Day 1: Arrival
Tired, hot, and bloated from the plane-ride from Vancouver to Tokyo (where, incidentally, I sat right in front of Japanese Olympic figure skater Nobunari Oda), I jumped right into the sac (the fish-roe sac) with a meal including mentaiko – spiced haddock roe.
There is nothing better to trick your body into believing that it’s really 10pm and not 6am, by filling it with hot and spicy roe, mixed with Japanese mayo, spread over a concoction of fried onions and squid, topped with cheese, and baked in a cast iron skillet. I wish I had taken a picture of this bright pink dish, spotted with browned, melted cheese, but after uncountable hours of being awake, I was not thinking straight. Fork-give me.
Day 2: It can be like the First Time, all over again.
It’s been 9 years since I first moved here, 6 years since I moved away, and two years since I was here last, and I’m re-discovering all sorts of things. For example, I forgot that in Japan, it’s ok to:
- Call your company (and emblazon on your vehicles) “KKK” (a heavy machinery company) and “All-Hard” (I can only guess…)
- Watch TV on the monitor just next to the steering wheel while you drive
- Smoke where you eat (when was the last time you saw an ash-tray on the table?) &
- Look at girlie mags on the train
There are sure to be many more re-discoveries, but none more exciting than the re-discovery that in Japan, it’s not just okay, but also de-forking-licious to combine pasta with jako (dried baby sardines) and takana (pickled greens), and top it with grated daikon radish and shaved nori. The Japanese love to Japanize (Japanify?) foreign foods, and one of the best results is Wa-fu (pronounced “Wahoo”, and meaning “Japanese-style”) Pasta. After a long Shinkansen ride, and a hot walk around Osaka, all I can say is, “Wahoo! Pasta!”
…later in the day…
Hatsutaiken, in Japanese, means “first experience” and you can probably guess the most common association of the word – with forking! And who knew that on my second day back in Japan, that I’d have my first forking experience with monja-yaki.
Similar to okonomiyaki it’s made with cabbage and a filling of your choice (we chose corn and mentaiko). But additionally, there is also shredded dried cuttlefish, and some kind of mystery liquid. And as is common in Japan, a good part of the forking delight is in the presentation.
How to eat monja-yaki:
1. On the hot teppan grill embedded in your table, stir-fry the cabbage, shredded dried cuttlefish, and other fillings.
2. Open up a well in the middle, and pour in a little of the liquid, mixing it in with some of the veggies. Once it’s slightly incorporated, open up a large circle in the middle, pour in the rest of the liquid, and then mix together all of the veggies and liquid.
3. Spread it out in a thin layer on the teppan grill. Top with mayonnaise and enjoy the likeness of your foods’ consistency with the texture of the quivering jelly-fish you might find stranded on a beach at low tide.
4. Using a tiny metal spatula, scrape a miniscule amount of the edge of the bubbling mass to the side of the grill, pressing it down to force-fry the morsel. When it sticks to your spatula, it’s ready! Pop the piping hot monja-yaki down the hatch, and go back for more.
Is there anything you haven’t tried? Maybe now is the time to explore some unknown territory. Let’s forking for the first time!