Written by Emma Wood, (Lewis & Clark College) Student Correspondent CET Japan, Spring 2018
When writing about my experiences in Japan, I have mainly been focusing on my thoughts regarding cultural differences between Japan and America, and how these differences are impacting my global perspective. But the truth is, I came to Japan for two reasons:
1. To improve my language abilities
And more importantly…
2. TO EAT
In Japan there is no such thing as bad food (except maybe natto: fermented soybeans). It ranges from really good, which tends to be 7/11 bento lunches or grocery karage (fried chicken) to “I can die now” deliciousness. Before I get too far, I’d like to point out that giving Japanese food true justice cannot be achieved in one blog post. Therefore, I’ve decided to dedicate the rest of my words to what I live for: street food.
On the various excursions with my classmates, while everyone is looking forward to the famous shrines, gardens, or temples, I am looking forward to exploring Japan’s little alleyways and streets lined with food stalls. Usually you can tell you are close to one by seeing the smoke from ishi-yakiimo, sweet potatoes roasted on hot stones, the sizzling of skewered squid, ikayaki, or the furiously moving hands of takoyaki vendors flipping octopus balls in their spherical grill molds.
What is always first on my list is what is called taiyaki. Taiyaki is a fish-shaped cake usually filled with red bean paste, a delicious mixture of sweetened azuki beans. The fish shape mimics Tai, Red Sea bream, and yaki simply means baked. Not only are they very Instagram worthy, but slight crunch of the outer cake that gives way to a chewy, doughy, sweet center, makes taiyaki truly irresistible.
Once I’ve quickly munched through taiyaki, I cannot help but want to complement the sweetness of the red bean paste with…more red bean paste. This can be easily achieved with ichigo daifuku, or strawberry mochi. Mochi, made from pounded rice, is wrapped around a single ripe strawberry covered in red or white bean paste. The chewy, bounciness of the outer mochi casing followed by the sweetness of the ripe strawberry and the softness of the bean paste, delivers a bomb of flavor and different textures.
After devouring sweet after sweet (I only wish I could cover Japanese crepes, Bebi Kasutera, or choco bananas) I am ready for something salty and crunchy. This leads me to senbei. Senbei is a type of Japanese rice cracker often flavored with soy sauce or mirin. While the different types of senbei could be a blog post in itself, one of the more interesting varieties I’ve had was on a visit to Enoshima. There, where seafood is plentiful, tako-senbei and ebi-senbei can be found. Tako-senbei uses a whole octopus while ebi-senbei delivers a monster shrimp. Both are mixed with batter and flattened into a thin crispy cracker.
The great thing about street food is that every cart is different and every city has a different specialty. Yes by visiting shrines and basking in the beautiful serenity of Japanese gardens may slightly increase one’s understanding of Japanese culture, but in my mind, the best way to understand a country is through its food. I never want to stop learning about Japan…which I guess means I never want to stop eating.