20.11.2012 - 17.12.2012
HOW can I spend an entire year in a foreign land and not write about the food I eat?
Therefore, I shall write.
This post is entirely dedicated to the grub that I put into my stomach.
So, Japanese food. What is it like?
Rice. Rice all day long. A bowl of rice is served with every meal. Due to extensive rainfall during the summer, Japan is the ideal place for rice irrigation. As a result, rice is a staple item and is eaten daily by the Japanese.
The Japanese word for rice is gohan. If you're like me and loved the Dragon Ball-Z anime as a kid, the word "gohan" is easy to remember since it's the name of one of the main characters. Interestingly enough, breakfast in Japanese is called "asagohan" [morning rice]. Lunch is called "hirugohan" [afternoon rice]. Dinner is called "bangohan" [evening rice]. The word for every meal has the word rice in it. Interesting.
No matter what you eat; rice is usually served in a serperate bowl. Actually, everything is served in separate bowls. Traditional Japanese style does not mix foods and tastes. So instead of taking food from a center dish and putting it onto your plate, food is served to you in several small bowls. Besides that, all food is brought to you at once. Instead of eating soups and salads first and the entree second, everything is served together for you to eat at the same time.
I was extremely fortunate to be placed into a host family that cooks amazing Japanese food. Every day, my host mom whips out something new and delicious. My favorite meal is probably "shabu-shabu".
Shabu-Shabu: A pot of boiling water and vegetables is placed in the middle of the table and each person is given a plate of raw meat slices. Everyone uses their chop-sticks to "swish" around their meat in the big pot, cooking it themselves. "Shabu-shabu" directly translates to "swish-swish" in English, due to the swishing sound that is made while the meat gets cooked.
Beside rice and shabu-shabu, Japanese cuisine is made up of a large variety of different foods. It would take a while for me to list them all, but here are a few I find interesting:
- Soba noodles - long, thin gray noodles made of buckwheat.
- Okonomiyaki - a thick omelet-pancake covered in sauce and filled with eggs and vegetables.
- Takoyaki - diced octopus inside of a fried ball of dough.
- Tempura - deep fried seafood.
- Natto - fermented soybeans.
- Sashimi / Sushi - these do not need any explanation. Everyone knows what they are. But for some strange reason, all of my friends and family in America think that all I have to eat is sushi and sashimi. Japan is much more than sushi and sashimi. Much, much more.
I think that the coolest thing I ate here was a black egg. A black egg with a green shell.
Black eggs are traditionally from China and are known as "century eggs". Century eggs get their black color after being preserved in clay, ash, and ammonia for about a month. The result is an egg that is straight-up black.
Even with the variety of new and tasty foods that I am eating, I cannot help but miss some food I took for granted back home. Sometimes I have huge peanut butter cravings. Sometimes I am blown away the prices in restaurants and I miss cheap Chipotle burritos. But most of all, I miss the abundance of fruit.
I remember walking into a Japanese convenience store and was surprised to find that two apples cost ￥389 [$4.63].
Fruits are max-expensive. I used to think this was because Japan imported all of its fruit since there was no space to grow it. But apparently, the Japanese government subsidizes Japanese fruit farmers in order to keep out cheap foreign fruit competition. This, as well as meticulous farming practices and an obsession with creating perfect fruit, leads to high fruit prices and a sad Dan Pan the Travel Man.
Four apples for ￥780 [$9.28]
One pear for ￥498 [$5.93]
One melon for ￥980 [$11.66]
In fact, there is a store in Tokyo named Senbikiya that is world famous for selling exquisite fruit gift-baskets. Apples cost $25, a dozen strawberries cost $83, and three melons cost $419.
Adjusting to life in a foreign country also means adjusting to a new lifestyle. Although I miss eating barrels of fruit every day, this small sacrifice has made it possible for me to have amazing experiences I could never have anywhere else.
One of these experiences includes the time I ate Kobe Beef in the city of Kobe. Kobe beef cows, known as Wagyu, are feed special beer and get massaged to increase marbling and improve muscle tone. I've always wanted to eat Kobe Beef in Kobe, and during my trip to Osaka last month, I was finally able to do it.
Kobe Beef in Kobe!
LOTS MORE EXCITING ADVENTURES TO COME!