Random Japanese Food Oddities

Let’s do one more post about Japanese food, ok?

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A good place to start is the Nishiki Market in Kyoto.

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This is a large covered market, containing many passages lined with food stalls. We saw only a fraction of it.

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We were particularly interested in Japanese street food, of which Nishiki was supposed to have many varieties. I’ve eaten squid in many ways, but never on a stick. If they breaded and deep fried it, they might be able to sell it at the State Fair.

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Fish on a stick to the left, and barbecued eel on a stick to the right. I tried the eel, it was good.
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Here’s some cooked poultry of various kinds.

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I had to try the barbecued sparrow. As you can see, not a lot of meat on the bones. Didn’t really taste like much, either.

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The sight of this food stall got me very excited. They had what looked like Japanese potato pancakes. I love potato pancakes.

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The pancakes were a disappointment, though. Rather gummy and greasy.

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I didn’t try the dried squid.

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We’ve got our eyes on you!

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Now onto a few things we found beyond the Nishiki market. What does the illustration on the package above, which I got from a vending machine, look like to you? I thought I was buying chocolates or maybe caramels. Wrong – it’s pickled quail’s eggs. Not bad, but not what I was expecting.
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There are certain Japanese versions of western foods you may want to avoid. For example, the “salad lunch” above, with sliced hot dogs. There’s a Denny’s-type chain called Jonathan’s that I would stay away from. Japanese people seem to like their scrambled eggs runny and their bacon soft.

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Regarding desserts, we discovered that folks in Japan like to put cornflakes in their ice cream sundaes.

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Ice cream may also come on top of cubes of hard, unflavored gelatin. Also beans and unidentified starchy bits.

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Bento boxes were one of the things we were enthusiastic about. We bought this one in a train station. bento-box

Opening it up, we found some noodles, a few bites of beef and pork cutlet, greens, a shrimp, and half a pickled egg. That thing in the middle that looks like a cherry is an extremely sour pickled plum.

We really enjoyed the food in Japan. Mostly, it was delicious. And if it wasn’t delicious, it was at least entertaining.

39 Comments on “Random Japanese Food Oddities

  1. One strange thing that Jason forgot to mention is that they serve tossed salad for breakfast in Japan. Good salad, usually with a nice light Asian flavored vinaigrette. I like salad, and I am not at all a stickler for time-appropriate foods, so I enjoyed salad for breakfast, but still, it’s different.

    So the second night that my clients took us out to a big feast, and we all drank a fair amount (at least compared to our usual amount), at one point they asked what we thought about the food in Japam. And I mentioned that salad for breakfast was a bit unusual.

    They were rather startled, because they thought of tossed salad as very American. “But not for breakfast,” I said. “But then how do you get your vegetables at breakfast?” Hmmmm. Not a question for which I had an answer.

    They, on the other hand, had no good explanation for all the cubes of jellied things (apparently frequently fish-related), little one inch cubes of very firm aspic, with no discernible ingredients that we could fathom, just savory jelly. Oh yes, very popular, they said.

    I wish I’d been able to take photos at the two very wonderful dinners they treated us to, one traditional Japanese, with lots of sushi, and the other upscale Chinese, with many amazing courses. But we were all just getting acquainted, and struggling with languages and cultures, and it would not have felt right to take pictures.

    • The tossed salad for breakfast was interesting, when we were in Malaysia our guide could not get over the fact that we didn’t eat rice and vegetables for breakfast.

      • I should add, rice and vegetables for breakfast is a very healthy way to start the day, just too late for me to change…although our guide did think I should try harder!

      • I’d be quite happy to eat rice and vegetables for breakfast, if someone else would cook them.

  2. Very interesting post (except now I’ll never un-see the poor sparrows on a stick). I do like the idea of salad for breakfast & will try that. Thanks for sharing.

  3. This is so interesting. I am up for trying most new foods with a few exceptions. Not sure if I’d be a fan of the gelatin beneath the ice cream, and I think I’d pass on anything with eyes looking at me as I bit into it. Other than that, I’d try just about anything. Looks like a lot of fun. (I don’t eat hotdogs here, so I probably wouldn’t eat them there either.) Thanks so much!

  4. I hope these are oddities, as you say, and not the norm. I can almost feel one of those hard cubes of gelatin stuck in my throat. And the poor sparrows. Not for me, please. I think I would eating lots of salad.

    • No sympathy for the sparrows, sorry. Plenty of delicious food alternatives to the oddities, although they were not odd to the Japanese.

  5. Aha, now I know what to do with all of these House Sparrows hanging around the bird feeders. I wonder what our guests would think at happy hour with hors d’oeuvres of HS on a stick. BBQ sauce or a Sweet and sour dip?? I am not such an explorer re food. I don’t like to eat anything looking back at me. Off with their heads I always say. I might eat dried squid if I had a good dip to go with it.

  6. Sparrows on a stick? No, not, never! Ugh! I pulled out my menu from the Japanese Consul dinner in 2005. Nothing odd on there, thank goodness. Grilled salmon with sweet miso for the entree. Maybe if I go to Japan I should be sure to pack granola bars.

    • That dinner sounds very good. Granola bars are probably a good idea, though to be fair there is lots of delicious food in Japan, but we didn’t find any at Nishiki Market.

  7. I love experimenting with new foods but like many others who have commented, I think I’d draw the line at house sparrows. I visited Japan in the late 1980s and have wanted to return ever since. Your series of posts have taken me there with pleasure.

    • Pat, you would love it. There is such a sense of place and age and particular history in every garden. I realized that is what is missing in the Japanese gardens I’ve seen in the US. They feel plunked down, as opposed to the gardens we saw in Japan, where the roots were literally hundreds of years old.

    • Well, remember that house sparrows are actually finches. So I probably wasn’t eating actual house sparrows, which is kind of disappointing.

  8. Really interesting to hear about the breakfast salad. And you at least got lots of great photos at the market Judy. Not sure I’d fancy lots of those things 😉 , but I did love the bento, and especially the thinly sliced sweet and sour pink ginger they often put in them. Did you have ‘okonomiyaki’ pancakes with cabbage or seafood in them?

    • We did have okonomiyaki once. It was served in a restaurant with a giant grill built into the table, so the huge pancake finishes cooking right in front of you, and you chop off pieces to put on your plate. We were kind of underwhelmed by it – perhaps we chose the wrong place to get it, a random restaurant just off the street market. Not great, not bad, a bit of a disappointment.

      • It is a matter of luck when you don’t know the best places. We were lucky with street stalls, following our noses! 😉

      • Cathy, we had amazing luck with gyoza and ramen and a couple other things, but I guess our luck ran out with okonomiyaki. 🙂

  9. The food is such an integral part of any culture…oh, that I were more adventurous in that department. I can’t even bring myself to watch Anthony Bourdain and switch stations when they start to show him downing grizzly fare with gusto.

  10. I liked your photos of Fish market, Jason. Especially fish on sticks and eyed heads. I think I wouldn’t eat some food I’m not sure what it’s from. The ice cream is from soy milk, did you like it?

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