Unlike many places we’ve planned to visit, I had an idea of what Japan was going to be like. I had expectations it needed to fulfill. I had the picture in my mind. Going to Japan was like a supermodel of a country to me, what we all could be, if only we were a little more perfect. Like spending three weeks with Natalie Portman or Katie Holmes, there was no way, from what I knew, that I wasn’t going to have the time of my life. What I found though was what I had “loved” the most, the food, was actually an infatuation. All that I knew of Japanese foods were not what they seemed.
Japan as a whole was what I expected: amazing. I think we should put a huge billboard on the moon instructing aliens heading our way that the entrance to our planet runs through Tokyo. That way our extraterrestrial visitors will be led to believe that we humans are organized, clean and advanced. They can also make note of the fact that we exist in numbers that can overrun their conquest efforts. They will notice that trains run on the second, everything is systematic and orderly. Japan is that good, they make Germans look sloppy. It wasn’t like finding out your actress crush was actually photoshopped to look great, Japan was my nerdiest dreams come true.
Sushi, for breakfast? Yes, please.
I realized that my love was infatuation due to the food. “If I had to choose one type of food to eat for every meal the rest of my life, it would be sushi,” I confidently stated on multiple occasions. However, once on the ground I found that what we get in America is only a small sliver of what they eat in Japan, literally. We make sushi with parts of the fish; they make it with every part. There are sea creatures they eat that I am not sure science has identified, it was just scraped from the bottom of the ocean to sink to the bottom of a Japanese belly.
Chicken sausage with a raw egg for dipping, the one raw egg in Japan that I enjoyed.
Japanese food in America isn’t a misnomer; everything that is served in a premium Japanese restaurant in America is eaten in Japan. It’s not like French Fries or Chow Mein that were American creations, it’s that we don’t go as far as them. While we enjoy sushi and sashimi fish meat, they have sushi and sashimi animals. This includes raw bull testicles, raw horse, and assorted raw beef products. The surprising part was that some of them were really good. Raw beef liver is delicious, bull testicles are OK, but the horsemeat…let me tell you, if you ever get the chance to eat raw horsemeat, do it, it’s sublime.
Raw bull testicle, not too bad…
Sashimi aside, the odd flavor/texture combinations are, how can I put this lightly, absurd. Candied squid lollipops, who even thought of that one? Many flavors we couldn’t identify, covered in mayo and ecto-cooler green sauce on something crispy. Dried fish cheese sticks. Sour pickled plums that taste the way a high school biology class during dissection week smells. Dried fish that seems to have gone bad, months ago. Let’s just say that fish ages about as well as a carton of milk left in the sun for a few weeks. Then there are the raw eggs, I like eggs…a lot, but raw ones in my noodles or rice just isn’t that good. Do you see what I’m getting at? Real Japanese food is absurd, I couldn’t make up anything crazier than the reality.
How Japanese people look at a cow…
So it was. I still love sushi and sashimi. I was introduced to things I found I loved, Japanese food in real life let me down. That’s not exactly fair, it didn’t really let me down, it just shocked me. I am off to have some raw horsemeat and ponder what if Natalie Portman or Katie Holmes aren’t perfect.