May 25, 2012

When Gross is Great

I come from a family that readily eats what others consider gross. I have parents obsessed with their never ending search for the perfect tongue taco in Florida and launched a tradition when stationed overseas to always try every strange food that came, and continues to come, at them. I proudly continue to be bold and at least give a new food a few bites. I've been surprised at what I have liked (raw horse meat, whale sushi and grilled, whole squid  and admittedly, have choked down a few things that were quite gross including grilled chicken skin, boiled fish in tube form and this:

This is Motsu. It's a rustic soup  slow cooked that usually has a stock made with miso and garlic. The supporting actors are veggies (usually daikon radish, onion and konnyaku,) but the star is a combination of organs and entrails. In Japan, this soup is usually from an unlucky pig or cow and featured at a yakitori bar. Now, I'm not saying that I've disliked every motsu I've tried. Some are much better than others. There are those, however, that upon the raising of the lid, release a funk in the restaurant. The smell is a direct reflection of the featured organ's function. Aw hell, you're all adults--it smells like POOP!  I mean, I've been to restaurants where people made faces of surprise when we've had this brought to us. They were either thinking "I didn't know Americans ate anything other than hamburgers, pizza or spaghetti," or more likely, "god that looks/smells disgusting, is that American really going to eat that?!"

Okay, that's only been our experience at one or two places. The photo on your right was taken at a bar near our house and the owner makes a solid motsu. Organs are exceptionally cleaned,  stock is seasoned well and the aroma makes you want to run for a spoon, not for the hills.  Location will remain anonymous because it only seats eight people and when I need a beer and a stick, well, I need a beer and a stick! But I will refer you to two places that have GREAT motsu!

One is about as low-end as you can get: 
Alley-facing Sagamiya stand
Yakitori Sagamiya is also nicknamed  by Americans as "the stand up yakitori place" or "the back alley yakitori stand" in Yokosuka and yet a lot of them never even bother to go in and grab a seat. Inside, the menu is bigger and they have ice cold beer and really great motsu. It's not the cleanest place in the world and you'll undoubtably sit next to blue collar workers smoking like chimneys, but try it at least once. It's easy to find as it's right off the main "blue" street across from TGIFridays whom I will never mention in this blog again.

Another place with really great food is Hideyoshi Yakitori Bar in Kamakura. There motsu is a new take on an old dish and only uses chicken bits. It is a bar, so no kiddos allowed inside. However, if you find yourself in an Izakaya, they will probably have a version of motsu too.
Hideyoshi Street View
So, toss aside your pretenses and try something gross--not only will you have a new cultural experience but you just might fall in love with it.

Behold the Magnetic Exterior Dog Fecal Transporter! (This one's for Tal)

Side note: I have a lot of catching up to do since moving into our house, getting Internet and Matt starting work. Although we've been busy getting settled, there has still been lots of time spent shopping, eating and exploring our new digs which means tons of photos to post!!!

I'm just going to jump right in by talking about poop! Yup, poop! The Japanese don't skirt the issue of poop like many a Westerner. Poop can be won in toy form from a vending machine at your neighborhood grocery. Poop can be seen tormenting a character on a televised cartoon. Poop is spoken and joked about freely, and--if my friend Yumi is any indication--often!

There's going to be a few posts about the, ahem, "matter" during our stay here, so let me start this off with something very "G' rated...
Behold the Magnetic Exterior Dog Fecal Transporter!  Brilliant!  You Americans are wondering "why the hell would Japanese want to take dog poop home with them? Is it a souvenir? Crazy Japanese!" Well, this little invention is a small cultural lesson about what the Japanese do with their wan chan's (doggie) poop and other gomi (garbage.)  In Japan, it is to be flushed down the toilet with the bag disposed of in your non-recycleable plastics day. And because there are so many people living on top of one another, most play by the rules, picking up their dog's poop and bringing it home. Because of this, there are a vast array of poop products including keychain-like poop transporters.  

If you want to check out these poop products for yourself, they're at AVE, Yokosuka, located in the Heisei area. Go out the gate, hook a left and follow the curve toward LIVIN/Homes. AVE will be on your right.

May 14, 2012

Stand Up Soba Bar, Yokosuka
Here's a peek at one of the smallest restaurants in the world--a stand-up soba noodle shop under the train station in downtown Yokosuka. This is a photo from the main entrance. About eight Japanese could squeeze in here at once and bump elbows while they slurp.

Here's the cashier--a machine! The genius in me matched the Japanese characters to the photos out in front to ensure my food was what I'd hoped it to be. Forgot your money? You can even pay with your Pasmo card--the debit card accepted by company that runs the train station above. 
The ladies work in a tiny space with about six square feet of room.  There are piles of noodles, scallions and serving containers stacked all around them. I figured I'd take a center seat so I can enjoy watching them dance around one another.
Aaaaahhhh...cold "soba" (aka buckwheat,) noodles with dipping broth at top right. I mixed in the wasabi and scallions and got a stinging surprise at the end of my meal! To the left, we have "negitoro," (minced raw tuna,) over rice with a little horseradish sprout and "nori," (dried seaweed,) on top. With free ice-cold water, a tipless society and tax already included, this satisfying and healthy lunch set me back a whopping $6.50. SAVE and STAND! That's my new mantra:)

May 10, 2012

Aaaaaaaand........We're Back!

We moved back to Japan roughly two weeks ago. I've been toying with the idea of reviving this blog. On our way home tonight (after a wonderful meal full of various nibbles and Asahi while watching the Sumo tournament,) we passed this department store. Inspiration hath struck and it came in the form of  typical hilarious "lost in translation" at its best. 

When I lived here as a child, the only American holiday we saw any trace of was the freakish Wizard of Oz looking Santa in department store advertisements. Nowadays, Halloween is pretty popular although as my friend Masumi put it, "it is celebration of Pumpkin." On Valentines Day, Japanese women give males chocolate or gifts. Basically, they don't quite get it.

So I dedicate the resurrection of Ramen for Breakfast to my mom.  Because as the old man and I continue to live abroad and enjoy the quirks and perks of living in a foreign land, we miss out on important American rituals like family dinners, shopping with our moms, fishing with our dads, Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts and so much more.  
Thanks Mama or as we say back home "Happy Mother's Day!"