pergamond: ([Disney] Sleeping Beauty // rooting for)


When I left Sapporo at the end of July, Odori Park was in the midst of a summer beer festival. When I returned in September, it had moved onto an autumn food festival. Me and this city were bonding.

On Friday lunchtime (a public holiday before you accuse me of skiving off) the festival stalls were bursting with different foods; crab was being cooked in its shell, skewers of chicken, beef and golden potato dumplings lay on a grill, deep fried balls of octopus sat in rows along with corn on the cob, pots of chowder, curry with giant naan breads, oysters in the half-shell...

... and spiny black balls that looked like hand grenades.

I did a double take as someone passed me with two balanced on a plastic plate. Was this a military training exercise or a snack with extra punch? Should I wrestle the man to the floor and call the police or... watch while he cracks one of the demonic spheres open and probes it with chopsticks. I tried to take a photo so I could demand answers from a safer distance but black spines on a black ball had stealth bomber properties for my phone camera. Short of propping my handset on the guy's shoulder (... no), I wasn't going to get a decent shot.

I had to find out where these came from.

I pushed back through the crowd, searching for people with similar platters of terminator snack food or the location of a high security military camp; one of the two. Eventually, I came across a grill that was advertising food from Rebun, an island off the northern coast of Japan. Judging from the map, it would indeed be the perfect place for a biological warfare unit.

I joined the queue.

Then something rather miraculous happened: my Japanese came through. Two places in front of me, I distinctly heard the woman order 'uni' meaning 'sea urchin'. I had eaten sea urchin before; it was a luminous orange, salty semi-liquid of a sea food. I'd had it with a rice bowl and on sushi but never ... well, in a sea urchin.

I tried to squint through the cracks of the grilling hand grenades to see if I could recognize the interior flesh. Different colours unhelpfully met my eyes. Still, since we seemed to be on a linguistic role, there was another option:

"Sore wa uni desuka," I inquired as I reached the counter.
Is that sea urchin?

The woman gave me a cheery smile, "Uni desuyo."
Yes, it is.

Comprehension AND communication! I was on fire.

"Ichi." I held up one finger.

In Japanese, numbers are usually followed by counters; words that indicate the type of object being enumerated. However, I had no idea what the counter for black-spiky-sea-urchin-bomb would be, so the request for 'one' was all she got.

I scuttled off to the corner of the lawn with my prize and pried it open with my chopsticks. Inside, there was the familiar orange strips that I had previously eaten, surrounded by green goop. What was the edibility factor for the green goop? Where a score '10' sees you ordering more and a '1' means that it is served at your funeral for company in the afterlife? Unfortunately, I had run away from the other urchin-bomb customers so I had no one close to compare eating habits to. In the end, I concluded that if anything green had to be definitely avoided, this would be one dangerous little number to serve up at a festival. Since no one seemed to be in charge of carrying off dozens of corpses, I ate all the orange, some of the green (I'll give it a '7') and decided that was enough excitement for one meal time.

Later, I looked up 'sea urchin' on wikipedia. Apparently, the orange delicacies are actually the sexual organs. Not all knowledge is good.
pergamond: ([Futurama] Bender // Applause)


Sapporo fish market is small. Well, let me clarify the scale: Sapporo fish market is tiny compared to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market but since that is the largest in the world, perhaps that is setting the bar rather high. Compared to the fresh fish counter at Sainsbury's, Sapporo's market is humongous. It is also largely filled with crabs. A Hokkaido speciality, there were huge crabs swimming around in glass tanks, crabs sitting on ice with their legs neatly tucked under them in a crab package and crabs being served up in the restaurants nestled between the stores. It was into one of these that I stopped for lunch.

My guide book particularly recommended not the crab, but the fresh sea urchin and salmon roe. I picked one of the restaurants in the centre of the fish market that had a steady stream of visitors. By trying my usual trick of looking hungry yet solvent, I was guided to a seat and handed a menu with a lot of pictures. After I'd pointed out my selection (a rice bowl with salmon, roe and sea urchin), I sipped my iced tea and looked around. My choice of establishment was one of the larger options with maybe three large tables that could sit about six, another three smaller tables for two and the counter area where I was seated. Many traditional Japanese restaurants are very small, with sometimes just half-a-dozen tall stools pulled up the counter. Somewhat incongruously, this restaurant had Indian music playing continuously through the speakers above my head.

My meal arrived in a spread of florescent orange goodness. Sea urchin in particular looks the opposite of what it is; appearing to be highly processed and faintly radioactive rather than freshly caught that day. It was all excellent. The salmon roe popped in your mouth and the sea urchin had a salty tang.

I left and accidentally walked straight into one of the crab stores opposite. A particularly large specimen snapped a claw at me. I narrowed my eyes; next time buddy, you're mine.
pergamond: ([Random] kitten // rar)
"You can eat that flower."

I examined the serving dish in the centre of our table. It contained the sashimi starter for the night, including tuna, shrimp and scallops laid out on a bed of leaves and flowers.

As far as I could see, the yellow flower was quite blatantly a marigold.

"In Japan, it is normal to be able to eat everything on the plate," another person at our table explained. "Although, it is worth taking care. Sometimes, the flowers are plastic."

Potentially crunchy. Got it.

I picked up the flower with my chopsticks and examined it closer. Still a marigold.

"The taste is very bitter." The first person who told me that the flower was edible was our head of group. "I don't really recommend you try it."

You just told me it was edible. It's totally getting eaten.

I nibbled off a handful of leaves. The taste was slightly tangy but not particularly strong. Clearly these people just had weak taste buds! I popped the whole thing in my mouth.

Hell, the centre was bitter!

Wincing, I swallowed and took a swig of coke. It didn't help, so I followed it with a scallop. It marginally softened the taste.

Our head of group touched his chopsticks at a large green leave with a sharp point. "These are less strong," he assured me.

.... For the record, that proved to be only marginally true.

pergamond: ([Toy Story] Buzz // wibble)
"Here, have one of these."

A small tin and a pair of chop sticks was passed my way. I had just got back from my first day in the office and was now sitting at a table in the communal area of DK House; student dorm-like accommodation specialising in international visitors to Japan. Peering into the tin's contents I saw a series of small curly brown nut-sized objects suspended in water.

"What are they?"

"Silk worms," the girl next to me declared cheerfully. "They're from Korea."

I instinctively dropped the chop sticks. "What do they taste like?"

"You know those things you can sometimes eat ... and afterwards, it feels like your mouth is full of rotting garbage..."

"You're not selling this to me."

Obviously I ate one. Well, how often in your life are you casually passed a tin of silk worms to nibble on? It tasted .... exactly as you might imagine. Even if you didn't look at the curled up little striped bodies, there was really no way from the texture you could pretend you were chewing on a nut. Or rotten garbage. Nope, it was a worm.

I took a large swig of beer and downed a carton of strawberry milk. Amidst the laughter, one of the other girls leaned across the table:

"Welcome to Japan."

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