Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
Japanese cuisine has been heavily exported around the world, with Japanese restaurants popping up on a daily basis in the Western world. Sushi is arguably the most well known Japanese dish, and most restaurants indeed end up being centered around it. Throughout my blog I've been introducing you to many alternative dishes and praising the Japanese cuisine for its wide variety and tastes that are comparable to none. However, Japanese dishes are not always user-friendly. There are several bizarre foods originating from Japan, for which the taste is... acquired with time. These usually don't end up on your plate in your local Japanese restaurants. Here are the top seven (not necessarily in order of bizarreness):
Are you brave enough to gulp down food that gives out an aroma of old gym socks that haven't been washed for a decade? Natto is a food item that is made from fermented soybeans. Think slimy, sticky beans in a small Styrofoam container, looking like they have been kept there for several generations. It's actually one of the healthiest dishes the Japanese cuisine can offer. Usually, Natto is served for breakfast on top of hot white rice, together with a special sauce and a hint of mustard. Sometimes Japanese people mix in raw egg to the dish just to add to its bizarreness. I find the whole thing delicious.
2. Umeboshi Plums
If you think lemon heads are sour, you must have not heard about or tasted Umeboshi Plums yet. These salty and sour pickled plums range in variety from small to large, and from juicy and soft to rather dry and hard. Some may seem quite innocent, and actually hit you with their sourness only after a few seconds, causing you to make a run for the nearest ocean for relief.
Inago - a great appetizer consisting of small brown crispy crickets/grasshoppers on your plate! These friendly creatures are marinated in soy sauce, sugar, sake and then dried. The handsome grasshoppers have all their internal and external organs and heads left intact for you to swallow down as well.
First of all, Shishamo is practically impossible to be eaten with chopsticks. These small fish of about 15cm tall get grilled before you find them on your table with their head and tail intact. Actually not all that bizarre considering the other stuff on the list here.
Pick a few hairs from your scalp and examine the stringy cluster to understand how Mozuku looks like. Mozuku is a type of seaweed generally served cold with vinegar dip. Absolutely mouthwatering. These algae from Okinawa are very nutritious, with many Mozuku-based supplements now being marketed.
6. Dried Octopus or Squid
You just need to open the food packet to know why this food item has been added to this list. The octopus and squid are seasoned and dried in rings or shreds, looking nothing like their original forms. The dried and chewy food is served as a snack to go along with beer. Nowadays it's easy to find these in Asian food grocers around the world. Try them, they go great with beer.
The dish is made from the wild Konnyaku potato. If you are a dieter, this dish is for you, as it has practically zero calories and is devoid of sugar, fats, protein, and also almost any taste. It is magically filling, however. Eating this slippery and bouncy chunk of gelatin definitely will make you feel weird. Konnyaku is usually a part of Japanese stews and soups, including Oden (remember that?). By the way, yet another dish virtually impossible to grab with chopsticks.
Josh Shulman, Author of "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang For Your Yen" www.allyoucanjapan.com