I don’t like generalising. It’s not a good thing. But when something happens over and over again, surely it’s not coincidental? I’ve cooked more times than I can count for my Japanese friends. And it always seemed to go the same way when it came to certain ingredients. To prevent scaring your Japanese friends off with your alien culinary sensibilities, avoid serving them these ten foods at a dinner party. That is, until you can get them round to your way of thinking!
1. Coriander (Cilantro)
Personally, I love coriander. I put it in my guacamole, in my tacos, in my pad thai, atop my massaman curry and in my fresh spring rolls. My friends Mrs. Yuko and sisters, Emika and Haruka, don’t. “It smells bad,” they say, over yet another discussion on food. Wakame (edible seaweed) smells bad, I reply. “Wakame?” – their faces show complete disbelief: “No…!”
2. Blue Cheese
I guess I can’t blame them for this one seeing as it’s an acquired taste for all. Though some European-style Japanese bakeries sell gorgonzola, honey and walnut rolls, most of my Japanese friends give it a big N. O. It’s too strong and smelly. The same can be said for camembert (gah!) and the occasional brie hater (what did brie ever do?!)
3. Rice Pudding
Rice is the staple Japanese food. It has been cultivated with great labor and love then devoured with almost every meal for centuries. For this reason, steamed rice on its own, is a highly praised and respected Japanese food. Which makes adding milk and white sugar to this humble white gem almost sinful. Put it this way, Japanese people and rice pudding is like Gordon Ramsay and a well-done sirloin; “My gran could do better! And she’s dead!”
I don’t think there’s one fruit that the Japanese don’t peel. I still remember the first time I watched a teacher I worked with peel a grape. I just sat there and gawked. In her defence, the grape was the size of a golf ball (a discussion for another time). Despite the fact that most of a fruit’s nutrients are in its outer skin, Japanese will peel every fruit: apples, pears, figs, plums, peaches – you name it, they’re peeling it. In New Zealand, some people (yours truly included) can eat a whole kiwi-fruit – skin and all. You imagine the reactions I got here.
5. Spicy Food
My Japanese friends who have travelled abroad, specifically to Korea, like spicy food. On the other hand, the ones who have never visited Korea, despite it being so close to Japan, explain it’s because they don’t like spicy food. To which I try to convince them that Korea must have a variety of foods…but no. I once lunched with my Junior High School students where I ordered a “hot” ramen. My students screamed and giggled, “Anisa sensei, noooo!” And can you guess the ending? Yes, it wasn’t even hot. Like, not at all. Though tabasco is readily available, real hot chilli; powder, sauce or meal is a Japanese no-go.
6. Overly Sugared Foods
My friend Yuko and her daughter visited America a couple years ago. They had an incredible time and loved most of the food but surprisingly not the chocolate. They found American sweets and in particular, the chocolate, overly sweet. Of course, for a country that flavours dessert with flowers, green tea, red beans and sweet potato, a sugared Hershey’s is damn near impossible.
7. Brown Rice
According to my friend Akiko, in the past, a long time ago, her family could only afford brown rice. Hulled white rice was not readily available and if it was, it was unaffordable. Today, white rice is in every household. Eating brown rice then, reminds some old folk of being poor. In addition, brown rice is harder to chew.
8. Deer Meat
I can’t speak for the city folk but in my inaka (countryside) many of the locals disliked eating deer meat. This is due to the animal creating damage to farms and occasionally causing road accidents by frivolously crossing the road at a whim.
9. Hard Bread
Also known as フランスパン (french bread). Not all Japanese dislike this. Only some. Varieties of it are pretty much available in all stores. The real kind, the kind with the hard crunchy outer layer, is too difficult for some Japanese to chew.
Believe it or not, most Japanese don’t even like natto (fermented soy beans). As a warm-up for my Junior High School students, I would often query them on both their favorite and most-hated foods. Nine out of 10 of my students hated natto. Go figure!
So. There you have it. Do you know of any more? If so, don’t be shy to comment. I’d love to know.© Savvy Tokyo