Japan: the good, the bad and the ugly
It is fair to say that we tested the limits of our taste buds in Japan. Following the rule that we should try everything at least once, we grappled with some fairly unusual delicacies and put some things in our mouths that were certainly culinary firsts for us: literally the good, the bad and the ugly; sometimes all three in the same mouthful. Now we are back in Blighty and on a strict diet of beans on toast and potato smiley faces, here is a round up of the more weird and wonderful things we ate and our verdict on them...
TUNA JAW: as it says, literally the jaw of a tuna ready to be flung on the BBQ and picked at with chopsticks.
SAUNDERS: "Nice. I'd eat it again... no idea how to cook it but maybe this is a BBQ goal. Certainly beats sausages."
SYMONDS: "Not all that weird. Just hard to know how to cook it... it wouldn't come off the bone when still pink but it seemed un-Japanese to give it a full on roasting. The bits we could get at tasted pretty good though... Like tuna."
FISH SAUSAGE: not a fishy morsel is wasted with any remnants being pulped and turned into lurid pink and white fish sausage, or kamaboko.
SAUNDERS: "Yeah, it's alright. There's nothing wrong with it. Like fish-flavoured plastic cheese."
SYMONDS: "This is what I turn to when I want to eat something rubbery, slightly fishy and floral. It doesn't taste objectionable. Mainly because it tastes of almost nothing. If it hadn't been nestled in my bento, I could have mistaken it for a rubber or a bath pearl."
COD SMELTS: Sperm sacks from male cod, or shirako in Japanese. They look like little brains but are from quite the opposite end of the beast.
SAUNDERS: "Same texture as brains. Fishy goodness - yes please."
SYMONDS: "This was a real mind over matter mouthful. I can't fault the taste and they were indeed creamy but it was tricky to get away from the fact that it was a mouthful of spunk and the cod in question hadn't even bought me dinner. I would eat it again but would need it to be on toast. Anything that has a slightly questionable texture is infinitely more palatable on toast. Or is that cheating?"
ACHILLES: we translated this once, twice and thrice and sought a second opinion before we confirmed that this was indeed achilles. The achilles heel or tendon of a cow. Nose to tail eating to a fault.
SAUNDERS: "Really quite nice... boiled so doesn't taste of that much. Gelatinous beef fat with hot mustard. I'd do it."
SYMONDS: "Anything with a hint of cartilage turns my stomach. I don't want to chew on any meat for that long. This was the exception. The texture wasn't that chewy and it was more bite than bounce. That said, I don't feel the need to repeat this. Leave something for the glue and dog food. And that isn't nearly enough mustard for my liking."
UNI: Sea urchin. Served up fresh.
SAUNDERS: "I adore this. Could eat it for breakfast. In fact we did."
SYMONDS: "Mmmm Mmmmm Mmmmm. Fresh as fresh can be and only with the merest hint of fishiness. Delicious."
SAUNDERS: "How much we enjoyed it depended on whether we knew what it was - or roughly what it was - and how to cook it. Some of the stomachs were good, the other bobbly bits less so. I liked most of it, even the intestines, but want to explore more."
SYMONDS: "I want to make the quip that this was "offally offally good", and bits of it were. My rule of thumb was that if it was dark and meaty looking - heart, liver and who knows what else - I liked it. If it was lighter and spiky, there was no amount of chargrilling and basting in sauce that could make me go back for seconds."
TUNA SHIOKARA ON CREAM CHEESE: a rather specific combination. That tasted just like blue cheese... JUST like blue cheese. Odd as shiokara is fish fermented in its own guts.
SAUNDERS: "I liked this a lot. But surely something has gone wrong for animals to taste like blue cheese? Being drunk helps."
SYMONDS: "This is blue cheese... it has to be... gorgonzola... right?"
ICHIGO SANDO: Literally a strawberry sandwich.
SYMONDS: "Hello? Have you not heard of scones and jam and cream. Really no need Japan. Although admittedly it was pretty good."
SHIOKARA SELECTION PLATTER: this was where they were really yanking our plank. From the left: squid shiokara, brown crab shiokara, oyster shiokara. Just to repeat, shiokara is fish fermented in its own guts.
SAUNDERS: "The squid was good. The crab was good. But please don't do this to your oysters."
SYMONDS: "The one in the middle tasted a bit like Gentleman's Relish. It was massively eclipsed by the shiokara to either side. The texture was a little slimy but not unpleasant. But, boy the taste... a bit sour, a bit tangy, very fishy. A taste to acquire perhaps."
ELVERS: Little tiny eel elvers. In some sort of soy-miso dressing. This stuff is so obscure that I can't even manage to google to find the Japanese name.
SAUNDERS: "I know this is destroying the fish stocks but this tasted divine. Taste is wrong word as it is more about texture. Like tiny little bogies [I think he means this in a good way?!]"
SYMONDS: "Like little teeny tiny condoms in appearance and texture. They didn't have too strong a flavour but weren't texturally odd or unpleasant. Or maybe by this point I had started to turn native... if it didn't really funk, I didn't notice..."
SHISHAMO: Pregnant smelt. Literally pregnant fish.
SAUNDERS: "Stick it all in your mouth in two bites and it is delicious. Everything that came off the yakitori grill WAS delicious. Clearly BBQ witchcraft at play."
SYMONDS: "I had bad memories of these from eating Japanese school dinners ten years ago. Yes, get that Jamie Oliver, this is what they have for school lunch in Japan. Having steeled myself not to like them, turns out they aren't bad at all. Just grilled fish... filled with more littler grilled fish."
YUBA: Beancurd milk skin, also referred to as tofu skin. This was served topped with dashi thickened with agar agar and crowned with a little uni and wasabi. Like a bean curd-dashi ice cream sundae, without the ice cream.
SAUNDERS: "Pretty much the best thing I've ever eaten."
SYMONDS: "Wow. Like nothing I have tasted before... creamy, salty, slightly fishy (everything in Japan seems to be slightly fishy). Yes. Please."