Bursting the Bubble: Japanese Food

Meja Shoba

In Tokyo, my first meal was a pure disaster. Hungry beyond belief, I entered a restaurant and immediately become disheartened by the fact that I could not read a single word on the menu. My first plan was to ask the Japanese man standing in line next to me in broken Japanglish, English with sprinkles of Japanese words, if he could make sense of the menu for me. Luckily he spoke some English, and proceeded to point and recommend a dish. I trusted him, so I ordered. I couldn’t help but scrunch my face in disapproval when I saw the thick pieces of raw tuna over white rice placed in front of me. My appetite was not in the mood to eat raw food, but I had no choice. The quasi slimy-mushy texture of tuna sliding down my throat was not a satisfying feeling. I felt like a kid being forced fed spinach. Since then I have been a bit more responsible with my food choices, and adopted the time-tested method of look and point. I merely look at pictures of the various dishes, and choose which ever appears most appealing. For the most part this method has been a success.

I am spendin the semester in Japan. My host family is rather small. My host sister is a 23 year-old college student studying political science, and my host mother is a very adorable 52 year-old lady who helps the elderly for a living. I am essentially responsible for my daily breakfast and lunch. While my host mother does offer to let me prepare eggs and toast in the morning, I haven’t taken the time to do so and instead opt for muffins at the convenience store. During lunch at the school cafeteria, I usually order oshooyu ramen, ramen noodles with soy sauce and diced green onions.

Of the three meals, dinner is most consistently a surprise. Dinner is served everyday at 7:30 p.m. What is fascinating about my household is that my host mother will eat nothing but food from Japan. Ingredients must be from Japan. Imported foods do not make it on the dinner table for she fears foreign vegetables and other imported foods are unhealthy, on account of pesticides and other alterations to their natural state. But what I find most interesting is she is not particularly fond of fish or any kind of seafood, which I have discovered makes up a large portion of Japanese food.

I have all kinds of food for dinner. I’ve been served pumpkin cooked with soy sauce, all kinds of tempura vegetables and meat, domburi, soba and udon noodles, and tofu cooked in about ten different ways. My host mom understands I am not accustomed to some of the food and offers a taste before receiving the okay to serve. The first week I gave the go-ahead for everything. It was a big mistake, but a lesson learned. Every meal is served with a bowl of rice. Curry rice and ramen are Japanese favorites, though neither originate in Japan. For the most part Japanese food is very good, despite the very small portions, which took some time to get accustomed to. The only thing I find odd is the national love for mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is eaten with almost everything: over curry rice, salads, and as a dipping sauce for most finger foods. Every time dinner is served, my host mom whips out a bottle of mayonnaise. I think mayonnaise is where I drawn the line of Japanese food experimentation.