Adventures in Japanese Food Part 1: Creatures of the Sea

Every day here is an adventure. This is largely attributed to the fact that we are not really in control of any part of our day, nor can we understand what we’re being told, and so each piece of our schedule and each destination is most often a surprise. Similar to our daily activities, our food is a crazy adventure into the unknown. Almost all of our meals are selected for us. We sit down and wait and wonder what we’ll get, and oftentimes even after we get it, we still wonder what we got.

Luckily, before we came here we were able to tell the organizers of any food restrictions, and I told them I eat no meat but do eat dairy and seafood. Also fortunate for me, Spenser is vegan AND speaks Japanese, so he has been quite a helpful advocate for me in ensuring that I am getting appropriate food. One surprise in Japan is that they eat a lot of meat. Mostly beef but also pork and some chicken. So since I am not eating meat and I am in Japan, you can probably guess that I am therefore getting lots and lots of seafood! I’m pretty sure that I have consumed way more fish than is either sustainable or healthy (mercury, anyone?!). I will be taking a hiatus from fish-eating for at least a month or two after this trip, not only because I really do think I’ve eaten probably my whole quota of fish for at least a year, and I’m probably at the mercury threshold, but also I’m sick of it!

Mostly I’m sick of not knowing what fish I’m eating and of eating fish that are looking at me with their sad eyes. I’m trying to be adventurous and try everything, but I’ve had a really hard time eating seafood that cannot easily be bitten into (like squid and octopus) as well as whole fish or seafood. One example we’ve had quite often is whole fish grilled on a stick. To eat this type of fish (usually a small trout), you just bite the head off, spit out the hard things from that bite (do fish have skulls?), and chew your way through the rest (bones and all). No thanks. I tried to pick my way through the fish, but was not about to eat the head or bones or fins. I also have always been and am still unable to eat fish roe. I just don’t like the popping experience of chewing the fish eggs, and I don’t like the surprise of finding a fish egg in the far reaches of my mouth a few minutes after eating them. Unfortunately, all of these things are quite popular here. Now, this would not be a big issue if we were actually in control of choosing the food that we are eating, but we’re not. And hence, for all of these reasons, I’m sick of seafood.
Although I may not enjoy sampling every type of seafood they have here, I have really enjoyed seeing the many different kinds. While the fish market was filled with lots of interesting things, the craziest was octopus head; thankfully we haven’t yet been offered that!
We had Japanese bbq, which is much like ours but it only seafood and the grill is inside. In many places we’ve seen drying fish and squid.

Sushi here is mostly sashimi style, although they do have rolls sometimes but not often. And the rolls seldom have anything but rice and fish. We were (sadly) offered whale sashimi at one restaurant; it is a delicacy that I said ‘keko des’ (no thank you).
Stay tuned for my next blog post, ‘Adventures in Japanese Food – Part 2: Weird Gelatinous Food Items’, which may or may not (depending on my motivation and internet access) be followed by ‘Adventures in Japanese Drinking’.

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