Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On Food and Culture

I interrupt my day by day account of the Mexico trip to share a bit of information that I first learned in Japan. My Mexico trip confirmed my theory.

I don't consider myself a "foodie" but I am always thrilled to sample new and different tastes. In Japan the ultimate test (although I didn't know it at the time) was natto. Natto is fermented soybeans. Natto is slimy and stinky. One day when I had been in Tokyo about a month or 6 weeks there appeared in our lunchtime bento boxes a small container of something called natto. I had to ask what it was and what to do with it. I was told to eat it with my rice. As I prepared the natto (you add a mustardy sauce and stir well before putting it on the rice) most of the Japanese office staff gathered around to watch me. I tried it. It was a strong, pungent taste that was pleasing to me in a very strange way. Kind of like smelling your own dirty socks can be fulfilling. I thought it was quite delicious and gladly consumed it. The Japanese staff were amazed and told me this was a sign that I was Japanese, since most gaijin and many Japanese find this food disgusting. I liked it enough that I continued to keep it stocked in my apartment fridge. The grocery store cashiers always looked surprised that this blonde gaijin was purchasing natto. From the day of my first natto experience I got the feeling that the staff went out of their way to put very strange food items in front of me to see my reaction. I tried them all and honestly there was only one thing I didn't particularly enjoy. One night we all went to a sushi-go-round place and one of the things I tried was a baby squid sushi - a small round of rice topped with 3 tiny baby squid. I thought it tasted like ink but I was happy for the experience of trying it. Also I'm not particularly fond of anemone but would try it again.

I found the same thing to be true in Mexico. Once I ate and thoroughly enjoyed the pork brain quesadilla it seemed the challenge was on. The staff in Mexico began to seek out culinary challenges to set in front of me ("Hey! Make her eat this chili!"). Specifics to come later (tonight actually) but I truly ate some things that are unbelievable to the American palate. I was more than willing to try and it all ended up being delicious and it turns out this was a really important thing for me to do, culturally speaking.

So the lesson for today kids is if you visit another culture be willing to try the food. I think food is a huge part of any culture and trying it shows that you embrace and respect the culture. Life is too incredibly short not to step outside your comfort zone and try something totally foreign to what you are used to.

1 comment:

Harvey said...

"Kind of like smelling your own dirty socks can be fulfilling." Hahhahaha.

Pork brain...

I'll be going back to my western-ified Mexican food now.