Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Riffing on International Food

Breakfast during a ski trip in Japan. Yes, that's a hot dog, but isn't it pretty?

This morning, as I was thinking of a topic to post about, I realized this is the last day I'll see a good friend before she goes to Paris for a week. So naturally, my thoughts turned to food; specifically, the glories of international foods eaten in their home environment. Because seriously, my friends, you have not had a croissant until you've had one in Paris. I know that sounds like food snobbery, and maybe it is, but I'm sorry, it's true.

I've had pierogi in Krakow, dosas in India, and yes, croissants in Paris. But the foods I keep coming back to and getting nostalgic for are Japanese.

Every convenience store in Tokyo, where I lived for a year and a half, had onigiri -- triangular wads of rice stuffed with salmon, or beans, or tuna. They were delicious, simple, filling and blessedly cheap. In summer, they had pre-packaged cold soba -- buckwheat noodles with a sweet, salty soy-based sauce, and a tiny compartment of paper-thin green onions.

Naturally, there is a class of bar food. Yakitori -- literally, grilled chicken, a/k/a chicken on a stick -- was a favorite, as was its cousin, octopus on a stick. Seriously, folks, when you're 22 and you've had a few giant beers after teaching English for nine hours and you've missed the last train, nothing hits the spot quite like grilled octopus smothered in teriyaki sauce.

Finally, the ubiquious sushi; it's in convenience stores, in "kaiten" joints where it goes by on conveyor belts and they tot up your bill based on the plates stacked in front of you,
and at proper sushi restaurants. Someone in the gaijin house where I lived had identified a half-off night at a sushi restaurant we could walk to, and I had some of the best raw fish of my life there. I can't recall what I had -- probably lots of tuna -- but I remember how much I loved eating what the locals were eating, where they were eating it. This was also my first exposure to banana leaves as plates, and using my hands to eat in public.
And now I'm so hungry for sushi that I'm plotting a new career as an international food writer.

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