Saturday, April 16, 2011

Here's looking at you, kid

"You can really eat the whole thing?" It was a question worth asking. One day, I am sure people will lie to me.

A dinner out in Japan is a sociable affair. Rather than each individual selecting his or her own dish, you gather as a group around a table to share sushi, hot pots, savoury pancakes or some other form of fare. Not only is this fun, it also guards against over-indulgence from a desire to finish your entire plate. Of course, this does require everyone to agree on the type of food and it helps not to be a fussy eater. The fact I was not a fussy eater was about to be put to a whole new level of testing.

Uo-isshin (whose name is possibly poorly recalled due to google being in denial) is a seafood restaurant with a specialty in crab. Hairy crab. It was originally described to me as 'furry' but since said fur sticks in your fingers like a fine-combed porcupine, I fail to find that description accurate. Still, since I helped devour its interior and than drank sake from its dessicated carcass, I guess I had my revenge.

The crab was served alongside a large plate of sashimi which included large king prawns with all body parts attached. Rather to my relief, since these were raw, the heads and tails were removed before eating. This complacency was short-lived since a short while later a plate of just prawn heads was produced, cooked and ready to be eaten; eyes, front legs and all. A basic rule I learned was that pretty much anything is edible if you fry it.

"The Japanese do not like waste," I was told by the students who were clearly having far too much fun at my expense. Admittedly, my memories of having to sort garbage in Tokyo into half a dozen different piles made me sympathise with this philosophy. I bit into the head. Crunchy.

The shrimp heads were followed by a grilled flounder. This looked totally delicious and I watched as one of the students carefully lifted the bones away from the white flesh.

"Don't throw out the bone!" The call came from down the table. "I want to eat it!"

I studied the fish skeleton. It consisted of almost nothing beside the delicate array of hair-like bones, held together only by the grilled membrane of skin. People were reaching forward, snapping pieces off and popping them into their mouths. I'm pretty sure this contradicted everything I had been taught about eating fish as a child: remove the bones or else THEY WILL CHOKE YOU AND YOU WILL DIE. Apparently, the secret was just to chew them first.

It was maybe a good thing that this meal was served with sake.

From the flounder we moved onto entire individual fish that were eaten like candy sticks. Roughly the size of a sardine, these fish were pencil-long silver lengths that you chewed your way down. I watched to make sure people really did eat the heads and tails, then bit. They were extremely good once you got over looking your dinner in the eye.

A huge salmon complete with extra roe concluded the meal along with a surprise; two pieces of cold flounder sushi for the gaijin to try (that's me, folks!). They tasted of lemon with a firmer, thicker texture than tuna. There was also a pickle-like vegetable that looks like pineapple triangles and humongous squid served in their shells. We drank sake from the shells too. It seems that it looked big enough to be a threat, it was worth toasting your victory by drinking from its remains. 

As we walked back to the station, I was told that other westerners had not liked to try so much of the seafood.

"You are very brave." I was told.

Why, yes. Yes I am.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I am an adventurous eater, but eating heads might have been a bridge too far. Eager to hear more!