Friday, March 25, 2005

The Wonder of Okonomiyaki

I've been struggling with food ever since I arrived in Japan. Before I came here I knew it would be difficult to be a vegetarian in the land of octopus balls and beef rice, but even after eight months here there are times when I want to throw my hands in the air and cry out in frustration: "Why is there fish on my "plain" soba noodles?", "Why did you think I wanted bacon when I ordered a "mozzarella and tomato salad"? Surely that would be a "bacon and mozzarella and tomato salad"?!?", "Why does the vegetarian curry set, which specifically says "for vegetarians", come with chicken samosas?" etc etc. These are all things which have either happened to me or my veggie friends, and these are not just isolated cases either. The trouble is, vegetarianism is practically non-existent in Japan, which means that often waiters and waitresses will stare at you incredulously if you say you don't eat meat or fish.

It also means the range of food available to me is pretty limited. At home I mostly eat pasta, noodles and toast, which is pretty much what I used to eat in England. It's a shame really - I'd like to eat more Japanese food, but there really isn't that much of it that appeals to me. Back home I took pride in the fact that I could eat most things (with the obvious exception of meat and fish): I rarely came across something I didn't like. So I was really surprised when I got to Japan and found that pretty much everything I ate tasted totally disgusting to me. I know this is an extreme reaction - plenty of my friends absolutely love Japanese food, and the Japanese themselves certainly take pride in their cooking. But for some reason, my taste buds just haven't been able to adapt.

Plus there's the ever present problem of trying to find something that doesn't contain meat or fish. I often dread being invited out to Japanese restaurants with friends - usually I eat something before I go, so I know that I won't go hungry when I get there and discover the only vegetarian thing on the menu is pickled aubergine. It's a rubbish situation really, but I've gotten used to it.

However, my eyes were opened a couple of weeks ago, when I had my first taste of "okonomiyaki". I can't believe I've been living in Japan this long, and I've never sampled this wonderful food! Okonomiyaki basically means "everything fried", and when you walk into the restaurant you sit at a table like this, with a gas-heated grill in the middle:

From the menu you can choose whatever you want in your fry up from a list of ingredients, which means that its easy to choose something vegetarian - hurrah! Last time I had "kimchi" (pickled cabbage) and cheese, but this picture is a mixture of various vegetables and bacon. The next step is to mix it all up with the spoon.

Once it's thoroughly mixed, you dump it on the grill like this. A few minutes on each side and it's ready to eat! It basically tastes like a giant omelette, but with only one egg and tons of filling...

So I've finally found some Japanese food I genuinely love, and suddenly I have new energy to try other foods (I still can't believe it's taken me this long to try okonomiyaki). So if anyone knows of any decent Japanese vegetarian foods, please let me know!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

More discoveries await, mon ami. That's Osaka-style okonomiyaki. There's also Hiroshima-style...

9:18 pm  
Blogger Lewis said...

Hiroshima here I come!

11:39 am  
Blogger Phoenix said...

Did you delete the old version of this post? The angry-rant version? I was going to link to it. :'-(

1:51 pm  
Blogger Lewis said...

Sorry! This is the only version that exists! Do you mean the article I wrote for JetFuel?

3:17 pm  
Blogger Phoenix said...

Yes! Whoops! Nothing like a public mistake, digitally saved for all eternity. (*^-^*)

9:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mm, my favorite too

6:58 pm  

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