One of the aspects I hadn’t anticipated as much regarding my culture shock expectations was adjusting to Americanized- and fusion Japanese food, especially for foods that I encountered for the first time in Japan. This isn’t to say that American-Japanese food isn’t delicious–quite the contrary–but it can be a bit alarming at times to see sushi rolls cooked tempura-style (why?) or cilantro in your temaki (YES). If nothing else, it serves as a reminder of my relative inexperience with the Japanese home cooking when I left to study abroad in university and the problematic nature of the idea of a food’s authenticity.
Dragon Fest is an annual celebration of pan-Asian cultures held in Seattle’s International District.
There’s taiko performances, dragon dances, and, of course, food:
I wasn’t really looking for “authentic” Japanese food when I hit the trucks, but I was lured by the promise of taikyaki, which I’d never had in the US.
Bean Fish Taiyaki had classic azuki (red bean paste), “Grandmother’s Apple Pie,” and plain, which is a no-filling taiyaki, which I guess makes it a fish-shaped waffle.
I loved the spiced apple pie filling, which is perfect for taiyaki, but I wasn’t really impressed with the azuki–the texture wasn’t as thick as I’m used to, and the flavor was a bit off, too. (I’m really hoping that was just an off batch since I need more azuki in my life.) However, I’m really looking forward to trying the other flavors, like the peanut butter-and-banana. Now there’s an unusual taiyaki flavor that was made just for me (and Elvis).
There was also Shibuya dog from Tokyo Dog. “Japanese-style hot dog” essentially boils down to a good brat on a proper bun with Japanese-inspired seasonings like miso-mayonnaise and teriyaki grilled onions. I did get to try some of their shichimi fries, served with tonkatsu sauce.
Verdict: loved the spicy fries, but I don’t really like tonkatsu sauce that much in general.
I got some hand-rolls at Box Nature Sushi.
I got the Spicy Tuna (spicy tuna and cucumber with greens) and the Mango Green (mango, local greens, avocado, cucumber); both had bright, bold flavors, and as much as I love tuna-mayo maki, I was grateful to expand my horizons. The rolls were also well made and stayed together; and the ingredients were well balanced in terms of both flavor and size. The inclusion of vegetarian versions of popular dishes is one of the great things about Japanese food in the US, and multigrain rice was a real treat.
I could get used to this.
Finally, I stopped at Oasis Tea Zone after seeing other festival-goers with bubble tea, a Taiwanese soft drink with tapioca balls. I used to drink boba a lot in college and grad school, but the drink didn’t become popular in Kanazawa until my final year there. I got a sour plum snow with mini tapioca:
What you can’t see is that the mini tapioca are mixed with chopped up with umeboshi; the drink itself is creamy (snow = creamy, blended ice) and sweet with plum flavoring, but the chopped up umeboshi adds a sourness and balance to the mix. (Also, culture shock: the size of it!) I’ve always tended toward pumpkin snow in the past, surely to no one’s surprise given my love of kabocha, but I loved this.
Returning to the topic of “authenticity,” for all intents and purposes, if it’s delicious, eat it. Cultural exchange is fascinating in that gives back altered versions of the original–California rolls now served in Japan, for example, originally came from the US, where they were a response to crafting Japan’s most famous food export to American tastes. It combines what was local with what is local; shapes and adapts our food and our culture; creates something new.
However, fusion food does not come without longing for the original. Sometimes I think back on a perfect piece of aji nigiri that I ate on my birthday last year in Omicho Ichiba’s Ôkura and I’m sad that I can’t recreate the experience in the US. Sometimes I get really mad about Sriracha served on sushi in the US or corn and mayo on pizza in Japan.
Then, I start wondering if anything I’ve ever eaten outside of Japanese food–palak paneer, gelato, kimchi–were ever “authentic” at all. In that line of thought, are all the foods I like and all the foods I cook are really just a lie?
The devious thing about culture shock as a returnee is that it’s not just having melt-downs in the grocery store. It’s the knowledge that you cannot have it all while longing to combine all the good things from both places into a multicultural personal utopia, to have your peanut butter and your buri and eat them, too. Ultimately that’s how this blog came about–knowing that if I wanted to have the food I wanted on my own terms, I’d have to recreate it with what I had.
The fusion sushi is never what hides the truth – it is truth that hides the fact that there is none. The fusion sushi is true.