Saturday, November 18, 2006

What I eat

It occurred to me the other day that I have been here nearly 6 months now and still haven't given my non-existent readership any indication of the sorts of things that I eat. Since everyone knows that Japan is a country of raw fish, whale meat and squidgy stuff, maybe people have come to think that I am living on a diet of gross and alien-looking sea creatures (it is possible here - one could live on a combination of octopus, sea urchins, prawns, angler fish, puffer fish and sea cucumbers if one wanted). In fact what I eat hasn't changed a great deal, so is boring. However, the range of interesting things I can eat has changed quite a bit.

Last night I went out drinking with some other maths students at a nearby Izakaya, suikoden ("Drunk tiger's wisdom"), and much crazy food was consumed. Izakaya are like Japanese pubs, but like all Japanese activities drinking here centres around food. Japanese pubs therefore have an extensive food menu, which includes all the main styles of Japanese food. One orders small dishes which cost $2-5 each, and then everyone picks at them. There is also an extensive selection of alcohol. So here is a list of the foods which came to the table last night, with my usual verbose descriptions (i didn't eat all of these):

  • Otsumame, the drinking nibbles, which included wierd brown sticks and tiny bowls of potato salad
  • sashimi: there are 3 things all Japanese people love to eat, and this is one of them. Our sashimi included raw octopus and raw squid (my least favourite raw fish)
  • Hokke: this is a fish that has been sliced down the middle and unfolded, then grilled. One side has the spine and ribs in it, the other side doesn't. (The picture at the top is of a hokke). One pulls the spine and ribs off in one piece like a ribbon, and then tucks into the absolutely delectable flesh below. After we finished this dish, I looked away for a moment and when I turned back my friend had eaten all the skin and bones as well - he was still chewing on the bones and told me he likes the way they crunch!
  • raw minced tuna with a raw quail's egg: I don't know what this is called, but Japanese people seem to love raw quails eggs. This dish arrived delightfully arranged, with the raw tuna in a ring around the quails egg, all sprinkled with raw spring onions; my friends stirred it altogether into a pinkish-yellow mess and then started spooning it greedily into their mouths. Not for me the grossness of raw egg, a texture which the Japanese call 'neba neba' and universally adore
  • two types of fried chicken cartilage
  • fried potatoes: a staple on every izakaya menu. Fish and chips (i.e. hokke and fried potatoes) in a pub in Japan costs between $7 and $9 regardless of where you are (Tokyo or Matsue); quite reasonable, only the serves are not quite as large. This is no problem though - fish and chips in Australia is disgustingly unhealthy, and the grilled fish and sparse chips they serve here a far more sensible size. (By comparison, my local pub in redfern charged $13 for fish and chips, and served twice as much of both - which is probably twice what I needed).
  • a salad of semi-rare fried beef with tomatoes, which cost about $4 and contained maybe 100g of beef (at the most!)
  • a dish of fried cabbage and chicken's kidney, which I studiously avoided
  • finally, 'tea rice', the proper name of which I do not know, which consists of a bowl of rice with two pickled plums and some nori (dried seaweed) as a garnish, and hot green tea poured over it. My bowl also had a few roasted millet grains in it. This dish sounds wierd but, once one adds the wasabi (horseradish) accompaniment, it is gloriously delicious. I don't know why, but it just rocks. You can also get it with quails egg or grilled salmon instead of umeboshi (pickled plum) but who would want to? This is a perfect end to an Izakaya meal, especially when all your friends stole the hokke and ate all the chips.
Drinks that were downed in the evening included alcoholic calpis (my friends were very amused when I told them about 'cow piss'); cassis with yoghurt(!); cassis with oolong tea (a perennial favourite here); and straight gin with lime (this was me). By the end of the night we were all quite well toasted, and full variously of rice (me) or squidgy stuff (them). We managed in between eating and drinking to arrange a trip to the Mountains tomorrow to look at autumn leaves, on which I will duly report...


Blogger St John Nottlesby said...

Ye gods man! I fear that my culinary inclinations are Teutonic in their conservatism - to wit beer, schniztel, and cabbage are the (soft) staples of my diet.

11:12 AM  

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