Started to get my very first pangs of homesickness today – just with food. In theory, I love Japanese food, but in practice, I apparently do not. Not all of it anyways. In the US, I’ve been to tons of Japanese restaurants, and I’ve never had anything I didn’t like. Except maybe Salmon Roe. But here, after just 4 days, I’ve grown a bit tired of the foods from the local market.
I’ve been eating like I’m on vacation here, and since I know I will be here for a year, I’m anxious to get back to some semblance of a healthy routine. Back home I ate lots of salads, avoided anything fried, and tried to have a nice balance of lean proteins, veggies, and not too many frivolous starches and fats. Here it is such a challenge just to figure out what anything is, that end up cobbling together meals out of random things: a bowl of instant ramen (salty), with some gyoza dumplings (fried), and a kiwi-aloe “beauty” yogurt (pleasant tasting, but conceptually weird). Breakfast might be an assortment of rice balls (tasty, but insubstantial), a hard boiled egg or a string cheese (mmm, protein), and a latte out of a can – possibly from the vending machine. I might throw in an apple there if it’s not too pricey. And fruit here can get really pricey.
Breakfast - Maki (assorted rice balls), a latte and a yogurt in a paper cup.
A few quirks about local Japanese cuisine that have not carried over (thankfully) to the Japanese restaurants in the states:
They seem to absolutely adore mayonnaise. You find it frequently on entrees where you would expect to get BBQ sauce, teriyaki, or any number of other more flavorful, more Japanese, or just plain more edible dressings. I always thought that mayonnaise and cream cheese in sushi rolls was an American bastardization of the food. Now I think, not so. It’s just what Japanese people do to when they come to America and are free to do the wacky things they couldn’t do to sushi back home.
They also seem to really like corn. It is a very common salad topping, even when the only other veggie in the salad is the lettuce. It can be found in cans of tuna. It can even be found on pizza. This baffles me, being that corn is such a staple of the US heartland. Japan is such a small, crowded country, that I am certain, even without the aid of Wikipedia, that they do not grow it here. I am sure it is due to some conspiratorial deal the US must have made to get rid of surplus corn and justify their farm subsidies. I’m almost positive it was posed as some sort of gift: “Sorry about the war, how about we give you corn for the next 60 years to make up for it? It’s a rare and precious delicacy.”
Display pizza...with squid and shrimp, but no corn, I don't think...I'll find some to show you later.
And though I was warned, I was not quite fully prepared for their level of devotion to pork. I really thought they were much more of a fish culture, and though fish and shrimp are plentiful, pork is the taste leader, appearing in everything here much they way chicken appears in everything in the US. I also think I kind of had the idea that chicken was as omnipresent in other countries as it is in the US. At a little ramen shop the other day, I had the idea that at least one of the options on the menu would be chicken, or at least fish, but that wasn’t the case. It was all different configurations of veggies, broths, pork, and sometimes a raw egg that cooks slightly in the broth. I ordered the one that had the most veggies in it and it was very, very delicious.
In case you are interested, here’s a pic of the plastic display foods outside this particular establishment:
Here's the Ramen I was talking about. The actual food, as opposed to the plastic display...