Thursday, October 25, 2007
In keeping in touch with my lovely friends and family back home, many of you have asked about my culinary adventures in Japan. Have I eaten anything out of the ordinary? Well, boringly enough, I've pretty much kept to standard fare: lots of sushi and sashimi, the ocassional bowl of ramen or soba, sometimes a midnight onigiri from the corner conbini. I've fallen in love with this wonderful snack mix that involves wasabi-flavored rice crackers, and when I'm feeling especially American, will hunt down some peanut butter or maybe some cheese.
But tonight, all that "boringness" changed.
I help out with an evening English conversation course at a local community center twice a month. They're a fun group. Tonight, they organized a "welcome" dinner for myself and the other JET that teaches them. We went to a local restaurant and proceeded to gorge ourselves on an amazing nine-course Japanese-style meal: tofu with sesame-coffee sauce for starters, followed by fresh sashimi, a tuber soup, some sushi, tempura, a seaweed salad, a bowl of soba, and fruit for dessert.
Everything was delicious, except for a little fried mystery that was included in my plate of tempura.
I bit in. It was squishy.
"Nan desu ka?" I asked what it was in the most polite Japanse I could muster.
Hmmm...I took another bite. This certainly didn't taste like any fish I'd ever eaten.
At this point, my dining companions across the table were looking at me. They'd been watching me eat the whole night, complimenting me on my ability to use chopsticks, so I didn't think anything of it.
"Do you like it?"
"Oh, yes. Oishii desu." It's delicious, I said, forcing an enthusiastic nod as I chewed. I had to like everything. It's rude not to clean your plate.
One of the women began scrounging through her purse, eventually produced an electronic dictionary, and began punching away. All the while, I smiled weakly as I choked down a few more bites of the slimy fried wonder.
Ummm, where was the soy sauce?
The woman showed me the screen of her electronic dictionary: 白子
Shirako. The sperm sack of a fish.
Riiiiiight. Not fish, but fish sperm. Big difference.