Saturday, October 20, 2007

At Least This Involves One of the Few Japanese Foods I Can't Abide!

A 300-year-old confectionary company has been rocked by scandals involving their falsification of production dates on their sweet bean jam products. I've eaten a very few of these treats, usually brought back from vacation trips by students at both Nova and my current school; I'm not sure if I've eaten any by this particular firm, but it's a possibility.

I don't eat them often, though. Because while it's rare for me to find a Japanese food I don't like, this is one of them. It's not that sweet bean jam is so terrible. It's just that its stickiness, its mild sweetness and curdlike consistency combine to produce in me a lack of interest.

Here I'm known as the gaijin who can eat everything. The more exotic, the less likely everyone thinks it is a foreigner can stomach it, the more I want to try it. And the more I usually like it. I've eaten soup made from fish heads, bones and skin... a feat that had an entire customer base of a sushi restaurant gaping at me with amazement and declaring, "You are Japanese!"

That's a constant refrain accompanying my culinary stunts of derring do. "You are Japanese!" Using hashi (chopsticks), "You are Japanese!" Eating natto (sticky bean stuff) and declaring it delicious, "You are Japanese!"

Raw fish? Japanese. Raw horse? Japanese. McDonald's? Japanese.

And yet I haven't quite grasped the concept of traditional Japanese sweets. To me, they seem less like desserts (which should be a reward) than something you have to endure (almost like punishments for having finished your meal!). Japanese chocolate, on the other hand, comes in a mighty array of wonderfully delicious configurations. This place is like Willy Wonka's utopian dream. Because the Japanese aren't as into sugar as say, Americans, chocolate here tends to have a truer chocolately taste, unhindered by excessive sweetness. You can savor the roast cocoa bean essence.

But sweet bean jam? What's the point of that when your country produces Melty Kiss?


RAB said...

That description of natto is singularly...unevocative. But it reminds me of the only time I ever ate natto.

I saw "fermented soybeans" on the menu in a Japanese restaurant here in New York, and ordered it because when eating out I often like to order things I've never heard of before. The kindy middle-aged Japanese hostess lady looked at me quizzically and made me point to it on the menu as if to be sure as she took my order. A few moments later, she came back to my table and said, "You are sure you want that?" I blinked and said "Yes, please." She beamed at me and said "Oh, that's nice, you are going to try it!" A few moments after that, someone who I assume was the cook actually stuck his head out of the kitchen to look at me. By then I was starting to get the impression maybe not many white people ordered the fermented soybeans.

After all that, you'd better believe I finished the entire bowl and told the nice lady it was excellent! Now, I will admit to you, I didn't care for it one bit. I would not knowingly eat natto again. But under those circumstances, I felt like my family honor was at stake...not to mention the feelings of those nice people.

Joel Bryan said...

Excellent natto experience! Yeah, the first time I tried it was at an izakaya with just a group of Japanese people. Two girls kept asking me what Japanese foods I'd tried and liked and of course, natto came up. So we ordered it for me and when it arrived, my friend pushed the bowl towards me and said, "Show time."