Japan is a country of culinary delight. Some of them are famous (sushi, for example), while others are wonderful surprises that fill your mouth with unexpected joy (takoyaki springs to mind).
Some surprises are good, but hard for the naïve Western brain to comprehend. Other surprises were… not good. Not good at all. As someone who has now spent the better part of a month sampling the delicacies of this fine country, I can now present to you my list of the Top 5 things I wasn’t expecting to eat in Japan, but did anyway.
Top 5 things I wasn’t expecting to eat in Japan
- Horse. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure I ate horse. It could just be one of those lost in translation things. Or… I ate horse… several times. You see, convenience stores in Japan are unlike the convenience stores we have at home. They are wonderful places full of tasty treats. I had a particular favourite – what I thought was spicy chicken on skewers. However, halfway through one skewer, Emma looked at the receipt and declared “that’s the symbol for horse”. Sure enough, Google translate backed up the claim. Here’s the thing – it was delicious. I don’t know what animal it was, but I went back for more.
- Crab entrails. Thought it was crab sushi. Tasted like crab arse – turns out it wasn’t far off. Surely restaurants have a responsibility to tell the whole story, before you buy it.
- Mystery meat. The great thing about Airbnb is having the ability to cook meals at home every now and then. The bad thing about Japan is you don’t always quite know what you are buying. We bought some meat, thinking it was marinated beef. About .3 seconds into the cooking process, the pungent aroma alerted us to the fact that it wasn’t prime steak. If it did in fact come from a cow, it sure as hell wasn’t from a part of it you’d want to eat. I had a nibble (for curiosity’s sake). It was awful. I hate to waste food, but I’m pretty confident this stuff wasn’t actually food. It went in the bin.
- Squid sashimi. I came to a realisation on this trip, a sudden moment of clarity – I like sashimi, I like squid. But I DO NOT like sashimi squid. The flavour isn’t great, but the texture is what really gets me. Unreasonably tough and disturbingly slimy.
- Chicken gristle. I didn’t even know chickens had gristle, but the good folks at one of Japan’s leading convenience stores appear to have found some, battered it and stuck it in a plastic cup. It looks tantalisingly like that most wonderful of foods – karaage chicken. But it ain’t no karaage chicken.