This past week during school lunches, I had the grand chance to try two very quintessentially Japanese foods, natto and niboshi.
For those of you who are not accustomed to Japanese food, natto is fermented soybeans that are commonly placed on top of rice, and it looks (and feels) like beans covered in spider webs, it also has a very strong odor, akin to a very potent cheese, like, and –to me- tasted like soggy peanuts doused in way too much salt. To make things more interesting, this meal was had in the teachers’ lounge, so all of them were very eager to see what I thought of natto, and when I made a disgusted face and said “it’s… interesting,” everyone giggled and mocked me for the rest of the meal. The experience was made much worse though, because the smell made me want to vomit and while opening the container, I had accidentally got some on my fingers, so every single time I took a bite of anything, I got a strong whiff of the smell again and had to fight back gags.
Directly after our meal, the principal explained that all Japanese people love natto because it is so healthy. Liar. I have already had multiple teachers at this school state natto is vile and Debu told me nearly all of the teachers at his old schools thought it was disgusting, that being said, Debu likes it! He has in fact been told by some Japanese people that that makes him “more Japanese then most Japanese people,” because most of them can barely stomach it, but eat it because it is considered ‘un-Japanese’ and ‘immature’ to not do so.
The next delicacy, niboshi, is essentially dried whole sardines, and when I say whole, I mean even their tiny shrunken eyes and teeny crunchy bones….
The first thing to hit me when the lunch lady brought in the bowls of food, were the fishies' eyes staring blankly at me, and their mouths gaping wide, as if trying to get just one more breath. The second thing to hit me occurred when the clear cellophane wrap was removed from the bowl and the smell was released into the room, thankfully it was paired with sweetened peanuts, so the smell was not too terrible, but it did still remind me of a market’s fish section near the end of the day, when everything isn’t quite smelling it's freshest anymore.
So came the first bite of this meal, with all the staff once again looking at me and giggling, as if we were playing the “what can we get this foreigner to eat?” game… the first one was not too bad, very crunchy, and rather spiky from all the teeny scales, but the peanuts covered the fishiness to a tolerable extent. But then, bite two, the peanuts did nothing! All of the teachers giggled and asked “you like?” to which I gestured a “so-so,” because I didn’t want to open my mouth and risk spitting out the tiny fishes that did not seem to want to be devoured. Somehow, I managed to eat all of them, even with their tiny eyes staring at me and their teeny mouths screaming “Why?!” but it was not an easy task, and one that is going to be even harder when I begin eating with the students, because I will then have to smile no matter what is on the plate and simply say “healthy” and eat it up.
|Don't look into their eyes|
The best part of these two experiences, were that both times I asked a few of the teachers “do you like?” and no one said yes, just “…it healthy,” as if that were a good enough reason to consume such items.
So, needless to say, these two dishes are not really for me, but don’t let that discourage any of you from trying them out.
Both of these can be purchased at most Asian super markets back in the USA and, who knows, you may actually like them.