We got home from Japan on Sunday morning. I immediately took a six hour nap, followed by three pieces of pizza and another eight hours of sleep. By Monday morning my internal clock was reset back to Seattle time. How did I do it? Drugs. Thank you, Tylenol PM.
I love visiting Japan but it really is a weird country. Okay, that’s not fair… it’s not weird, just different – in a fun and interesting kind of way. Except for the food. Japanese food is weird. And I feel totally okay saying that. It’s true!
A quick history lesson… the Japanese were introduced to soy, tea, rice, wheat, fried food and even chop sticks through contact with other cultures – Chinese, Koreans, Dutch traders, and others – over the course of many hundreds of years. Then, around 1600, Japan shut it’s doors to the outside world during a long period of isolationism. No more foreign influence, or spice trading, or swapping of exotic recipes – and no melting pot of different cultures to influence local eating habits. A distinctively Japanese cuisine developed during this period – based almost exclusively on rice, vegetables, fish and other strange sea life, vinegar, sugar, and soy products like miso and soy sauce. The ritual of eating certain foods became an essential part of the Japanese culture – and many rules developed – about the preparation, ingredients, presentation and consumption of Japanese cuisine. Let’s just say the Japanese take their food very seriously.
My sister, Beth, has lived in Japan for 20 years and is an expert rule follower. Japan suits her personality and she is very comfortable there. She is an excellent Japanese cook and packs her kids’ bento boxes just like every other Japanese mom. Marvin and I are rule benders – which is why our car insurance is so expensive, among other things.
Because of my rule bending personality style, Japanese cooking is challenging for me. I always want to mess things up by adding something that is not in the recipe. I also like to put soy sauce on my white rice, which is a big taboo in Japan. (I refrained from doing this during our trip!)
Eating Japanese food is a great way to learn about a very special culture. In Japan, it is important to honor tradition. As a homogeneous society – everyone has learned to appreciate the same tastes and to eat food in the same way. It’s about harmony and consistency. Eat the right foods, from the right region, prepared correctly, during the right season. Enjoy the simplicity and the artistry. Follow the rules.
You taste the essence of Japan when you eat a Japanese meal – and eat we did… marinated beef tongue, cold soba noodles, deep fried quail eggs, eel suspended in jelly, boiled peanuts, roasted chestnuts, fresh oysters, abalone sashimi, and more. (Like I said, the food in Japan is weird).
Japanese food is weird but delicious. I love most of it. And if you are craving something different, there are plenty of other choices… French, American. Chinese, Korean, Italian… Pizza is very popular and there are all kinds of crazy pizza toppings. My favorite is the New Fisher – a combination that includes squid, shrimp and mayonnaise (I have never actually eaten a New Fisher pizza – but doesn’t it sound kinda good in a weird way?).
Their pizza might be experimental, but the Japanese don’t mess around with the basics. Miso soup, a staple at breakfast lunch and dinner, is made the same way now as it was 200 years ago. And, of course there are rules: how to make it, how to serve it, and how to eat it.
Now that I’ve been home for a couple of days I’m actually starting to miss my daily dose of carefully prepared Japanese food – and I’m hungry for Miso. So, tonight I’ll make a bowl – and try to do it correctly. The Japanese way. Recipe to follow. 🙂