Eating in Japan is an adventure. Often I see something that I know is supposed to be edible, but I have absolutely no idea what it is. And when I say I have no idea what a particular food item is, I don’t mean that I’m just unfamiliar with it or haven’t learned its name yet. I mean I question whether it’s animal, vegetable or mineral. Educated guessing isn’t a tactic that can be applied here either. I am educated in Western tastes, so when I guess about Japanese food, I’m usually wrong.
Take, for example, dango. Dango are little gummy sweets made of rice flour and sugar (see photo below). Because they are basically little white orbs, it’s tradition to eat them at the full moon. One such day, Gus and I saw some of these little dumplings at the store, except they had some type of golden-brown coating. It was obvious to us that this dango was probably covered in some sort of syrup, chocolate or other sweet sauce that would just add to its deliciousness. Not so. As it turns out, our mystery sauce was actually soy sauce. Think Oreos dipped in soy sauce instead of milk, and you’ll get the idea.
Here are some other interesting taste combinations I’ve tried:
Creamed corn sushi
Sweet bean-flavored Pepsi
A ham and penne alfredo sandwich
A barbeque pickled cabbage sandwich
Sweet potato ice cream
Sweet potato KitKats
Just today, hungry for a mid-morning snack, I grabbed a bag of mixed Japanese crackers from the teachers’ room. The first cracker I popped in my mouth tasted like fish. It wasn’t bad, just unexpected and not necessarily the taste sensation I was going for at 10 a.m. And the surprises just kept coming. Among the more neutral rice crackers and peanuts, I found more fish-flavored pieces, various seaweed-wrapped tidbits, and a few one inch long dried fish, which the other teachers made me try (see photo above). They were teriyaki-flavored and crunchy due to the fact that the little creatures retained their bones, eyes, scales and tails.