The first time I ordered odori ebi, dancing shrimp, in a Japanese restaurant, I was not too sure what to expect. The order came as four pieces of sushi topped with prawn that whipped their tails like they were trying to swim away. This had not been the first time I had dealt with freshly caught seafood as people outside of Japan also enjoy live boiled lobster and freshly chucked oysters. However, Japanese cuisine takes it one step further when it serves sea urchins, octopus and sashimi fish so fresh they still move. In reality, this so-called live seafood is still moving only because it is is animated by reflexes. These dishes will disgust many foreign diners, yet, they are a real treat in Japan and are served only in the best restaurants. Why do people in Japan come to enjoy their seafood so fresh that it is still moves?
Although one might think it’s suited to the Western palate, okonomiyaki, a dish emblematic of the Osaka region, has never gained the same popularity abroad as ramen. Okonomiyaki is popular in Japan in every sense of the term and its various iterations can be found just about everywhere in Japan. Okonomiyaki which translates as “grill it the way you like it”, seems more a reflection of Western individualism than of Japanese homogeneity. Unsurprisingly, its history, preparation and regional style are far from being clearly defined. Where does it come from? How do you make the dish? What are the different types of local variations?
Japan loves eggs and has developed unique ways of eating them. Eggs are so pervasive in most people fridge that we pay them little notice. They have become part of the background, an almost boring necessity. In the digital age, there is no limit to what people might come up with like scrambling eggs in their shell . in Japan, due to Buddhist beliefs that proscribed the killing of animals, both meat and eggs became a staple relatively late in Japan. This singular historic and cultural context has informed the way eggs are prepared in Japan. The place that eggs occupy in Japanese cuisine is quite different than in Western cooking. Rather than being a binder that add richness to a confection, it is most often used as a main ingredient. Japanese breeds of hen and a diet rich in carotene also result in a very different egg with a thick shell and an intense orange yolk.