Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Wasabi Kid

I have recently developed a liking for Japanese food.

Considering now that the thought of eating raw fish had never crossed my mind only three short months ago, this then is quite the advancement for me in this whole lifestyle change. First it was asparagus, then spinach, then avocados, then bok choy, then tofu of all fucking things, and now it’s sushi. What lies next I can only freaking imagine! Before you know it I’ll be living primarily on homegrown funguses and curd.

I never figured that Japanese food would ever be something that I would ever subscribe to. From watching late night episodes of ‘Iron Chef’, I already knew that the Japanese will eat things that would make a billy goat puke. I’ve had bowel movements that were more enticing than some Japanese entrees I’ve witnessed being created. I think that most Japanese chefs could whip up a nice fluffy soufflé out of dog crap, so it’s with some shock that I find myself enjoying some of those things now.

I have found then, that to better enhance the whole otherwise unappealing experience of Japanese dining, one should abide by some very basic rules. Without first setting the necessary groundwork for the whole dining experience, eating Japanese food can otherwise take on a rather less enjoyable, more intimidating ‘Fear Factor’ quality to it instead.

1) Never ask what something is made of specifically.

This is the whole trick to enjoying Japanese food. Having explained to you what has gone into preparing your meal is likely to induce violent bowel contractions. When it comes to finding out that your chosen entrée was pulled out of a sea cucumbers ass and lightly fried with fermented cabbage and pickled pig’s piss – I say ignorance is bliss.

But that’s just me.

You see; NOTHING ever sounds particularly appetizing on a Japanese menu. How inviting does seaweed sound? Or how about eating something called Yakitori? That sounds more like something you’d do after having swallowed too much gasoline. I’m positively scared to ponder what the fuck Shabu-Shabu is - I always wondered what they did with those killer whales when they died at the aquariums. I’ve only just recently began to take small forays towards the getting over of my tofu phobia so I’m pretty sure that I’m not ready to delve into the likes of something called Yudofu just yet. Baby steps, man! And I just won’t eat Red Snapper out of principle alone.

But it all tastes nice enough I assure you!

Having a waitress describe your basic Japanese fare is like having a child describe bird vomit. Therefore, I would recommend not reading the menu too closely or even consider your menu options too deeply. Just blindly point at the menu and let fate decide for you.

2) Even after you’ve eaten and enjoyed your meal – STILL do not ask what it is.

No matter how delectable your food was - do not fall for the temptation to inquire what exactly it was that you just finished eating. The fact that its still fresh in your memory means that it is still fresh in your belly as well and will more than likely rush back up again just as soon as its mysterious ingredients have been revealed from your waitresses lips. Funnily enough though, it will probably also resemble something that someone else is enjoying at another table.

Just enjoy it and let it be. Enjoy it for what it was, not what it is – so to speak.

There are other things however that I also enjoy about the whole Japanese dining experience. For example, the whole eating with chopsticks dealie. How fucking cool is that?

There is a degree of skill necessary to eat Japanese cuisine; you’re like an artisan rather than just some ordinary hungry schmuck with fork. You’re a skilled craftsman dissecting and devouring his meal; not some common, blue collared, Sloppy Joe sucking schlep off the street. If you want to eat it – you have to earn it by getting it to your mouth first. It’s like playing the arcade claw game at the carnival.

Originally, I had thought that using chopsticks would make me feel a rung lower on the ‘ol Evolutionary Ladder; on par with the chimpanzees poking termite mounds with sticks. Surely we have evolved beyond using basic stick tools to eat our food. After all, this is 2006 for fuck sakes!

But I was mistaken. Eating with chopsticks has a certain not-all-together unpleasant Old World charm to it. There is also the comfortable notion that if something should ever manage to leap off your plate you are already conveniently armed with something with which to spear it down again and pin it back to your plate.

I like the mixing of soy sauce with the wasabi like some junkie stirring together his assorted toxins in preparation for his next fix. I enjoy preparing the ingredients into which I will later dip my food. It makes me feel like I am in control in some way. I have learned to go easy on the wasabi since the last time I added too much of the green booger-like mulch and I ended up sweating for the next three days. I looked like Ryan Seacrest during a screening of Brokeback Mountain.

The thing I most enjoy about eating at Japanese restaurants really has nothing to do with the actual food at all.

The best thing about the whole Japanese ‘Amour Fou’ * is that being an otherwise normal-sized Anglo-Saxon male, I inevitably feel like a giant among the other shorter Japanese guests eating and around . I feel like Gulliver dining with the Lilliputians.

This is always self-reassuring and ultimately enhances the whole dining experience.

Sometimes I fantasize about the fact that I must be the largest endowed in comparison to the other poor Oriental bastards in the restaurant. After a particularly invigorating meal, I am sometimes induced to imagining unleashing Cockzilla from my trousers and having it run amok through the restaurant; completely leveling the sushi bar in the process.

If I had to bitch about something (and I always do), it would be about the usual selection of mind-numbing music that Japanese restaurants seem to play as background music. It’s enough to lure a hyperactive ADS child into a coma. Even a continuous playing ‘Algonquin Suite’ solitude CD is more exciting than your average Japanese restaurant muzac. The tinking of chimes and the plucking of harps make the whole Japanese dining experience feel like you’re dining inside a Loreena McKennitt video. It does little to stir your appetite. I'm not asking for any "Arigato, Mr. Roboto" here, I'm just saying ENOUGH with the freaking fairy music already!

I was also disappointed with the trend of our local Japanese restaurants to be brightly-lit pools of burning fluorescence. Why do they have to be so damn bright? I don’t know how it is on the streets of Tokyo but I pictured dark, claustrophobic settings. You know - something out of ‘Bladerunner’. The place I ate at tonight was brighter than the surface of the sun. I swear I could actually see through my food when it arrived on my table.

I had also imagined the serving staff to be more gray, wispy-bearded Mr. Miagi types wandering around in colorful kimonos and catching flies with chopsticks; or perhaps instructing on the art of sculpting Bonsai trees at my table while I'm waiting for my food - something traditional like that.

So why not go all “Japanese Makeover” then? Go from being totally chink to totally chic.

I want someplace where I can experience the typical Japanese culture that goes along with the typical Japanese cuisine. I want Geisha’s serving the food and an after hour Opium den off the back alley. There will be Samurai bathroom attendants to protect you from ninja attacks and nobody will ever leave the building without being told to “Wax On, Wax off” at least once. And from the time that you place your order to the time that it finally arrives at your table, you will sit there quietly and feel shame…

That’s more like it.

Now, who wants to kareoke?

* Meaning: “Crazy Love”. Haven’t you ever seen the Soprano’s?