Steve’s Weird Food for Japan: the trifecta

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

There has been a lot of weird food in Japan. In particular, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the amount of matcha-flavoured stuff I’ve encountered. Astute GSRED readers will remember that matcha is the particular type of powdered green tea used in the tea ceremony, and for some reason it’s a popular flavour that gets added to, well, just about anything. Pretty much any food you encounter has a matcha variety, identified by a particular shade of green packaging, and a particular shade of green food. Let’s have a look:

Matcha-flavoured cheesecake. This was the only “matcha” food I had that actually had any matcha flavour at all, due to the fact that I think it was sprinkled with real powdered matcha. This gives a decidedly bitter topnote to an otherwise pleasant cheesecake.

Matcha Kit Kat. I love this. It’s a Kit Kat, but it’s GREEN. Tasted just like it was covered in white chocolate - no matcha flavour, just generalized creamy sweetness. (I also saw banana flavoured Kit Kats, and heard they have strawberry as well.)

Matcha Oreo Cookie Candy Bar. Green crunchy oreo stuff.

Matcha Balls. Little crispy sweet balls covered in the ubiquitous green creamy coating.

Matcha and black bean donut. Again, no matcha flavour, just a cake donut that happened to be green, and studded with things that look like chocolate chips, but are actually beans. The fact that Asian cultures persist in the belief that beans are a dessert food is weird.

Matcha chocolate chip cookies. Again, chocolate chip cookies… but they’re GREEN.

Matcha mousse. Lovely, creamy, and with the faintest hint of matcha.

Matcha caramels. The weirdest of the lot. They are presented in tiny flat cellophane wrappers that you peel open like those Listerine breath-freshener sheets you stick on the back of your tongue. This reveals a square of very squishy goo that you pop into your mouth. It’s definitely caramel, but there may have been a vague note of matcha too. But really, shapeless green goo? That has to qualify as weird food.

But that’s not the weirdest food I had; that honour goes to a meal I ate in Tokyo on my second-last night there. I got some advice from the very friendly guy at the hotel desk and headed out to a local place that turned out to be quite fancy, though surprisingly reasonably priced. (This was mostly in comparison with the tempura meal I had the night before which, while pleasant and tasty, clocked in at a budget-busting ¥8778. More than $90. Ouch!). And when I opened the menu I saw right away that I was going to be able to make this a Weird Food trifecta – starter, main course and dessert. How could I not?

My started was based on an ingredient called yuba, which is soy milk skin. The LP says, “Its creation is a labour-intensive process in which soy milk is allowed to curdle over a low heat and then the skin is plucked from the surface.” Yes, first they curdle the milk, and then the nasty skin that forms on the surface? The bit you’d normally skim off the top and throw out? That’s the bit they keep. However, the way I had it prepared it was really nice. The menu described it as “baked fresh yuba and cheese”. It came in a very hot little dish, bubbling away, with small pieces of toasted baguette on which to spread it, and it was really nice. Creamy, a bit cheesy, and with no trace of skin-ish-ness.

Baked yuba and cheese

The main course was the real centerpiece – that which I’d specifically sought out as the Weird Food of the night. The Japanese call it basashi, but the English speaking world would describe it as raw horse meat. It’s a real delicacy, served sashimi-style with slabs of fat and a light dipping sauce.

It’s a delicacy, I’m telling you

The basashi was, well, sort of like you’d expect any raw red meat to be. It was chewy and a bit stringy, and the bits of fat between were tough (not like a melting lardy kind of thing). There wasn’t any strong flavour at all. I tried a few of the pieces of fat along with the meat, but decided it was better on its own. Better being a very very relative term here, sort of like you might describe the third season of “Heroes” as better than a boot to the head. Truthfully, it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t really… anything, which makes me think I’ve been doing this for too long.

On to dessert, and we’re back to that bean thing again. My choice was “yam pancake with sweet bean jam and ice cream”. Among the other choices was black bean ice cream. I’m telling you, this place was a Weird Food gimme.


It was very nice, though I still can’t get over the sweet bean thing. The flavour is sweet, but the texture is… bean. I suppose it’s not miles from carrot cake, or candied yams. Entirely cultural, I’m sure.

And to top it all off I had to try a glass of sake, which turned out to be much much bigger than I expected. The “small” glass I had was 180 somethings, mililitres, I guess. It seemed like a lot, and it was poured right at the table. The glass was set and then carefully centred in a large wooden coaster with a high lip. Then the glass was filled. And I mean filled, until the sake reached the rim. I was impossible to lift it without spilling, hence the heavy-duty coaster. It was nice enough, but by the time I got through the whole glass I was ready for bed. After all, I’d had soy milk skin, raw horse, and bean jam. What else could I do that day to top that?

Bed time


Steve said...

Bravo. We will serve you KD and PBJ at our house when you get here. Looking forward to you to be back home...

Karen said...

I agree - Bravo on the whole weird food challenge. You did it and you made Steve proud.

Name your comfort food and we'll have it waiting for you.

Global Granny said...

Raw horse meat layered with slabs of fat? Good grief, what was the dipping sauce - COW URINE???

Truly a great post, Pam - the pics of all those many "matchas" purely amazing!

Makes me truly sad that your trip is nearly over... ;(

Kathryn said...

You'll be going from Weird Food to HUGE Food...Welcome to the US of A!

Unknown said...

Wow, the food adventures you have had....
Safe travels back Pam!

eme said...

Food is going to seem so boring here when you get back!

Safe travels home.

Phoebe said...

All the matcha pictures made my mouth water. I loved matcha, especially the Matcha latte I had one day in Tokyo.

As for the Kit-Kats, there is also a wasabi flavored one that I saw, and regrettably did not buy.

The "toto" instructions were never in any stall that I saw, the toilet was a facinating mystery. I too had a difficult time locating a trash can, another strange mystery.

All in all I am glad that you loved Japan as much as I did. It is good that you left it to next to last.

Safe travels to N. America!

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