I was supposed to be going to an absinthe party tonight, but it was canceled. So rather than attempting to drink until I hallucinate green sprites, here comes a blog.
Since coming to Japan, I have been dazzled by all the alien things that are commonplace here, as I have been telling you in this blog. But now, almost seven months in, I'm beginning to notice the opposite: the things that were mundane back home but are either exotic or flat-out unobtainable in rural Japan. In this staff room this week I was chatting about my weekend plans, and no-one had any concept of what aniseed was. That in itself isn't so surprising, but someone started asking whether it was like hakka, a weird herb those crazy folks up in Hokkaido use in cooking, and even as a flavouring for sweets. My dictionary revealed that this mysterious plant is none other than mint. Sure enough, now I think about it, I can't recall eating anything minty since I've been here. Graham would love it.
People often ask me whether I miss British/Scottish food. Not really, I tell them. Let's face it, British food is boring. Sure, I do enjoy a good haggis, but that's the kind of thing I could go months without eating back at home, so I don't really miss it. However, to its credit, Britain does have cosmopolitan tastes when it comes to importing foreign cuisine. So I tell people that I miss foreign food from home, which is usually met with confused looks.
Italian food is somewhat popular here, though if you buy pizza anywhere other than a fairly good Italian restaurant, it will be the deeply unsatisfactory Japanese interpretation of pizza, which typically features such rubbish toppings as boiled egg, broccoli, mayonnaise, and copious amounts of sweetcorn. But other nationalities present bigger problems. To my knowledge, my nearest curry house is 45min drive away in Yamagata City. The gaijin community rave about it, but I went there and to be honest its merely alright; I could name five better Indians in Edinburgh's South Side. Worse still, I'm not aware of any Mexican restaurants in all of Yamagata prefecture.
Anyway, last night I went to my first murder mystery party. Executive summary: murder mystery parties are not my bag. The fictional homicide happened to be set in Mexico. Perhaps because of this, it was Mexican food I found myself craving today. So, I took a trip to Yonezawa to go to Yamaya, a shop that I'd heard stocked foreign goods.
You know those intimidating Asian supermarkets you get in the UK, where you can't read the labels on anything? Well, this was the inverse of that. In an intimidating Asian country, this shop was an oasis of familiar Western stuff. It was like Ali Baba's cave for a homesick gaijin. It was quite an odd place though. About half the shop was devoted to alcohol, making me think that it might have started out as an off-license specialising in foreign drinks, and its obligatory crisps and sweets stand just weirdly hypertrophied over time. It also has a very miscellaneous feel, as the only inclusion critera for foods seemed to be that they were neither Japanese nor perishable. Thus, British tea was nestled between illegible Korean goods and big jars of sauerkraut.
Anyway, I got a bit carried away. I can safely say it's the most excited I've ever been about grocery shopping. Here is what I bought:
Bowmore 12 year old single malt (700ml) Only £23, which seems amazing considering it's come halfway round the world.
Duvel Asahi is all very well, but it is 8.5% abv? No it isn't.
Red kidney beans Bean that aren't soy beans. Can you imagine that?
Strawberry crunch cereal
Boil-in-the-bag spicy chickpea curry
Madras curry sauce
Skippy peanut butter (smooth) Japanese peanut butter is weird, far too liquid and sweet. One supermarket in Nanyo stocks import peanut butter, but only chunky. I'm a smooth man.
Unflavoured tortilla chips Making nachos with Doritos or the like just isn't right.
El Paso flour tortillas
For some reason I didn't buy a jar of extra hot jalepenos, a decision that I've been regretting ever since.
Right, I'm off to make some enchiladas.
Bonus geek news: I want to buy a fancy electronic dictionary that will let me input kanji by drawing them, but they're not cheap. The recent unveiling and subsequent merciless (and highly enjoyable) mocking of the iPad got me thinking about tablet computers, and after much consideration I've just ordered an Archos 5 Internet Tablet, a touchscreen device running Android that really blurs the boundary between media player and computer. I'm thinking that as well as solving my kanji problem it will make for a handy GPS and in-car entertainment unit. Currently doing that job is my beloved Sony Ericsson W810, but the screen is tiny and its three year old battery is on the way out.
Update: I've eaten too many enchiladas.