Thursday, June 12, 2008

"I think I could have made this dish with my eyes closed."

Thank goodness I don't have to drive, because biking is confusing enough. Walking to work is my best thinking time, but on wheels I can do nothing but clutch the handlebars and hope I don't crash. It doesn't help that I'm not entirely sure what the rules of the road are - I've heard conflicting testimonies. Do I go on the left side with the flow of traffic, do I pretend I'm a car and risk the main road or do I act like a pedestrian on the sidewalk. There's a law against biking with your umbrella but people do it anyways - I'm not that coordinated so I don't have to bother either way. You're not supposed to bike on the sidewalk in some places but I can't tell where those are. There's a blue sign that shows a tall man in an ominous hat holding a tiny girl by the hand, while a bicycle miraculously balances in the foreground. Is this saying, "Both bikes and walkers are welcome here"? Or is it saying, "Leave your bike behind and go on foot"? Or maybe it's saying, "Be careful or your child will get kidnapped in the presence of an entirely unrelated bicycle."

You know, before I got here I thought to myself, "I don't want to be the type of foreigner who turns up her nose at local dishes. And I couldn't imagine anything I'd be serve that I couldn't gulp down if it were necessary. That was the problem, of course - I Couldn't Imagine. My tame, docile, middle-class white American upbringing didn't prepare me for the variety of things used in Japanese cuisine. The Wikipedia article on the subject admits, "Every type of seafood imaginable features in Japanese cuisine. Only the most common are in the list below." And maybe I was fooled by the idea that really strange exotic foods were only for the wealthy and famous, and would not be served as part of the school lunch. For the most part, I was right - I'm not going to be eating blowfish anytime soon, for example. But we've had yakisoba a few times, and twined amongst the noodles are tiny tentacles. I'd say it's the diminutive size that bugs me - "eating babies!" - but big ones would probably be worse. There's maybe only four pieces per bowl, and I'm not sure if that also makes it better or worse. On one hand, less to close my eyes and chew, on the other, it makes it seem like an accidental addition and not a purposeful part of the dish. What if it just crawled onto the cutting board and got thrown in the pot without the chef noticing?

Despite my qualms over eating something (or the parts of something) that is probably smarter than I am, I managed it - though I'm not proud of it. But yesterday's lunch time brought something on my tray that not even my iron stomach could stomach. Taking up its entire little compartment was a whole - if small - squid. It came in a pool of soy sauce. It was the color and texture of an overcooked hot-dog. And it looked exactly like a tiny kraken, the fascinating creature that is a vital part of the apocalyptic genre I adore. I absolutely couldn't bring myself to sink my teeth into the poor little thing - something that I can stick past my tongue and gulp down, that's manageable, but my lips rebelled against this. It'd be like eating a unicorn. I slipped it back into the soy pool with its left-over brethen, to be taken back to the kitchen to who-knows-what-fate - but not at my hands.

Which reminds me, an amusing story from my childhood. When I was little and we went to Europe I had this beloved toy, a wooden snake that bent and curved. I kept it on me at all times, slept with it, named it Cassandra. And someone well-intentioned bought me a gummy snake one day. And that also was something that it would have felt like cannibalism to consume, in light of Cassandra being my closest friend. She would never have forgiven me if I ate her sugary sister. So I carried that candy around for days, until it began to melt and left my hands sticky and stained. Still couldn't put it into my mouth. So I buried it somewhere at a European tourist location, and said a little hissy prayer over it. I was a strange little girl, and that quite obviously hasn't changed.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

Wow, I thought you were brave for going over to teach before, but you have attained superhuman status. I'm repulsed by most seafood, especially when I know it's quite intelligent (I read something about octopus and squid, capable of reasoning, even trickery) but I think that could test even a seasoned sushi eater. Good thing you didn't have to deal with any finger wagging or stink-eye for sending it back uneaten. Aside from having to eat gross things, I hope your having some fun.