Monday, November 09, 2009

Memory Monday - Something is Fishy Around Here

My first visit to Japan was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. My travel experience up to that point consisted of a few family road trips to Texas and New Mexico and I was unprepared for the cultural differences between rural USA and a Tokyo suburb. My exchange program started with a week long orientation in Washington, DC which was then followed with a few days of culture training in Tokyo, so I was completely discombobulated by the time I arrived at my host family's home. They greeted me with warm smiles, frequent bows, impressive English skills and a box of Kellog's Corn Flakes.

Between cold cereal in the mornings, crunchy green salads, reliable rice, the bounty of the department store fruit section and my host mother's cake baking hobby, my gastronomical transition was almost manageable. Even with all that was easily palatable, after nearly 17 years of a mid-western American diet, I was overwhelmed by all the new tastes I encountered. The gritty, sour, warm taste of miso. The salty, crunchy, bitter taste of dried seaweed/nori. The explosive, bright, biting taste of ginger. The mind-blowing fire and tang of wasabi. The curious varieties of pickles/tsukemono. And fish EVERYWHERE. Grilled fish fillets for breakfast. Slices of pressed fish/kamaboko floating in the lunchroom ramen. Tiny dried whole fish in snack cracker packets at the baseball game. Rolls and rolls of raw fish sushi at a beautiful dinner reception. I LONGED for a fish-free day or at least a fish-free meal.

One night as my host mother set dinner on the table, I perked up when I saw the dish of cooked carrots. I couldn't wait for the sweet carrot-y taste to overcome the long-lasting taste of fish in my mouth. I distinctly remember my disappointment when even the carrots tasted like fish. I gave up and decided that somehow I would just have to learn to love fish. After we finished dinner, I helped my host mom clean up. While clearing kitchen dishes she took a moment to teach me a little about Japanese cooking. She proudly showed me how she made her own FISH STOCK and used it for cooking vegetables... like that night's carrots!


Kim said...

heh, heh, heh. That is fishy, fer sure. I bet they think the same thing about us and chicken.

Seattle Sun said...

One funny food difference is that my Japanese friends thought most raw vegetables were gross -- and I thought most raw meats were gross! :)