Tag Archives: green tea

Holiday Ha Ha

Gather ’round, boys and girls. It’s time for…(drum roll)…

Jokes that are only funny if you live in Japan!

Yay!

Several office ladies were gathered around the green tea dispenser in their crisply pressed uniforms. One of them said, “My boss is such a dope. He’s just the stupidest thing since the 8% sales tax. The other day, he actually rode the Marunouchi line from Ikebukuro to Shinjuku.”

Peals of laughter all around. Then another of the ladies said, “Hah! My boss is even stupider than that. Last February, he gave me chocolates on Valentines Day.”

Gales of laughter. Green tea went flying out of mouths and up noses. Crisp uniforms were sprayed misty green.

The Marunouchi line is the red one.
The Marunouchi line is the red one.

The Marunouchi subway line does indeed run from Ikebukuro to Shinjuku. But the above ground Shonan-Shinjuku, Saikyo and Yamanote lines also do that. There are three stations in between for a distance of just under 5km. Travel time: between 5 and 10 minutes. Cost: 160yen. The Marunouchi line departs Ikebukuro and heads southeast past Tokyo Station, loops toward the northwest and arrives at Shinjuku a whopping 17 stations and 24km later. Travel time: unavailable. No one has ever actually done it. Cost: interestingly, only 170yen, the minimum fee for subways because it’s based on the actual distance between the two stations.

As for Valentines Day, Japan loves to absorb customs and traditions from other countries, but they sometimes get a tad warped. On Valentines Day, women are meant to give gifts to men and not the other way around. It’s usually chocolate and has become obligatory in working situations. It’s called “giri choco” and usually ends up being passed along to wives or girlfriends since macho, manly Japanese men would mostly prefer to drink beer than eat sweets. Obviously, this is not fair. It puts undue pressure on women to spend money on men who still generally get paid more than women do, so in these enlightened days of sexual equality, the candy companies invented White day, March 15, when men are meant to buy candy for women. Mostly they don’t.

In recent years, Halloween has boomed in popularity. People are always shocked when I tell them it’s not a national holiday and nobody but kids really cares about it. Ditto Valentines Day. Although it’s not unheard of for friends to give each other gifts, it’s really meant for lovers, which is how Christmas is treated here. If you’re dating, you’re meant to go out for an expensive, romantic Christmas dinner. Families eat KFC and strawberry shortcake, which is available all year, but at Christmas time comes with a plastic Santa and costs twice as much. There’s just as much commercial hype as in the States–music, decorations, sweets–but the celebration is on Christmas eve. Everyone gets up and goes to work as usual on Christmas day. I did a boxing class at the dojo, which is ironic considering that today is Boxing day, at least in England, where it is a national holiday, but is unheard of both in the States and in Japan. December 23, on the other hand, is a national holiday here, the emperor’s birthday, but I had to work. And I worked after boxing class, so today is Christmas in my head. To celebrate, we went out and bought ourselves some treats.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAHappy holidays, everyone. I hope 2015 will be as awesome as 2014 has been.

Sushi-Go-Round

Sushi is highly esteemed by the Japanese and everyone from small children to the elderly see it as a great treat. Sushi bars vary from the ultra-snoot-ridden to the lowly conveyor belt type. The only thing cheaper than that is pre-made supermarket sushi, which is not bad but not highly recommended.

The snoot-ridden tend to be almost eerily quiet, the master chef glowering behind the counter and the rubber boot-licking apprentice suffering in silence as he does all the scut work. Perhaps there is a kimono clad waitress hovering in the background. There is no menu, no prices listed as all of that varies according to what is available at the daily fish market. When you have finished your meal, the master conjures a bill out of thin air and you pay it with grace and gratitude, trying not to gasp at the total.

Being the graceless and ungrateful foreigner that I am, that sort of place is not for me. This is more my style:

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERACheap and easy, there’s no need to struggle with trying to read the menu. Just reach up and grab whatever takes your fancy as it rattles by in front of you, although you can order whatever you want from the waiting chefs, and this is recommended as some of the fish goes around until it begins to look a bit iffy. Some of these places have high tech sensors on the plates; a mechanical arm thwacks them into the bin if they’ve seen better days. But this restaurant was not that sophisticated. In addition to fish, there were also plates holding custard pudding and fruit juice, presumably for the kiddies. One mustn’t judge.

The particular chef who stood in front of us could give Oscar the Grouch a run for his money. He slapped the fish onto the plastic plates and shoved them into the faces of his customers.  When asked for more wasabi, he stuck his finger into the pot and unceremoniously smeared the wasabi onto the customer’s waiting plate, a slight sneer curling his grizzled lip.

He looked to be in his late 60’s so we theorized that he used to have his own restaurant but somehow lost it and is disgusted to be wasting his time in what he probably sees as a rat hole. The look of repulsion on his face as he opened a package of pre-sliced tuna was priceless.

One is expected to make one’s own tea thusly:

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(If you’re interested in tea, a much more respectful and reverent series is being created at TMI with TIM.)

The dishes are priced according to the color of the plate…

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA…and you stack them up in front of you, sorted by color, so the staff can quickly calculate your bill and there are no surprises. The final tally:

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA The gold ones are the most expensive so we tried to hide them at the bottom of the pile, but that didn’t fool anybody.

All in all, Sushi-Go-Round is a lot of fun. As one faces the snoot factor of daily life, it’s nice to know there are places that aren’t trying to pretend to be anything more than they actually are.

Fusion

My friend Rimi's son Ray. Cutest kid in the universe.
My friend Rimi’s son Ray.
Cutest kid in the universe.

Spaghetti Napolitan is a uniquely Japanese dish of spaghetti, ham, onion, green pepper, mushrooms and…ketchup. I had always thought it was kid food, but recently learned that it was invented by a chef at a hotel in Yokohama for the staff of the GHQ during the occupation.  Authentic and excellent Italian food is widely available now, but at that time foreign food was largely unknown and Napolitan was considered to be the height of fashion. (To be fair, I didn’t know you could put anything other than meatballs and tomato sauce on spaghetti until I went to Europe, and where I come from, Jello with grated carrot in it was considered to be “salad”. But I digress.)

There’s a very silly TV show on every Sunday afternoon where random young women are asked to prepare a particular dish. Last week it was spaghetti Napolitan. The women chosen are always the same type: pretty, heavily made-up and stupid. They are offered all the standard ingredients required for some standard dish along with some red herrings. This time, one of them added beef tongue and another used udon noodles instead of spaghetti.

After that fiasco, we cut to the studio where a qualified chef cooks the dish properly. This chef used ketchup, of course, and made it in a wok, stirring it with chopsticks.

There's something wrong with this picture.
There’s something wrong with this picture.

I don’t have issues with fusion cooking. In fact, one of the best curries I ever tasted was seasoned with habanera sauce, not a combination I would have thought of.  And I always rub whole chickens with soy sauce when I roast them—it makes the skin nice and brown and gives the gravy a lovely umami. But when the chef reached for the ketchup bottle, I could hear a thousand Italian grannies turning over in their graves.

Some other unlikely combinations also put my teeth on edge. Convenience store sandwiches are always slathered in mayonnaise that often has wasabi in it. Canned corn turns up in a lot of odd places. Green tea gets mixed into anything that will stand still—traditional sweets, of course, but also ice cream, cake, cookies, candy, Kit Kats. I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist, but I think green tea belongs in a teacup. Anywhere else is just…not my cup of tea. (Sorry.)

Some things, I believe, are not meant to be fused.