Raw

A friend took us out for a really great sashimi/sushi dinner courtesy of his corporate expense account. (Yay!) It turns out he was quitting that company a few days later, so when he ordered a third cedar box of expensive sake, I asked if we were spending too much money. He just shrugged and said, “What are they going to do? Fire me?” Excellent point. We sat back and enjoyed the feast.

For those who have access, Matsuei is well worth a flutter, preferably when someone else is paying for it. Sukiyabashi Jiro, (watch the video or read the text—they’re the same) despite its three Michelin stars, seems like the Quaker Meeting of sushi bars: no drinking, no laughing, no talking, just eat and get out. I haven’t eaten there, but I think Jiro might be Japan’s equivalent of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.

On the other hand, Matsuei has friendly, courteous staff (sometimes too courteous, but this is Japan after all) and a relaxed atmosphere. Even to my inexpert palate, the food is excellent. I ate a bunch of stuff that doesn’t normally pass my lips, and enjoyed almost all of it, which is saying a lot. I still can’t really get my head around uni (sea urchin) but I ate it anyway.

The next day, I had an office job and the nice ladies I was working with kindly invited me to lunch. (Two free meals in a row! Yay!) They asked if there was anything I didn’t want to eat, and I said, “No sashimi or sushi, please. I stuffed myself with that last night.” But we agreed that Japanese food would be fine and went to a teishoku place. Teishoku is a standard meal of rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables and a main dish of meat or fish with a couple of, usually, vegetable-oriented side dishes.

The daily special at the place we ended up at was grilled chicken breast and I was delighted. Grilled chicken in Japan is almost invariably thigh, and being the picky eater that I am, by the time I’ve picked off the skin and fat and other yellow wobbly bits (The Black Adder, Episode 1), there’s not much left.

Four of the five of us ordered the chicken and when the trays arrived, we discovered that the chicken was indeed grilled, but lightly and only on the outside. The inside was stark raving raw. It wasn’t a mistake; all four servings were stark raving raw.

I was tempted to throw it across the room and yell, “Fly! You ain’t hurt that bad!”

My reaction must have shown on my face. One of the nice ladies asked the waiter if they could possibly cook mine a bit more and he said, “Certainly, but it will take 15 minutes.” I knew the nice ladies would wait, as their rice and soup got cold, because they are, after all, nice ladies, so I said, “No, no. That’s OK. It’s fine like this.”

I was not raised in a religious household, but there was one firm commandment:

THOU SHALT NOT EAT PORK OR CHICKEN RAW

I tried. I ate one piece. But not only is raw chicken potentially laced with salmonella, it’s also just plain gross: rubbery, flavorless, worse than the yellow wobbly bits. The nice ladies all ate their chicken. I ate everything else and left the chicken to its fate.

There’s a very good tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) restaurant in my old neighborhood. I once made the mistake of sending my pork back because it was raw in the middle.

Oh, BOY, was the chef angry.

That was years ago, and he still cuts mine in half every time we go there to prove that it’s cooked through. “But…but…” I want to sob:

THOU SHALT NOT EAT PORK OR CHICKEN RAW

Japan is still very much go-with-the-group-and-don’t-make-waves, but there are times when I have to put my little foot down. Did I do the right thing?

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5 thoughts on “Raw”

  1. Arrrgh – when I was young and starting out with IBM selling I took clients for lunch and my avocado was hard but I didn’t want to kick up a fuss because I was the host so gently turned it over and though I’d got away with it when the waiter came over with profound apologies from the chef. Oh Lordy was that even more mortifying.
    My teaching has been the exact same as yours. I believe pork is safer than chicken but do not want to test it.

    1. I figure there are so many things we have to do as adults that we don’t want to do, that we should at least be allowed to not eat anything we don’t want to eat.

      So there.

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