Friday, April 19, 2013

Eating my way around an island

This post is my 1st attempt at a blog carnival. This means that a few of my friends and I got together and all wrote about the same thing (in this case "eating in Japan"). Here is what all the creative people came up with:">Being Vegetarian at Japanese Work Parties
by">Sophelia's Adventures in Japan. Sophelia regularly blogs about teaching, adoption, dogs, vegetarianism and general geekiness.">The History of Yakiniku
by">Angry Gaijin. Cameron Ohara is a Gaikokujin (foriegner) living in Japan. But get this - he was actually Japanese in a previous life! Now it's all he can do to get his Japanese comrades to look beyond his red hair and tall nose and see the Japanese human that exists within!

Samurai Sushi by">Gaijin Explorer
. Zacky Chan studies aikido and kyudo, and informally practices whatever else is
relevant. He can usually be found on his days off exploring forests and
mountains on his mountain bike.

I have a great giggle about it now, time slowly nibbles away at all the harsh edges of my experiences in Japan but if I am honest my first day in my new home town was one big crescendo of terror, culminating in a platter of raw line fish, abalone and sea snails. I have never been petrified of food before but here I was between a rock and offending my gracious hosts who I would be living with for the next two weeks. My South African stomach was telling me it was not dinner time yet, my Afrikaans ancestors were wondering why they could not smell at least two types of meat and somewhere over the ocean my mother was laughing at the little madam who used to fussily pick tomato out of her toasted sandwiches. Eventually my neurons worked up the nerve to force my fingers to pinch some chopsticks over one of the unappetizing sea snails. It was everything I had imagined and more, sandy and chewy, slimy and eyeball-ish and in the end, not that bad. I was ok, I was ok with eating sea snails and I was going to be ok with Japan.

Thankfully fear is not the only emotion intimately connected to the three years I have spent eating my way around this island. I have been exhausted as I sipped my 400 yen cup of tea at the top of Mount Fuji, I have been content as I watched my partner bake sourdough bread because the Japanese variety tastes too much like dessert, I have been annoyed at a spiteful crow who helped himself to a chunk of my chocolate cake while camping and I have been furious while eating at Burger king when my dad continued to comment about how un-exotic the meal was after I had spent the last two weeks having him try everything from Sukiyaki to the best parts of the Bluefin tuna.  

After a while Roland made bread baking his bitch.
I have also been blessed with an abundance of happy memories, one of which always springs to attention the moment I think back on my journey thus far. It was a glorious cliché of an autumn evening, it was warm but not oppressive, it was my birthday but I was turning 27 not 30. I was joined by my leading man and my favorite friend and together we all failed to read the Kanji on the billboard that clearly stated that you had to pay to have a barbeque on the beach. Not only did we accidentally break the law, we did it in style as we lit a roaring fire and set off an array of fireworks a few feet away from where the owner stood staring our way. However, the real joy of the evening was pulling off a good old South African braai (BBQ) in a decidedly different land. Yes we had to fashion our own spice mix from whatever we could find, yes I made potato salad with sushi mayonnaise, yes the bread was too thick and sweet to make an effective braai brootjie (think outdoor toasted sandwich) and yet we faced that foreign bay filled with jellyfish, and claimed that corner of the beach for Africa. Three years later I know where to buy good mayo, I have imported spices from back home and we bake the bread we need, we even pay our way when required and still that braai occupies the top spot in my mind, still that braai represents the day I made Japan my temporary home.

Ah but every silver lining has its cloud and today has been pretty rainy. A few hours before attempting this story I had lunch with two teachers who I met on my very first day. These two ladies force fed me little fish and bitter goya, they filled me in on all the gossip as we huddled over the heater and made me laugh an immeasurable amount of times and yet today, due to the shuffle that sends teachers off to other schools, they left me behind. We all met up at the little temple grounds just around the corner from my school and packed out our picnic of onigiri, delicate sandwiches and salads under cherry trees in full bloom. It was beautiful, in that end of an era kind of way and I will forever associate those falling pink petals with those sweet old ladies who made my first three years at my school so much more special.

After all this time, flitting about this breathtaking country I am slowly starting to realize just how beautifully Japan blends its culture and cuisine. Beers start wearing cherry blossoms during spring and even get an extra alcoholic kick during autumn. Summer festivals feel somewhat lacking if I have not at least eaten one crepe and two cups of shaved ice and what would I do in the winter without warm ramen at the local restaurant that I was so reluctant to enter at first because I thought it looked too yakuza-ish. You come across the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to food on this island but I find it ultimately impossible to separate my extraordinary experiences from all the fascinating meals that find their way onto my table.  


  1. Great post! Definitely have bombarded Japanese public bbq areas with fireworks, foreign meats, and usually lots of loud music ... without paying as well. One should pay ... but tempering with the general atmosphere of ruckus, I don't think so. Party on! Politely:) I want some of Roland's bread.

  2. I second the request for Roland's bread. Have you considered hiring him out?!

    I absolutely love the seasonal food culture. Although we have very distinct seasons in Tasmania, it's pretty easy to get just about everything all year round. Here, I appreciate the strawberries for the few months before they go away and I look forward to the nabe when the chill starts in the air. I love the connection between tastes and seasons/events.

  3. Nice post title! Super catchy!

    Eeeee, Sea snails.... I had to get through them once.... not so great, haha.

    Gotta say, South African food sounds pretty good! I like that you were able to claim that little part of the beach for Africa. :) Especially with out paying the fee to BBQ! Haha~

    Cool post for the Blog Fest! :)

  4. Hey you :) I would like to nominate you for a Liebster Award