Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eating With A Japan!

Back in 2003, in the dead of winter, I traveled to Japan to visit one of my best friends who was living there to teach English to Japanese students. I was nervous to go for many reasons... this was the furthest I was ever flying by myself... I would be trapped on a plane for 14 hours...I don't speak a lick of Japanese... and most importantly, I hate fish, thus not eating sushi. What was I to do?

Well, I didn't need to fear - my friend had my back...for the most part. There WAS one dinner where she tricked me into eating octopus, something I am still not thrilled about (and yes, it was gross), but for the most part - she was kind. First of all, there are a lot of Japanese fast food places - but they are better than run of the mill McDonald's or Burger King. They make their burgers fresh - what a concept. So even though we frequented quite a few Mos Burger and Lotteria restaurants, the food was actually pretty good and I enjoyed it. Plus, it was definitely kinder to my wallet than always going to a sit down restaurant.

I am thankful for the first real dinner my friend took me to, for it was there that I tried one of my favorite snacks today - edamame. Before that winter in 2003, I never had the little green soybean, nor did I really have interest. Well, as soon as we sat down my friend asked for edamame, I think. Or else they just brought it. I can't remember that detail. But anyway, the dish full of bright green edamame arrived and my friend urged me to try one. I picked it up hesitantly... they were in their shell so it was fuzzy to the touch...and I really wasn't one for "health food" back then. But, I tried it. Chewing slowly, I still wasn't sure about the taste, but I kept eating. By the time I left Japan, 9 days later, I was an edamame pro and basically ordered it anytime I went to a Japanese restaurant back in the States. Today I force my husband into trying them and I think they are growing on him too, even though he likes to say he doesn't like them much. (Meanwhile, I put them in my quinoa cakes and he liked those just fine!) I love to buy edamame from Trader Joe's and bring it as a snack to work - it's easy to pack and they are filling and healthy little beans.

There were many other food experiences I had while in Japan. I ate some real Japanese tempura, which was excellent!! I was taken to an "Italian" restaurant and served pizza...which had mayonnaise on it. Talk about weird... it grew on my friend but it was a little too much for me - give me a real NY slice any day! I was taken to a few Izakaya's - this is a place where you basically keep ordering lots of small dishes while hanging out with a group of friends over several hours. I remember eating a lot of gyoza - Japanese for dumplings. They were amazing!! We also ordered sukiyaki (thinly sliced beef) and cooked it at our table.

Lastly, one place I fell in love with was Mr. Donuts. YUM! Japanese donuts are more chewy than the ones here in America...and definitely less sweet. But boy, are they delicious. If you ever find yourself in Japan, head there and check out some of the interesting flavors.

So my friend was able to give me a true Japanese experience, despite me not liking sushi. I know this is a common fear a lot of non-sushi eaters have about going to Japanese restaurants here in America or visiting the country. But there really is plenty to eat between dumplings, "fresh" fast food, tempura and mayonnaise filled pizza! (There ARE more foods than those 4 things, don't you worry).

And if you were anything like me, you'd come back to the US searching for Japanese grocery stores to find some of the yummy new foods you tried. I found one where I lived at the time and bought a HUGE bag of the gyoza dumplings. Though - I cooked them using a spatula...not with chopsticks like my friend made me do in Japan, where I promptly burned each one to a crisp because I had no idea how to cook using little sticks as tools. Leave that skill to the pros!!

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