menus have been invariably written only in Japanese, and normally without the useful little pictures that can give away important clues. And when you are presented with a tray of several little bowls of food,
most of which are a complete mystery, and then look over at the condiments and think you can identify the soy sauce (but another sauce looks decidedly similar), and then wonder how they should be applied. One thing is for certain, never put soy sauce on your rice……why? Your rice will lose its stickiness and you’ll never be able to scoop it up with your chopsticks.
I have spent several hours observing Japanese people managing their food at the table, and they do a lot of scooping and slurping. Indeed, the greatest pleasure to be had out of eating noodles, apparently, is in the slurping. A chap near my table once slurped so persistently and loudly, he would have been given a ‘yellow card’ in an English restaurant. Next offence…..and out!
I suppose a summit in the experience of Japanese food is reached when you have sampled, and survived, ‘sashimi’ (raw fish). You may remember down in Kyushu, a young tourist agent and his boss took me to a sashimi restaurant,
and I had to take a deep breath before diving in with the chopsticks. It was good….I enjoyed it. It would never be my first choice, but I would certainly repeat the experience.
Have I missed any favourite dishes from home? Most certainly, I have. But then, after all, home is where your comfort zone is. Isn’t it?