“Umm, yeah, I do,” I replied sheepishly, all too aware that the fact that Japan has turned me into a self-confessed foodaholic.
If there is one thing that all Japanese people are obsessed with, it’s food. And when I say that, I mean mostly Japanese food. When Japanese people travel abroad or within Japan, sightseeing is almost always secondary or equal to what’s on the dinner menu. Travel itineraries are carefully planned out around eating times. Restaurants serving some famous dish are carefully marked on the map. Travel books aimed at giving information only about food and restaurants are sold by the millions.
I mean, everyone knows that the real reason to go to Taiwan is to wait for hours in a long line at the most famous xiao lum bao restaurant in Taipei or the biggest kick out of going to South Korea is the cheap but delicious yakiniku or a hot chijimi pancake from a street vendor.
In fact, entire vacations can be ruined if no delicious restaurant can be found to a Japanese person’s liking. Like a woman I know, who declared to her husband when they moved to an American suburb that she wouldn’t stay unless he built a Japanese supermarket. Guess what? He never did (the poor guy was in the IT business) and she moved back to Japan and left him in America. Why? Because she would only eat Japanese food.
Food has become a national obsession in Japan. Whether it’s fresh fish in Hokkaido or the newest version of udon or soba, Japanese people will do anything to try another prefecture’s famous local specialty. You can always bet that there will be a famous noodle dish coming out of most prefectures and that the noodles are nearly the same, but one ingredient is altered. In Mie prefecture, they add soy sauce to the udon broth and suddenly, Ise Udon is born and people traveling from all over Japan come to try it. In Hokkaido, they add sashimi to the top of their soba and then, Sashimi Soba is created. In Tokyo, they dip their soba in a soy sauce base and voila`, Edo-Style Zaru-Soba comes into the world.
When the season changes, the food changes and this is as exciting to a Japanese person as the World Cup is to some Europeans or the Superbowl is to some Americans. Spring is no exception, unveiling an array of sakura-themed products ranging from tea to wine to sweet pink mochi wrapped with salted sakura leaves.
Another spring food that can be seen is takenoko-gohan which are bamboo shoots cooked with rice. There are two types of bamboo shoots, winter and spring shoots. Some benefits of eating bamboo shoots are that it lowers cholesterol and helps prevent high blood pressure.
And do you remember those tiny, round green vegetables you hated as a kid? They are back and very delicious as pea-gohan. So be prepared to bring a book if you are planning on going to any restaurants serving this food for spring. It’s going to be a long wait.