During my first month in Tokyo, I am taken to a neighborhood izakaya in Takadanobaba called Momem Ya by the owner of the jazz bar I frequent. The restaurant is secluded in a basement, a small but comfortable space, perfect for two at the counter, or groups at the Japanese-style tables hugging the walls.. It has a friendly staff and delightful menu. Both change over the years, yet remain uncompromisingly friendly and delightful. Jazz music hangs over the open kitchen as we wait for our food to be cooked.
This first visit, I am introduced to shirasu, pictured below. There is a lot of food on the table that night, and I dig into the shirasu like I do the other new food I try - with trepidation, excitement, and anticipation. I take in a mouthful, then another. A delicious flavor, new to me. A delicate taste. I think I am eating some sort of Japanese steamed vegetable. I ask my host what it is. He smiles and tells me to look closer. It is only when I look closer that I notice the little black eyes on these "vegetables." Turns out that shirasu is the young of sardines. I eat little creatures without realizing it. Later I find that these delicious creatures are often included in salads, prepared as below, or toasted, a sort of Japanese crouton.
Chefs in the Open Kitchen of Momen Ya
Shirasu: Blow Up the Picture to See the Little Eyes
So I continue to eat the little creatures. I surprise myself in a way. Before moving to Japan, I am not that adventurous with food. Sure, I'll try foods from various countries. But I always choose things from the menu that I think I might like, that will go down easy. But all that changes in Japan. I suppose having sake with my meals helps, but whatever the case, I become open to a whole new range of flavors and textures I might pass on before this experience: raw beef tongue cut and served like sashimi - a specialty of Sendai, whale bacon, horse meat sashimi, raw chicken, seared only at the edges, or a raw egg mixed with my steamed rice. With fresh food, it seems you can do almost anything!
If you're ever in Tokyo or any place in Japan, I encourage you to try new things, expand your horizons. You might be surprised what sorts of food you will like.