Oh, you’re probably thinking. Another one of those “Weird Japanese foods” posts. I don’t blame you – “weird” is a matter of perception, and depends very much on who is looking down the microscope.
Food items that appear unusual at first glance may be anything but. There may be very similar, if not identical dishes bar in name, in vastly different cuisines (kimchi and sauerkraut, anyone?).
Also, thanks to globalization, weird, exotic foods don’t always stay so. Sashimi, for example, has a huge following outside of Japan – just the fact that the word “sashimi” is in the Oxford English Dictionary, I think, is telling. Even natto and fugu are now quite well-known outside of Japan, albeit infamously so.
So with that in mind, is there anything “weird” left, really? In other words, what food items are not easily available or accepted, or still relatively unknown outside of Japan?
When Only the Freshest Will Do
If seafood tickles your tastebuds, and you like having your meal watch you as you eat it, then ikizukuri (活き造り) and odorigui (踊り食い) may be right up your alley.
Ikizukuri is basically live sashimi. Literally, it means “live (food) preparation,” and shows off the freshness of the seafood as well as the chef’s skill in preparing it. The chef selects, say, a fish, and stuns it with a quick blow to the head. The fish is quickly and deftly filleted, and the flesh sliced into sashimi, which is then presented together with the still-living fish (or what remains of it).
Now if you prefer your food to go down fighting, odorigui may be the way to go. Odorigui, or “dancing eating,” is sometimes used interchangeably with ikizukuri. Strictly speaking, however, it refers to food that visibly “dance” while alive – live oysters and sea urchins, for instance, don’t count. A textbook example would be gulping down live, whole shirouo (白魚) or ice gobies, perhaps with vinegared soy sauce for flavor.
Beware, though. As the food’s uncooked there’s always the risk of infection by parasites, and cases of painful, oral insemination by raw squid are not unheard of.
Spit or Swallow?
While we’re on the subject of oral insemination: what do you do if you end up with a mouthful of marine spermatozoa?
Well, if it happens to be shirako (白子), the answer is: you swallow.
Shirako, literally “white children,” is milt: the seminal fluid of fish, mollusks and other seafood. The shirako of cod and anglerfish are considered delicacies, and if you can find it, you could prepare it yourself at home – no special knife skills required here.
Now That’s Just Too Weird to Be True
Dojo tofu (ドジョウ豆腐) is a dish where live dojo loaches are placed into a pot of water with a block of tofu. The pot is then placed over a stove, and the dojo burrow into the still-cold tofu to escape the increasing heat. This is futile, of course, as the tofu will eventually cook together with the dojo still inside.
But here’s the most unusual thing about it: the art of preparing dojo tofu has been lost, or it was never a real dish to begin with. All evidence for its existence is purely anecdotal: “my mom used to make this” forum comments, and a mention in a rakugo (落語), a traditional comic story.
This hasn’t discouraged the more adventurous Japanese food bloggers, though – but I have yet to see any of them post a photo of a successful dojo tofu. Instead of burrowing into the tofu, the dojo instead prefer to madly jump about before succumbing to the heat.
Bear in mind, however, that these dishes aren’t eaten every day, by every Japanese – in much the same way that Aussies don’t chow down on kangaroo burgers daily, and Kiwis don’t scoff huhu grubs like they’re going out of fashion.
Anyway, if you’ve experienced any of the food items I’ve mentioned, or if you’ve come across other “weird” Japanese foods, let us know about it in the comments!