Monday, March 19, 2007


This post is actually several months late, and to the person who sent me this parcel of goodness, I apologise profusely. But better late than never, I always say, and although some of you may indeed think that this could be my very own personal motto, the day I am actually on time with something, you'll all be late anyway.

One of the things that I enjoy most about travelling and living somewhere else is the different styles of food that you can experience. Experiences that are unique to the place that you are visiting, and experiences that are intrinsically the same in all cultures - after all, everyone has to eat.

I will try to remember this the next time someone offers me chicken sashimi, natto or sea urchin. Especially the sea urchin.

Coming from Australia, where they have a myriad of flavours and foods all mixed, all separate, all catering to every whim or craving that you might have, to Japan, where multiculturalism and it's subsequent variety of available cuisines are yet to be fully embraced and I am faced with the dilemma of wanting to eat the best Japanese food I will ever have, while balancing the need for foods that I had taken for granted like Lebanese and good Italian.

Food, for me, in Japan, is all about polar opposites. Raw fish, sashimi, is the best I have ever eaten, and having sashimi and rice in the Tsukiji fish market at 8am was a cool experience. Being served kaiseki ryori with the PTA in an old restaurant in Kyoto was special because of the ceremony and importance behind it. Being expected to eat the boiled and simmered fish head while watching other teachers suck out the opalescent eyeballs can be described as nothing else than an experience. Same goes for fish ovaries.
Food in Japan is revered and this is reflected not only in the 4 hours of nightly cooking shows that highlight some special oishii dish that is accompanied by looks of shock and amazement for the very thing that the c-grade celebrities have just popped into their mouths, but also by the way that every time I mention that I'm going somewhere in Japan, I'm told that the area is famous for special soba, or special udon, or special fish, or special water. Sure, some of these things may be special, but there are people who will travel extensively just to eat udon noodles that to me, taste no different to the udon noodles that I used to buy from Daily in Highgate. Japanese people are obsessed with food.

But, like I mentioned before, the influence of multiculturalism on the variety of foods available has had very little impact upon Japan. Finding good Indian is no longer a matter of a ten minute drive to Maya Masala. Instead it's a mission into Osaka. However, it certainly makes you appreciate it that bit more when you've had to change trains twice and walk through the crazy streets of Amemura and hope like hell that you can find the restaurant that you went to 4 months previously on a whim. The things you miss can mostly be found at international stores, albeit at inflated prices, or for the Americans among us, Costco.

The offshoot of having hours upon hours to kill at school, once I've studied of course, is that you generally end up spending a fair amount of time reading the longest book ever written, The Internet. Online, I managed to find this cool little swap thing that involves you sending a package of food stuffs from your country to someone else in another country. I think my family are sick of the weird yet wonderful types of pocky and crazy kit kats that I send them, and some of the Japanese snack foods are so odd that they deserve to be shared with as many people as possible. So this way, not only do I get to buy some of the craziest stuff I've ever seen, I also get sent a package of slightly less crazy, but equally exciting foods from another country. And postal costs aren't nearly as much as a flight!

This is a photo of the package I received in December. It was so cool to open something that a complete stranger had obviously thought carefully about, and had even cared enough to make home-made Christmas biscuits. I got different teas, some fantastic dark chocolate, Christmas biscuits, some chocolate scented bath bombs, some butterfingers and a few other things as well. It's surprising how small the world is sometimes, as my swap person had friends who lived in Perth, and she was from San Francisco. A pleasure to give, and certainly a pleasure to receive.

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