Monday, May 31, 2010


Before I came to Japan I was certainly a picky eater. I am a vegetarian and until recently didn't eat fish. This meant that any food within the proximity of something that had a face immediately became inedible. I hate milk, cheese, and mayonnaise, I don't eat fried foods, and despite a desperate love of chocolate and frozen yogurt I'm not big on sweets.

Japanese people are trained from an early age to eat everything. At school lunches, everyone is served the same thing, and everyone is expected to clean their plates down to the last grain of rice. Even as adults, when Japanese order at restaurants they don't ask for any substitutions. Thus, going against the grain and requesting a substitution is kind of a big deal. So my short stay in Japan has taught me to be a lot less picky.

Case in point: 焼きさば or Grilled Mackerel. In the upper right hand corner is a picture of this local specialty in its own fancy plastic sack. Mrs. Fukuda-san says that very few places grill mackeral whole in Japan anymore, and even fewer on a wooden grill like at the food center next to my house. Apparently people come all the way from Hiroshima just to get this fishy treat. So although the combination of good recommendation from the locals, and delicious fishy scents wafting my way every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, I couldn't bring myself to try one. Why?
Because this is how it looks unwrapped.

Yes, ladies and gents, it delivers what it offers: a whole grilled fish. Not only does the thought of my food looking back at me give me the willies for sure, but also I was afraid at what else they might not have removed from the fish. As I've grown accustomed to eating more and more things I previously would have labeled "gross", I came to want to give this bad boy a try. So when Moto came to visit we decided to try one, with the caveat that he would eat all the parts I didn't want (head, skin, innards, etc).

The friendly people at the food center wrap your fish straight from the grill in butcher paper, then newspaper, and put it in his own little sack. It's a wood grill and the fish is grilled au naturale as is on a great bamboo skewer. Luckily, it turned out they removed all the guts before grilling (which is more than I can say about some of the fish in the school lunches) so we didn't have to worry about those surprises. And guess what?
I liked it.

Now, don't get me wrong. I still prefer my fish sans head, and fish skin isn't a delicacy for me. But I can get over it, and even enjoy it. In the past finishing a meal with in as horrific a picture as this would have made me lose it. Instead, I just burp and get on with my evening.

What do you think? Wouldn't it be nice if we all were a little less picky?
No cheese though, please.


  1. That looks SO GOOD.

    I remember the first real meal I had upon arriving in France involved an entire salmon, baked with onions and lemons and white wine, staring up at us from a giant platter. Initially there was quiet inward freaking out, but it turned out to be, likewise, SO GOOD. And they didn't make me eat the head.

  2. Yeah, I think in a way Americans have too many options to get out of eating stuff. Japan it's sink or swim.
    Group vs. Individual mentality.
    Here in Japan, group and the clearing of one's plates rule.

    Good to hear from you. :)

  3. Man, I still can't get over that you don't like cheese. That's straight up weird. Bravo, though, for stepping out of your comfort zone - constantly.