One of the things I'm still missing pretty severely is the food - really everywhere, not just Yokohama and Tokyo. I expected all the Japanese food to be better, of course, and it was - for example, the cluster of restaurants at the train station had a sushi-train restaurant which served sushi of quality much better than that of cheap-but-good sushi here. It wasn't I ♥, but it was within range given the limited palette, and, of course, that was cheap
sushi. Meanwhile, the cooked fish lacked some taste that I really dislike in cooked fish throughout North America, and while it still wasn't my favourite thing in the world, it was something I was perfectly happy to eat.
I didn't really expect the western food also
to be better, as a rule. The sandwich and fries I had at Anna Miller? Really good. Good cold cuts, good bread, an unexpected but very good mayonnaise relish that I've no idea how to duplicate that was tasty without being heavy like I usually find mayonnaise to be. It came with french fries. They were solid but light and tasty, despite being deep-fried.
That became a recurring theme, really; a lot of American foods, particularly cheaper American foods, are heavy with fats and grease. While actual meats served in Japan tended to be very fatty cuts - particularly the night I tried 牛どて鍋, which is, hum, a country beef single-pot pie-like dish - you never found much of anything heavy with oil or grease (or, I suppose butter), like all fast foods, most sandwiches, french fries, and so on. I liked that a lot
Actually, let me just me come out and say it: food was all but uniformly better than here. In a lot of cases, dramatically. Quality of ingredients showed. Everywhere but the first stop when we joined up with the Thundering Hoarde tour already in progress was at least really good. That first lunch with the group was a very western lunch aimed at reassuring a very western group of tourists, and it was mediocre, but even the tour food improved quickly. And more specifically, even the western-oriented tour food - which shrank in proportion as time went on - improved just as quickly.
I don't quite know how to drive this home with clarity. How about this: we stopped at a rest station - a combination rest stop and truck stop - on the highway between tour visits one day. I got a curry from the short-order counter, and it was good. Rest stop curry
- actively good.
(Oh, there was another exception: one night we needed Food Now, and Paul and Anna dove in to an egg, italian sausage, rocket, and anchovy pizza, which I avoided for the spaghetti. I chose poorly. Amusingly, I was able to recreate what I think they were going for last night. It came out nice.)
Even things like candy-bar chocolates are better. Counter chocolates are generically of better quality than you get here without going to specialty shops. One of the reasons for the Pocky phenomenon, I rather suspect, is that the chocolate is simply much better than you get in, say, a Snickers bar, and people are reacting to that. Apparently some people think it's dark chocolate
- it's not, at least, not in the standard box. But it's got a lot more flavour per volume than people expect, so they think it must be dark. iirc, "Men's Pocky" actually is dark chocolate, if you're curious.
Similarly, soft-serve ice cream - you know, the swirly kind you think of as fun in the summer but not really a good example of the art? It's just good ice cream in Japan. Very good, in fact. I particularly liked the sesame that Mariko introduced to me (so tasty!), but plain vanilla? Also very good. I was pleased to discover today that Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream bars are, in fact, of reasonably comparable quality to the soft serve vanilla
- not quite as good, frankly, there's a bit of a hollowness to the taste that I can't figure out, and the chocolate shell isn't everything I'd like it to be, but it's still good. This means I'll have at least some ice creams that I can buy at a counter which aren't a big letdown. Of course, the selection is far less than I had in Japan in, say, in an ordinary ice cream vending machine, but what can you do? At least there's something.
I'm going to have to get serious about learning the art of bento. I can usually stomach airline food, but I seriously and honestly could not eat
what United put in front of me on the flight home. It was appalling
. But I don't think it was any worse than what I scarfed down on the way there.
Fundamentally, the way that American culture prefers "more" over "good"
shows up exquisitely in food. Despite the fact that American food has improved dramatically over the last 50 years
, it's still kinda crap. Fatty, sloppy, oversweetened crap, made as cheaply as possible and served by the bucketload, as though to pigs.
This quality emphasis doesn't mean limited choices, by the way. I ran into far more variety there than here. Some of it was scary variety, like HELLO JELLYFISH but! Variety.
Japan is already famous for its vending machines, of course. I don't need to go on about that too much. But in case you're not aware: they are, of course, AWESOME. (Sorry, return of t3h c4pz.) Even in a single smallish drink machine in an alley, you're looking at 20 options - soda, teas, lemon drinks, waters, coffee, vitamin waters, juices, electrolyte waters (like the well-known Pocari Sweat
, which I was drinking already before I went over on vacation - it's like Gatorade, sweet, but not sickly sweet, I really like it) - often in two sizes, and the cans have lids you can put back on so you can save some for later. Also, the machines generally seem to come in clusters of three or so, without a lot of repeats.
This is as opposed to a US soda machine, with its four slots filled with Coke or Pepsi, and four other options. Maybe.
Pleasantly, I've found I can get C.C. Lemon
at Uwajimaya. I got hooked on that stuff in Yokohama, and it's everywhere. Also, mmmm, tasty. This is particularly good because I tried a lemon drink at QFC a couple of days ago - an all-organic "alternative" kind of drink - and like all kinds of other things now, it mostly tasted like sugar water. I could taste lemon in it, but it was kind of drowned out by the sugar rush. So I poured it out. (They didn't have any Limonata
or I'd have tried that. I still plan to try it again. Hopefully that's still good.)
So anyway. Food in Japan: overwhelmingly better. Not universally, but overwhelmingly; Japanese food, western foods, whatever. Better.
But then, on the other hand, they do also have things like this:
Admiral Cheesehead's Orange Fleet Opens Namjatown
Nobody's perfect. -_^