I don't know why but today I remembered some of the most shocking moments from my first food experiences in Japan. I was a young kid fresh off the airplane and didn't know anything about the world outside of Cleveland, OH. Everything was new and sparkly. I remember going to the supermarket and being amazed at all the different products. I think I get as excited by food shopping as some women get about shopping for shoes. I particularly love going to supermarkets where there's a large variety.
The first thing I noticed at the supermarket that blew my mind was how large some of the produce was compared to America. They had apples the size of baby heads and giant big fat carrots. I had never seen a Japanese radish before. It blew my mind. It looked like a gigantic turnip. Thank God it doesn't taste like turnips. I remember buying a Japanese pear for the first time. I didn't know what to make of it. It looked like a hybrid between an apple and a pear. I was lucky and got a ripe, sweet, and juicy one. When I bit into it, it was like biting into heaven. I had never tasted anything like it. My eyes grew wide, and I became an instant fan.
Besides giant fruits and vegetables, I had never seen miso before. To me it looked like peanut butter. I remember being in a supermarket and saying to myself, “wow Japanese people sure do love peanut butter!” I grabbed a tub of it and took it home. I'd been in Japan for about two weeks and was craving peanut butter. As soon as I got in the door, I opened the tub of brown goo, dug out a big glob of it, and ate it straight from the spoon. It was salty and gross. I learned the hard way not to eat miso from the tub.
Another shocker came when I had matcha ice cream for the first time. I know many people love it, but I cannot stand sweet green tea flavor. I was doubly ruined by the fact that I didn't know anything about green tea and ice cream. I assume that it was green apple or pistachio. When your tongue is expecting green apple and you get green tea it comes as a kind of shocker. To this day, I still hate all green tea flavored sweets.
Then there was the time I bought what I thought was a jelly doughnut. I had gotten it from the bread shop and carefully carried my prize home. I was looking forward to it having some custard or raspberry jam inside. Because I couldn't read anything, all I could do was guess by the shape of things. Turns out my jelly donut was a curry one. That was even more shocking than the green tea ice cream. Unlike the ice cream, I love curry donuts. They are a great savory snack.
And finally, the greatest food freak out I experience after coming to Japan was when I had okonomiyaki. It wasn't the dish itself that freaked me out. That beautiful combination of cabbage, flour, eggs, and grilled pork cooked into a kind of pancake and smothered in sauce is incredibly delicious. The thing that freaked me out was the dried fish flakes that were sprinkled on top. The steam coming from the hot pancake made the fish flakes dance in a slow wriggling motion. I thought there was something living on top of my food. My Japanese friends got a good laugh out of that and pretended for at least 20 minutes that the fish legs were alive. “Why don't you like it? It's fresh.” they said this while laughing their heads off. Eventually they told me the truth. I am glad they did because I was able to try one of Japan's most delicious foods.