Sunday, December 9, 2007

airport sushi

before this trip, i’d never eaten sushi.

sure, i’d had an avocado roll, or a shrimp tempura roll. but no raw fish. it all goes back to a warning i'd heard years ago, about runny eggs, raw fish, and immune systems.

well. when you’re in japan, and you visit the tsukiji fish market, i’m not sure you have a choice, really. it’s probably the freshest fish in the world – why wouldn’t you eat it? and as a friend said to me, “isn’t that just like you?! you don’t eat sushi until you’re in the best place in the world for it”. yeah. that’s just like me.

so on our layover at tokyo’s narita airport today, we had time enough for a “last meal” in japan. what else would i have?

it got me thinking about the other interesting foods i’d eaten in japan, that i’d never eaten before. like…

  1. ramen/soba noodles. ramen – wheat noodles. soba – buckwheat. simple. easy. served in fish or pork broth. not very adventurous. but good.
  2. eel pie. crispy, sweet, cookie like. made with ground up eel. i’m bringing some home.
  3. eel. delicious. one of the best meals i had in japan.
  4. eel liver. in soup. eh.
  5. yuzu. a citris fruit about the size of a tangerine and very tart. i enjoyed it as yuzu-cha, or yuzu tea. the rind is chopped and mixed with honey to create a syrup. about a teaspoon of the syrup in a cup, mixed with hot water, makes for a delicious, comforting treat that brings to mind the holidays.
  6. katsu-kare. a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet served with rice and japanese curry sauce. yum-diddley-yum-dum. blake ginther’s fav.
  7. octopus. as the japanese would say, “maa maa”. which means “so so”. not bad, but sort of what you’d expect. raw, rubbery, chewy. not a lot of flavor.
  8. sushi/sashimi. most of the sushi we ate in japan was quite different from what you find in the states. not a lot of typical rolls (makizushi) that you might order on 93rd and amsterdam. a small hand-formed clump of vinegared rice is topped with a bit of wasabi and a good size piece of raw fish – tuna, salmon, amberjack, snapper, mackerel. this is not sashimi (slices of raw fish served without rice) which we ate as well. some of my favorite was from conveyor belt sushi. small plates with one piece of sushi each travel around a diner-like restaurant on a conveyor belt. as they pass your booth, you pick up what you want, and pay at the end according to the plates you have left. sort of genius, actually. and often cheap.

  9. natto. this is something every japanese person wants you to try because, i think, most americans react badly to natto (fermented soybeans which, when stirred, create an incredibly sticky, semi-sweet paste with spider-web like strings.) i can’t say i’m craving it, but i didn’t hate it either.
  10. bean paste. none of the sweets in japan are as sweet as an american palette expects. the cinnamon rolls are not cinna-bun-ee. they are light and…ah…gentle. but i was surprised to find donuts i expected to be raspberry or strawberry filled, to be filled instead with bean paste. it is exactly what it sounds like – a sweet paste made of beans. i grew to…like is not the word…i grew to not be disappointed to find bean paste used in many ways.
  11. cold kidney beans. speaking of beans, dessert last thursday night was a dish of local sweet potato ice cream, chewy rice balls and kidney beans in a light syrup. cold, kidney beans. yummmm.
  12. pig’s ear. this is not what i give my dog as a treat (or is it?) it is the cartilage of a pig’s ear (in okinawa the saying is “we eat every part of the pig but the oink”.) it is almost like small, somewhat crunchy noodles served in a peanut sauce. again, not craving it. but it wasn’t bad.


  1. I love different types of sushi. And seafood. Specifically Octopus! Tako, I think it's called.

    Oh! And did you actually have on your list Ramen Noodles? HAd you never had those before? Like in College? (I assume you went.)

    Hope you had a great time! You should be starting Frog and Toad in the next coupla months, shouldn'tcha?

    All the best,

    Chipper D.

  2. chip. you're right -- octopus is called taco! which was confusing for some of the americans i was traveling with (who were excited to see a taco stand near our hotel.)

    i did include ramen on my list. but ramen from a tin-roofed shack in an alley in fukuoka is a little different from the ramen you might have eaten in college (which, i've actually never eaten -- i've never been to college, either.)

    here's what they served in fukuoka...

    "Hakata ramen --

    Hakata ramen originates from Hakata district of Fukuoka city. It has a rich, milky, pork-bone tonkotsu broth and rather thin, non-curly and resilient noodles. Often, distinctive toppings such as beni shoga (pickled ginger), sesame seeds, and picked greens are left on tables for customers to serve themselves."

    the pickled ginger adds a fantastic kick, by the way.


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