by Jes Stayton, Greenheart Travel high school abroad participant
The one thing that is completely different between Japan and America is the food. Everything about it is different, from the ingredients, to the place settings, to table manners. Even the way it is viewed within the culture is different. But, most Americans think sushi is all there is to Japanese food. That’s a little sad, considering the wide variety of foods eaten in Japan, all of which is completely different from what is eaten in Europe and America. Most Americans have never heard of natto, sukemono, or takoyaki. They have never eaten a persimmon, or a Japanese plum. Japanese cooking is amazing, so it’s a very sad thing that most Americans think it all boils down to raw fish. I don’t know about Europe, but I suspect it’s the same way. I absolutely adore Japanese food.
Many of the stereotypical Japanese ingredients do enter into Japanese food. Rice, seaweed and fish are big elements. Miso soup, for example, is eaten at almost every meal. Soy sauce and noodles are also often eaten. However, Japanese people do not usually eat sushi and sashimi everyday. As in America, sushi is an expensive dish to be eaten on special occasions, or when going out to eat. Since I’ve come to Japan, I’ve had sushi only once, when we were entertaining guests. I’ve had curry rice, a popular Japanese dish, far more often than I’ve had sushi.
seaweed are eaten here; it is a common food. So common, in fact, that the Japanese do not use one general word to refer to seaweed, but rather have different names for each type. Konbu (sea kelp), and nori (sea weed) are completely different things in the eyes of a Japanese person, much the way I would talk about corn dogs, sandwiches, and croissants as completely separate entities. (The Japanese refer to these three things as if they were the same. Anything remotely bread-like is referred to as pan (bread). ) Squid and octopus are also eaten here, but they don’t usually enter into home cooking. I suspect that they are expensive. There are also a number of strange Japanese vegetables and fruits. I often sit down to eat with my host family and see one or two unrecognizable vegetables. Japanese people don’t see vegetables as any more inherently distasteful than meat. In fact, when I told my friends that most Americans dislike vegetables, they seemed surprised. I have never been very fond of vegetables, but I find myself enjoying them more often than I used to. Maybe it’s because mayonnaise is often used as a condiment here. (I love mayonnaise.) Umeboshi (Japanese plum) and kaki (persimmon) are common here as well. Kaki is delicious, but umeboshi is very sour. They often lurk inside onigiri (rice balls) waiting to surprise the unwary person.