I’ve kept one foot in Japan—another in France, but will tap about soon—since yesterday. Here’s a picture of one of my favourite meals eaten there. K’s father was impressed by my love of sake and unagi. In the spirit of the honored guest status bestowed upon me during my trip, K’s father brought the family to his favourite unagi restaurant in Tochigi. He called well in advance for a room and so the restaurant knew how many eels to kill for our party—one for each of us. The meal had an extra special surprise—at least it was for me.
The bowl of soup was a clear broth with special mushrooms—not that kind of special mushroom—and a few aesthetic greens. It was all simple, clean, well prepared food. This is a meal I could eat every day. But unagi at the average place in Gotham, especially my local ‘crappy Japanese’ joint is usually too heavy and sweet to make a staple of it.
So, returning to the soup..
I ate the first mushroom—a fishcake in the shape of a mushroom. It was a fine mushroom shaped fishcake. It would make a cheery addition in any child’s obento. Then I ate the mushroom that was not a mushroom at all. But I didn’t know that. Now that I look at this picture I have no idea how I did not know what it was. Take a look at it before you continue reading.
I picked the mushroom from the soup with my chopsticks and placed it in my mouth. I began to chew. I think our subconscious mind estimates how many bites any given piece of food will require, and some autonomic salivary and breathing accommodation occurs accordingly. But the mushroom had more bite than any mushroom I’d ever eaten before. I chewed, and chewed. I sipped some of the broth. I thought, “It tastes like a mushroom. I’m not a mushroom expert, but do I know what kind of mushroom this is?” I chewed and sipped more broth. I swallowed, then sipped some tea.
The next afternoon, or perhaps it was when we returned to Tochigi after a trip to Aomori in the north, we all reminisced about the special unagi dinner. I asked about the mushroom in the soup, “It had quite a lot of bite to it.” Everyone laughed—a semi-side splitter. Then K’s father told me it was the heart of the eel they killed for me. Ah, heart of the eel mushroom.
So, now I have to ‘eat one’s (unagi) heart out’ under my belt. This sort of mistaken food identity would happen again in Kyoto. I ate fugu there. But I have yet to identify from my pictures, in which of the dishes it was served.