Wednesday, October 19, 2011

France is the Best Country for Eating Japanese Food

Konnichiwa, mes amis!

Today I had dinner with some of my Japanese friends from school, and I have to admit that everything tastes better in France, even Japanese food!

My new friends, Fumina, Akiko, Takayuki, Haruka, and Yoshii welcomed me into their apartment complex (which looks like a swanky university dorm) to eat a traditional Japanese dish called Sukiyaki.

To my Japanese friends in the U.S., this is nothing new for you to hear (and hopefully swoon) about.

To me, this was another chance to experience something from a different culture, which is the main reason why I love to travel, why I'm studying abroad, why my first degree is in Archaeology, etc., etc.  I love people from all over the world, and I find it fascinating to discover things that connects us all to one another, living or dead--although I must admit, I tend to have more fun with the live ones.

Sorry Lucy. (The oldest known bipedal ape found to date).

But as I said, I am ever curious to see and experience things that create a bond with other people, especially those from other places.

Like food.

On a personal note, my love of food has gotten me into trouble from time to time, so I have to be careful with how much I indulge, and I would recommend the same to everyone.  It is very hard to visit new places, at home or abroad, and not want to have that second piece of chocolate for breakfast with your piece of baguette (which they totally eat here).  So pace yourself, and have fun with what you eat, but make sure that you're conscious of how much "fun" you might be having.  Just trust me on this.

So, back to the awesome food!

So what makes Sukiyaki so awesome?  It all starts out in a pot that everyone dives into.  Yep, one pot, and individual cups for rice, that's it.  The point here is to experience the joy of dining with each other, as a group.

The first part of the sukiyaki dish started out like this, with pork and beef cooked in a sauce of powdered sugar, soy sauce, and mirkin (a Japanese cooking wine, I think).  But before you dig in, you have to respect the Japanese custom of, apparently, craking a raw egg into a cup, and dipping the fished-out pieces of meat with your chopsticks (which I also did, and also with chopsticks).  Unlike the U.S., many eggs here are super-fresh, so, no, I didn't get sick afterward :)

At first bite, I thought it was a pretty good Japanese dish, but to my Japanese friends, it was a reminder of the home they left in order to learn a new language in a foreign country, and for that, I don't think my experience could even compare to how good this dish tasted to my friends.  They were transformed back to the days when they ate this dish with their family and friends, and it made me happy to see them enjoying it so thoroughly.  I asked if we should try to find a kotastu table for next time.  A kotatsu table is a low table for hanging out during the winter months in Japan, which is covered with a thick blanket, and heated by a small interior furnace affixed to the bottom.  It is dubbed as the always-known location for your cat during the winter, hence the nickname "kotatsu kitty".
Comme ça.
Our second part continued on with the "oooh's" and "aahh's" (in a mélange of French, English, and Japanese, bien sûr) with a pot filled with potatoes, tofu, noodle-y mushrooms, and other goodies.

The last part of our dish consisted of Udon noodles cooked in a soup base, which was also delicious to dunk into our raw eggs--although noodles+chopsticks+me hardly ever ='s graceful!  It was really a sight to see other Japanese students approach us, point to the pot we all shared, and said something in Japanese.  Their body language always started out quizzical, then reassured to share in the feast with us, and after taking a bite from the pot, have the exact same reaction that all of my friends did.  C'est si drôle!

 For dessert, I bought us an apple tarte to share--my first in France.
Fumina posing with said tarte--in a skirt she bought in Paris the day before!  Je suis si jealouse!

It was awesome in its own right, but I enjoyed the reactions and the experience of the Sukiyaki far more than the taste of flaky, buttery apple-ness.

While walking back to chez moi after dinner, I thought to myself that the best place to eat food from your own country is in other countries, with other people who can remember what it's like to eat similar food together in your home country in the past.  Just like I knew I had to bring Preston Sturges'  The Good Fairy DVD here to France with me, because I watch it every time I'm sick or depressed, nothing says "home" like the experience that reminds you of good times in the past.  No matter where you are, and sometimes no matter who your with, you can still grasp that sense of feeling like you belong in this world, no matter where you are, when you re-experience a song, or a sound, or in this case, a raw egg cracked in sync into a cheap plastic cup. 
Sporting our cups full of raw eggs!

Until next time, folks, "see you later", "à toute à l'heure", and "dewa mata atode"!

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