Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Functional Traveller: Sushi apathy in Japan

October 30, 2015 by Sera Down, contributing writer

I have only participated in sushi a handful of times since I arrived in Japan.

Your collective gasps can be heard from across the Pacific. Have I encased myself in a bubble of Canadian comfort food and avoided immersing myself in Japanese culture?

For many, sushi is the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine; a Western portrait of Asian exoticism complete with sheets of lox folded into koi and lotus leaves.

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus (photo by Sera Down/Nexus).

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus (photo by Sera Down/Nexus).

The reality here is this: sushi is considered rather blasé unless you prepare it yourself. Of course, every grocery store carries fresh sushi, but often the gravitas is toward other prepared meals. Finding a sushi restaurant will prove more difficult: the few you might find are miniscule and often are “standing” establishments for businessmen on the go.

So what do the locals crave when they think ‘comfort food’?

The most popular quick meal, with outlets more frequent than a corner Starbucks, is gyu-don. Its simplicity is equal to its richness; delicately sweet fried strips of Japanese pork are placed on top of a bed of steamed rice. A bowl large enough to feed a carnivorous horse can be bought for approximately $3 and will arrive at your table within minutes of placing your order.

Similar to this is katsu-don. A more greasy meal then gyu-don, katsu-don is most commonly served as crispy-coated pork patties (katsu) on top of a bed of sweet rice with a fried egg balanced precariously on top. Katsu-don restaurants are often seen filled with lanky college-age boys, as a single bowl will keep you full for an entire week, give or take, for under $5.

Of course, I cannot neglect to mention ramen. A decent ramen restaurant can easily be identified by a queue of stiff-faced Japanese businessmen flanking the miniscule kiosk. While there are numerous varieties of this Japanese staple, the most popular are miso and shoyu. While toppings vary between all types, the variety usually describes the broth: miso ramen’s broth is based on fermented soy bean paste, while shoyu’s is based on a soy sauce broth. Bowls can run anywhere from $6 to $12 depending on the joint.

So gasp as loud as you wish; if your travels bring you to the land of the rising sun, you’ll see there are more delicious, diverse, and less expensive options to indulge in.

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