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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Vintage VOB - Yakitori, the Other White Meat!

Faithful readers - in today's missive, we blow a little dust off of the VOB archives with a retrospective on Japanese culinary delights. The following column was originally published in the VOBNS on November 4th, 2001, following one of Bruck's trips to Japan on company business. Itadakimasu! (Japanese for "let's eat".)


Tastes Like Chicken

Before I left for Japan, young David, son of Bruck, planted a note in my suitcase with a simple directive: Dear Dad: Eat some grose food. Love, David.

We arrived late in Nagoya, having lost two hours in Detroit to a fuel pump repair on our 747. We then took the train to Kobe where we were to spend the night. With no time to catch dinner at any of the local restaurants, I ordered a light snack of fried beef from room service. We discovered the next day that mad cow disease had just struck Japan, but hey, you've still got a better chance of getting hit by a bus.

We've made several trips to Japan by this time, and have noted that our hosts never drive us from the hotel in Himeji to their offices in Tokonabe by the same route. We've speculated with some amusement as to why this might be, but never actually discovered why. That is, until the other day. Mr. Masoto (not his real name) informed us that it's the company's management policy to never follow the same route in commuting during overseas travel, in order to avoid kidnapping or other malfeasance. Evidently they apply the same philosophy to guests traveling in their own country as well, although my vulnerability to kidnap is considerably less than that of getting hit by a bus. The joke would be on them anyway; the employer of Bruck would probably pay them to keep me!

But apparently it was with this same spirit of protectiveness that our hosts sought to shield us from the perils of mad cow disease by taking us to a Yakitori (baked chicken) restaurant. Baked chicken, what could possibly be more benign? We have grown accustomed to exotic and unlikely cuisine, as alert VOB readers have already noted, and some of us, your faithful editor included, have even grown to like it. We do have some minor stipulations on our culinary thrill-seeking. I have a severe allergy to shellfish, so I have to avoid the crustacean hazards. Jay (not his real name) cannot comfortably digest raw fish or meat; Hashim (not his real name) avoids pork for religious reasons; Bob (his real name) inhales all food and drink in front of him like a shop-vac. Other than that, we're pretty flexible, and even somewhat ambitious regarding the variety and state of the proteins we ingest. So we were actually a little taken aback when our hosts informed us that we were going out after work for baked chicken.

With the arrival of the appetizer, we immediately discovered that not all the chicken was going to be baked, or even cooked. It consisted of a small dish of raw, skinless pieces of dark meat, lightly toasted around the perimeter, in a tangy, sweet vinegar sauce with orange caviar. Of course, we must commend the remarkably efficient Japanese for their frugality in not wasting food, and for their resourcefulness in its definition and scope. The skin from the chicken pieces in the first dish of our appetizer appeared, also raw, in the second dish of our appetizer, along with some mixed greens in a light, tangy vinegar and soy sauce.

Proving that God is not dead, although He apparently takes an occasional nap, the balance of the meal was cooked. The first course consisted of small chunks of white meat on little skewers, in teriyaki sauce, and tubes of ground chicken, also on skewers, like city chicken. Had the meal ended at this point, we may have escaped slightly hungry, but with our sense of normalcy still somewhat intact. But this was not to be. With the second course, we embarked on a journey from which we won't soon return. It consisted of little chunks of chicken liver on one set of skewers, and thickly folded pieces of roasted chicken skin on another set.

The third course propelled us further along this trajectory with what appeared to be gizzards on one set of skewers, and a mottled conglomeration of mysterious organic substances of various shapes and textures on the other. The meat on the gizzard skewer was nicely grilled with a pleasant marinade, but was quite chewy. At one point a chunk of it fell out of my chopsticks and bounced a couple of times on my plate. Our hosts claimed that it was the stomach, or it might be the intestine. I still think it was gizzard. The mystery meat had a combination of flavors as strange and unappealing as its appearance, so one skewer was enough for the palate of Bruck. Our hosts, themselves not sure what it was, asked the waitress who calmly and politely identified the round protuberances as testicles. So apparently roosters also actively participated in our meal. "We can't explain what the rest of it is," they allowed. That's okay, we don't think we want to know.

The fourth course consisted of "chicken tails." It was the tail alright, no attempt having been made to conceal the reproductive passageway. It was kind of chewy and pretty fatty, had some cartilage in it, and was otherwise pretty tasteless.

The final courses brought us gently back to reality with skewers of barbecued "normal meat," as our host referred to it, slices of chicken breast on rice with seaweed, and clear soup with a chicken meatball. But at this point our gai-jin appetites had already been stretched beyond yielding.

Dear David: I ate some grose food. Love, Dad. My therapist says that eventually I'll stop suffering from recurring nightmares of being chased by giant roosters with scissors.

2 Comments:

  • At 11:17 PM, Blogger Ron Cox said…

    I find it very ironic that the first time I check this blog, there is a vintage VOB which I read when it was, er, fresh. I am now going to read this to my 12 year old sons. So cool.

     
  • At 11:26 PM, Blogger Ron Cox said…

    My sons enjoyed this immensely.

     

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