if you were to wander into one of the estimated 46,000 convenience stores in japan, you would eventually come upon a section of the refrigerated shelving designated for rice balls. some of them contain extravagent ingredients, like spiced cod roe, chopped green onions, and fresh wasabi. others are decidedly non-japanese in flavor, such as the surreptitiously bright yellow dry curry rice balls.
but no matter where you go, regardless of whether you are in a 7-11, familymart, circle k, daily yamazaki, or lawson, you will undoubtedly find a rice ball labeled “sea chicken.”
it contains, as you might guess, a 1:1 mixture of tuna and mayonnaise. they are the cheapest for a reason. namely, because they are just awful.
it’s just carrots, celery, and onion, right?
yes. and in many ways, also no.
as bobby frost, united states poet laureate from 1958-1959, once wrote:
“two roads diverged in a supermarket, and i, | i took the meat less traveled by | and that has made all the difference.”
or at least i think that’s how it went…
how do those iron chefs do it?
super chefs have some sort of sixth sense that allows them to recognize the exact weight of each ingredient required to prepare a single portion of their dish. when they pull the curtain off the secret ingredient in kitchen stadium, i like to think the iron chefs are thinking “ok, i’ve got this licked. i’m going to need one scallop, two figs, 3 grams of cheese, 5 ml of wine, and a 20cm strip of phyllo dough per plate.” i think maybe it is a gland or extrasensory organ we normal humans just don’t have.
regardless, the portions come out perfect every time. nobody has leftovers on iron chef. the members of the celebrity scoring panel never take home extra black truffle and snow crab terrine to microwave the next day.
or do they?
until 1871, it was illegal to eat beef in japan.
yeah, you read that right. in fact, it was generally frowned upon to eat any kind of meat taken from livestock until the midst of the meiji restoration. chicken, pork, beef, you name it. while the reason for such an edict is obviously up for debate, many historians think that it was originally put in place to prevent famine. raising large livestock, particularly cows, requires an excessive amount of land and feed which can be put to better use on humans. put simply, beef wasn’t efficient.
frankly, i’m not a big fan of british cuisine.
as a quick disclaimer, i’m not making some sort of grand proclamation denouncing the deliciousness of all food served in the united kingdom. britain has become a country rife with cuisine from all kinds of cultures, so much so that i have a few friends that joke about tandoori chicken being the national food of the uk. i will gladly agree with any person asserting that britain has some really tasty food.
i don’t like british cuisine because, once you ask that person who asserted the deliciousness of british food to provide an example, the first thing they come up with is fish and chips.
not mince pie. not bread pudding. not kebabs or tandoori chicken. fish and freaking chips.
the conversations we have while we eat are pretty amazing sometimes.
while i was at school the other day, i decided to eat my school lunch in one of my first grade classes. i love eating with my first graders, and for the most part they love eating with me, too. i always get bombarded with all kinds of awesome questions, and i am always more than happy to answer them. “misha-sensei, what is your favorite color?” “misha-sensei, are you married? do you have kids?” “misha-sensei, do you like mini-tomatoes?” the list goes on.
a few days ago, however, i was shocked and a little saddened by a question a little girl sitting next to me asked. about halfway through the meal (during which i was making faces and goofy jokes and thumbwrestling kids), she turned to me all of the sudden and asked, “misha-sensei, are you really from america?” i was a little confused and taken aback, but i said yes.
what she said next threw me for a loop. “but you aren’t scary. americans are scary, right?”
as an american in japan, what do you say to something like that? what can you say?