#10: Japanese-Western “Food”

My brother Tim often recounts with a glint of trauma in his eye that he only had to be in Japan a few days to spot some travesty of an establishment trying to sell people spaghetti topped with hot dogs, french fries, and pizza with little American flag toothpicks sticking out of it or something to that effect, and I’ll be damned if I don’t see some kind of Frankensteinian concoction like that every damn day that I live here, or at least on the days I can bear to set foot outside anymore. Then again, the pizza places send fliers right to your door so you don’t even have to go outside. Pizza menus in Japan all feature full-color photographs of about thirty different abominable variations on what is supposed to be a simple formula for deliciousness.

Observe, if you dare, Exhibit A, provided by a different but equally appalled Greg(g) living in Japan. The text is all in Japanese, but in case you can’t tell from the pictures, let me assure you that some 80% of the options depicted here are chock to the brim with glistening, pulsating horror.

It starts off kind of normal. Your first option there is just a regular pizza with onions, green peppers, salami, bacon, and corn. Not too strange at all, except for the corn part. Then you’ve got the German Potato pizza. Not exactly orthodox, but hey, potatoes and cheese aren’t such an odd couple either. Then you’ve got the Curry German Potato pizza. Getting a little more culturally confused, but that’s all right. Curry pizza’s actually pretty g…wait, what’s next?

The “Meat Gratin Pizza”? What the hell? It says it contains onions, mushrooms, macaroni and parsley.

Now get ready to cry a lot.

The second row starts us off with the “Old Town Pizza”, which, as you can see, is covered with giant octopus tentacles, as well as shrimp, squids, writhing fish skin flakes, cabbage, grilled noodles, and seaweed. Only thirty dollars for a large.

Next we’ve got the “Tara-Mayo Pizza”, which features mayonnaise-soaked cod eggs, seaweed strips, corn, scallops (which are also soaked in mayonnaise), and everyone’s all-time favorite pizza topping, gigantic radish slices.

Side orders include–both in this particular menu as well as in general–hot dogs on a stick, three varieties of gratin, fried chicken (extra skin), and churros.

I think these harsh realities more or less speak for themselves, so I won’t belabor the point. But I do wonder what makes societies latch onto specific things and magnify them into symbols that represent things they shouldn’t represent. For some reason, this country is obsessed with gratin, as well as something called “doria” which I’d never even heard of before coming here, but which is essentially the same thing as gratin. It’s to the point now that when you ask a person, “What’s your favorite Western food?” they’re likely to say “Mm, probably gratin and/or doria, both of which are Western and great.”

“What the hell are gratin and/or doria?” replies the Westerner. Welcome to the concept of this list.

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