When you think of Japanese food, images of sushi and tempura probably come to mind. But what's the real difference between Japanese food abroad and the actual dishes served in Japan?
This time, we will introduce the opinions of an Italian man and American woman who were asked different questions about the kinds of Japanese foods they liked - and a dish they were otherwise surprised by.
The Italian Perspective: "I'm now addicted to the hand-rolled sushi I'd been avoiding all this time!"
'Japanese-style' sushi available around the world seems to evoke surprise beyond what many Japanese would imagine.
"I ate sushi in Italy, but the hand-rolled style had a little peculiar appearance which didn't quite suit me. In Japan, though, while at first I was a little put off by the seaweed on the outside at first, once I gave it a go, I found it was really delicious! I love the tuna ones especially. The seaweed itself is crispy and flavorful. I'm so happy I pushed aside my initial reaction."
In Europe and the United States, we often hear stories of people being fine with seaweed when it's in something, but that when a food is wrapped in seaweed, its appearance is somewhat distracting. After giving seaweed-wrapped foods a go, though, you might find that they are more delicious than you may have thought!
No. 1 Japanese food! "I am moved by the deliciousness of Okonomiyaki"
One of the surprises I had, as a Japanese, was that our Italian correspondent's most favorite Japanese food was: okonomiyaki! The reason is?
"Before I ate okonomiyaki, I saw that okonomiyaki had a lot of cabbage, sprouts, and various other ingredients, but I wasn't particularly inspired by it. Finally I gave it ago. And wow - put them together in the right combination, and it's so delicious! It is now my favorite Japanese food."
Okonomiyaki are often described as "Japanese pancakes", and they are essentially a thick spot of batter mixed with a smattering of shredded vegetables, plus meats or fish. Visually, okonomiyaki might not be the most appealing dish and it might be tough to imagine exactly what it tastes like, since there are so many things mixed together at once.
However, its texture and taste, and volume are addictive once eaten!
"The texture of seaweed lets it down"
Earlier, Mr. G mentioned that nori seaweed had a good texture, but on the other hand, another variety with a different texture met a different fate. It seems that texture is very important to Italians, perhaps?
"I don't particularly like wakame seaweed. When I saw 'seaweed' listed I thought it might be something along the lines of the toasted variety, but when I initially discovered wakame, well...I don't have much taste for it. When I ate it, I was surprised at something a bit more slimy - completely different."
While Japanese people might be used to eating miso soup and different kinds of seaweed, indeed the many flavors and textures of the many diverse types of seaweed might come as a surprise to visitors.
For an American Woman, Ramen: "It was delicious no matter where you eat!"
"I was impressed because Japanese ramen is really delicious wherever you eat it. Especially the shops owned by a Japanese are delicious for any ramen shop. While you can see ramen shops in the US as well, there really isn't the kind of variety as in Japan - and the types of soups here are incredible!"
While many people might imagine that Ramen is a direct import of Chinese food, in reality there is a very different take in China and Japan on the dish. In Japan, the ramen culture is very particular about the ingredients used - pork bones, salt, chicken bones, vegetables, and even the noodles themselves - and it seems that each ramen shop in Japan has its own cult following.
Not in America! Simmering...rice omelet!
"I ate omurice for the first time in Japan. I've never seen this in the US! It's really delicious and I love it."
How surprised, omurice - omelet rice! While many Japanese might not traditionally consider it as a 'Japanese food' per se, that foreign visitors focused in on it was a delicious surprise!
There are many omurice specialty shops recently, and just as with ramen, there are several variations, each with their own dedicated following. For instance, the "toro toro tamago" style, which has a soft-scrambled egg over the rice, has been quite popular in recent years. Another camp is dedicated to the "traditional" style of omelette that's covered with ketchup. And yet another group of die-hard fans adore the version that's smothered with demi glace sauce! Yes, there are many styles of omurice that can be enjoyed in Japan - and many might not make it beyond the nation's borders!
Raw shirasu: "I simply can not eat it!"
"Japan eats raw shirasu (whitebait)? It is really amazing to eat something while it's watching you...It's definitely not for me."
The appearance of certain foods can indeed be surprising! Whitebait is considered something of a delicacy in different regions around Japan, and the fry are typically served either boiled or raw. Thinking from our respondent's perspective, it occurred to me that indeed the appearance of raw shirasu could be considered a little grotesque, as the tiny fish kind of gaze up from the dish and are eaten whole. Her way of thinking certainly gives me some pause to think about what other Japanese foods might have a similar off-putting appearance!
So, how was it? Did the above surprise you as well? Or did you discover curious new foods you might wish to try the next time you visit Japan? I hope you find your new favorites during your stay!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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