Some visitors to Japan are often surprised by how similar the Japanese diet is to the Western one. Most Japanese people are as likely to be seen munching on a muffin than eating one of the more unusual dishes traditionally associated with Japan. However, you shouldn’t be put off—there are plenty of popular weird and wonderful dishes out there and some of them have fascinating names that tell you a lot about the country’s distinct food culture.
1. 親子丼 Oyako-don
親子丼 (おやこどん) is such a common dish (basically scrambled eggs and chicken over rice) that most learners of Japanese probably don’t think about how strange the name is. The origin of the kanji that make up this tasty treat is a combination of the Chinese characters for parent 親 (the chicken) and child 子 (the egg). So it’s parent and child in the same bowl. Lovely.
2. 踊り丼 Odori-don
Another strange-sounding (and looking) dish is the Japanese 踊 (おどり丼どん). This dish consists of a squid or an octopus that is basically a zombie: the brainstem has been severed, so the animal is effectively brain-dead, but the muscle cells are still active. When the sodium in the soy sauce makes contact with the still active muscles, they begin to writhe and contract like something from a Japanese horror movie.
As these contractions make the tentacles move in a way that looks like a grotesque vaudeville dance, the dish includes the word for dance (踊り) in its name.
Unfortunately, 踊り丼 is not the only culinary misadventure that uses the “dancing” idea, as there is also the infamous 白魚 (しらうおの踊り食ぐい ) or dancing icefish, which consists of a raw egg and little fish that are still swimming among them.
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