Remember this jump rope song (okay, I know I’m dating myself!): “Apple on a stick. Makes me sick.”
I have a better one: Squid on a skewer. Put it in the sewer.
Not gonna lie, most of the food I tried to eat in Japan evoked a strong gag reflex…
- First of all, I do not like sushi. Sorry, I just don’t. Aside from the disgusting texture, “bite-sized” is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It’s impossible to cut those suckers with chopsticks; I once tried to put a whole piece of sushi and its rice base in my mouth, but it filled up all available space and I was unable to get any traction to chew it. To avoid gagging, I spit the whole thing out in my napkin. Admittedly, not a pretty picture, but far more desirable than retching in public.
- Slimy squid on a stick, the skin so tough your teeth can sink into it.
- Sukiyaki – thin sliced, fatty, tough beef drowning in a sea of mucus-like raw egg.
- Mystery soup, accompanied by funky tasting molded eggs, and bland white rice for breakfast. No thank you, I’ll just surreptitiously eat this protein bar I squirreled away in my purse
Luckily there’s a lot more to like in Japan, like super-friendly people, stunning historical palaces, shogun castles, exquisite gardens, great shopping venues, and – my favorite – geisha makeovers.
To avoid committing a faux pas eating disaster, head for these places:
- Open-air markets – variety abounds, and along with grub you may have never seen before (and hope you never see again), you can assuredly find something that you can get past your eyes and into your mouth. At the Nishiki Market in Kyoto, I found Japanese candy that was almost too cute to eat.
- Restaurants (usually around the hotel zones) that cater to tourists. There were quite a few in the Shinjuku District of Tokyo. And don’t let any of those travel snobs tell you you’re not “authentically” experiencing Japan! Travel is what you make of it. (See A Word About Travel Snobs) You can still visit venues with horrible food (the photo ops are priceless!), but you don’t have to eat there.
Lucky for me, in Narita, I found tempura – small portions of meat, shrimp, or vegetables covered in a light batter and deep fried to a crisp perfection.
And on the road to Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, I discovered green tea ice cream… so I ordered two cones. For myself.
“Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal.” ~Voltaire