Nom Nom Nom

August 10, 2009

I’ve never been a particularly adventerous eater. The culinary highlight of most of my weeks ended up being the number one combo at McDonalds. So, when I ate sushi for the first time about two years ago, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say I’d finally evolved into a higher state of being. A state of being not dependent on grilled cheese sandwhiches for sustinence. People seemed genuinely shocked I could swallow wads of raw fish. I had finally graduated from my “chicken strips all the time” policy, and the people were proud.

If only they could see me now.

Finding Western food in the countryside is a near impossible quest. Save for McDonalds, nearly every eating establishment in this town vears toward traditional Japanese. Even the Cocos (an American chain eatery I thought had gone out of business, but apparrently still alive in the Far East) altered their menu to include mostly Japanese dishes. I’ve had to adapt, and adapt fast. I’ve forced myself to appreciate the food here, and tonight I had my ultimate test: an all Japanese meal. No dinner rolls allowed.

Various members of the Nabari School Board held a goodbye/welcome party for me and my predecessor tonight at a Japanese restaurant. And I mean 100% Japanese – you had to sit indian-style around the table and take your shoes off. The whole experience. Following in step, the food was entirely Japanese – the shrimp boasted a thick layer of mayonaise. The noodles were coated in mayonaise. Actually, a lot of the dishes seemed to work mayonaise in somehow. The Japanese love them some mayo.

The Japanese eat a lot of strange stuff, but they also dig plenty of dishes that are common in the west. Fried chicken made an appearance at dinner, and it rivaled any American incarnation in terms of tastiness. They also served pizza! Pizza with shrimp all over it, but good shrimp and all the other hallmarks of yummy pizza. Most surpringsly (and welcome) was the post-meal treat of cheese and crackers; cheese in any form except for melted-single-style on a Big Mac is very rare in Japan, an extremely worrying concern for yours truly. Thankfully, some special occassions call for chesse, like tonight.

The most pleasant discovery came in the form of green peas, my new favorite bar food. The peas (still lodged in pod) are a favorite with those drinking beer in Japan, so I’m told. And they are pretty fun to eat – you gotta squeeze the pea out of the pod and sort of shoot it into your mouth, ala all those physics-defying cartoons where monkeys squeeze bannanas out of the peels . Best of all, the peas actually taste good – like a squishier peanut.

Speaking of the booze – wow, the booze! Beer is, as expected, a staple, but plenty of more unique options exist. I drank a glass of plum wine (an extremeley sweet drink I also had, though in much more watered down form, back in Tokyo) and a glass of pineappley liquor (just as sweet as the plum wine, but more, uh, pineappleish). On top of that, sake flowed like judgement at sorority rush. The teachers and board of education memebers at the dinners seemingly made it a priority to make sure everyone’s shotglass was topped off – they really wanted people to have a good time. This sometimes lead to awkward dinner dialogue like which teachers at school I should hook up with – but hey, it was all a good time!

Plus, the people are genuinely amazing. My predecessor got a grand send off, and even I got a very big welcome (I got flowers! And we talked about baseball!). The folks here genuinely seemed excited for us to be here, and that’s very comforting. Even if I’m starting to get used to the grub.

(Japanese Fun Fact #2 – At anyplace where you have to fill out paperwork, the company/organization usually offers eyeglasses for customers. Just sitting out on the table, available for anyone to put on.)

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