Trying strange and wonderful food in Japan was one of the reasons I was so excited to visit. More than that, it was perhaps the first time I have ever felt excitement, rather than fear, about eating unknown food.
The majority of meals we ordered where unknown. My knowledge of written Japanese is limited to a few characters, and while (to my embarrassment and relief) often we were presented with English menus, the descriptions rarely gave more information about the food we were about to eat.
Trying sushi in Tokyo, ordering from a touch-screen menu with no English or pictures and basing my decision on what sounded like the price of a main meal, buying black bread simply because – there were many mishaps, but it was also a lot of fun.
The traditional bento lunches were the hardest. Sure, I could recognise a small dish of some kind of meat, and of course rice. But the rest of the many compartmented-boxes included a range of food I couldn’t categorise. Some kind of vegetable? Starch? It was intriguing, as well as uncomfortable, to taste something and be unable to even judge if it would be hot or cold, spicy or sweet.
For someone who is still picky about what I eat, it was a big step.
My favourite foods to try in Japan were mostly the snacks, where crazy flavour combinations seemed the norm. Wine-flavoured chocolate, anyone? Perhaps fish crisps?
The ubiquitous vending machines were also great fun. I could distinguish coffees, some energy drinks, and a few recognisable brands, but the rest was indecipherable.